Quebecers are in Minority. And to make matters worse, Quebecers are a Minority with a serious inferiority complex.

According to French legal expert Henri Capitant, a Minority is a community of people of the same race, and/or who speak the same language, and/or practice the same religion, characterized by its collective will to live within the majority population of a state even though its preferences seem to set it apart.

American sociologist Edward Sagarin, who thinks like his fellow countryman Louis Wirth in more ways than one, says, “In a pluralistic society, when an ethnic group (or several of them) is kept in a subordinate position and its members are judged collectively rather than individually, the subordinate ethnic collectivity is called a minority group.”

Over the years we’ve come to overestimate our state of Minority so much that it helps us explain our collective weaknesses, rationalize our fears and justify our self-indulgence.

At the risk of fitting into one of the classic anthropology models (which we usually try so hard to steer clear of), have we fallen into the trap Frenchman Albert Memmi was referring to when he wrote, “The state of minority or being colonised can lead people to love their coloniser and resent themselves”? Evereth Hagen made the following observations about groups who suffer the collective trauma of colonisation or conquest:

1. These groups spontaneously rebel against the conqueror or coloniser in order to save their own identity in the face of the others.

2. This defence mechanism first manifests itself by the groups rejecting the value system upheld by the others and withdrawing into themselves.

3. The conquered or colonised groups tend to overestimate what differentiates them from the others and what they are restricted to by force so they feel the need to defend these differences.

4. The conquered or colonised groups adopt an authoritarian view of the world as a means of protecting themselves.

5. Because of how they influence one’s personality, all of these reactions tend to inhibit collective creativity since preserving one’s heritage becomes a top priority.

We’ve all known anti-Semitic Jews, blacks who don’t like their own kind and Quebecers who think English Canadians walk on water.

It appears Quebecers are a three-tiered Minority. As Canadians, they are in an economic Minority in North America compared to Americans. As Quebecers, they are in an historical, political and (once again) economic Minority in Canada. And finally, they are in a Minority among other French speakers because of their dialect.

Inspired by Wirth’s model, Charles E. Woodhouse wrote the following in his introduction to Minorities and Politics:

“Minorities can be pluralistic seeking toleration for their own way of life along with full civil and economic rights in the host society. If successful in this, they may then seek full assimilation. But if frustrated in this aim, they may seek complete separation from the dominant society either by establishing a new nation of their own or by joining another nation with which they identify more closely...”

The emergence of black America following the events at Little Rock has struck a chord with Quebecers as they too have had their Black Panthers and long hot summers.

Black leaders almost instantly lashed out at the white symbols presented in advertising, insisting companies start using blacks in electronic and print media. (Blacks in the US represent a market that’s almost as big as the entire Canadian market.)

“Quebec attitude” is a concept that exists in the same regard as “black attitude.”

I argued this parallel between the two minorities before a group of Anglo-Saxons who simply refused to see it. In her book Les Juifs et le monde moderne (Jews and the Modern World), Annie Kriegel devotes an entire chapter to comparing Jews and blacks, referring to “...slave past, diaspora, ghetto...which makes them what they are in their own eyes and the eyes of others.”

After pushing for assimilation black Americans started shouting “black is beautiful!” at the top of their lungs and rejecting the concept of racial imitation where a black person could almost pass for a white person. They decided to re-Africanize themselves and what was once a stigma became a source of pride.

Jews who want to pass for non-Jews are harder to find. Much like Quebecers, Jews seem to have a hard time choosing between extremes. As one of Mordecai Richler’s characters says, “Poor Jews are more Jewish, and rich Jews can choose to be whatever they want to be whenever they choose to be it.”

The North American Root definitely tugs at the Heartstrings harder than the inferiority-complex-creating Minority Root in all three North American minorities. Jews hold huge fundraisers for Israel, even though they’re far away. Blacks sport afros and have reintroduced objects from their culture, which is far away. Quebecers swap TV shows with the very respectable ORTF (Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française – French Radio and Television Broadcasting Agency) far away across the Atlantic. But none of these acts of devotion means these minorities intend on going home to their mother country.

While doing research in Africa, Roots author, Alex Haley, wrote, “They’re so black…and so pure. Blacks in America definitely have bastardized genes.”

In the end, it’s more fun to negotiate things than to flat out give up. One of my Toronto colleagues once told me, “The problem with Quebecers is that you’ve never stopped negotiating the terms of your defeat on the Plains of Abraham.”

The scales are never balanced.

Sometimes, they tip to the right. In the early 1950s it was perfectly acceptable for our businessmen to adapt to and be assimilated by the English-speaking community. Quebec men could belong to the Saint James Club, live on the South Shore and even marry one of those tall pretty girls with a peaches-and-cream complexion. One of my Quebec co-workers told me he even learned how to laugh through his nose.

And other times, the scales tip to the left. Thirty years later, business students will swear by the fact that you don’t need to speak English to succeed in business in Quebec. Back then, we wanted nothing more than to be Anglicised. But now, there’s nothing we fear more. At either end of the spectrum, we have solid ties to the Minority Root.

It doesn’t take much for someone to go from an inferiority to a superiority complex.

These reactions to their surroundings (among countless others) give Quebecers very specific consumer genes. Later on we will explore the 6 Heartstrings that stem from this Root which causes Quebecers to take pride in being humble, leads them to have excessive (and sometimes aggressive) reactions, and makes them feel the need to talk about what it’s like being a Minority. Often. And a lot.

© 2022 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.