Montreal: a city as racially divisive as any other

Cinema Politica screened Dear Jackie, a telling film about Montreal’s Black history

Dear Jackie is organized as a letter to Jackie Robinson, the first African American professional baseball player. This letter serves as a narration of the context of the film, over images of the city. 

Though Robinson’s story is that of success, his storyline is only a pretext to talk about the broader context of discrimination against Black folks in Canada, and specifically Montreal. 

Director Henri Pardo noted during the Q&A session:

“My intent was not to talk about certain things that I am personally tired of talking about. I didn’t want to talk about racism, I wanted to find out about the people in the neighbourhood”. 

Black people were resigned to only settling in a single neighborhood of Montreal in the 1940s, that of Little Burgundy. It was coined the “Harlem of the North.” 

This film depicts the injustices faced by Black people in Montreal and the changing architectural landscape of Little Burgundy, and how it has changed up to today. 

In the 1960s, when the government built a highway cutting off parts of the neighbourhood, they razed over 400 Black homes, leaving hundreds of people in the streets. 

Today, Little Burgundy is one of the most gentrified neighbourhoods in Montreal. 

Pardo wanted to raise awareness of the little-known history of Black struggles in Quebec, as a call to action.

The film was in black-and-white, which served as a ground for the universalization of experience, where colour could not be understood as a means for separation. 

From a journalist’s perspective, there were clear visual obstacles. The story in of itself, though historically valuable, had an odd angle. 

There was very little archival footage of Little Burgundy and the medium of narration through epistolary form felt forced and almost out of place, as few images of Robinson concretely appeared on screen. 

It would have been interesting to centre interviews of people who lived in Little Burgundy, rather than minimal archival footage that has very little connection to the area. 

The community centre NCC kept on coming up, but there was next to no archival footage of it. People’s spoken words dit not fit the images that were displayed on screen, which made the film at times hard to watch. 

Cinema Politica seeks to not only screen important political films but to also relate community organizations in Montreal that advocate for the causes demonstrated in their films. Representative of organizations such as Brick by Brick and one of their sub-groups Plan Accueil discussed their work in trying to make housing more accessible. 

Arts Culture

Seeing Loud: A look at the love story between Jean-Michel Basquiat and music

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts collaborates with the Musée de la musique – Philharmonie de Paris to create the first large-scale multidisciplinary exhibition on the role of music in Basquiat’s art

Upon entering the exhibit, visitors are embraced by the first room’s black painted walls as new-wave music plays. The smell of paint lingers in the air as people gather to admire the artwork while music from punk band The Offs plays loudly in the background. 

This is how curators decided to open Seeing Loud: Basquiat and Music, an exhibition centered around the major role that music — be it opera, jazz or hip-hop — played in Basquiat’s life and work. 

Spectators are propelled into the musical universe of Basquiat’s era and the New York underground scene of the 1970s and 1980s that inspired him throughout his artistic career. 

The walls are covered with colourful posters and flyers of the bands that the artist listened to and formerly collaborated with. Between his emblematic crowns and anatomical drawings, musical references start to emerge in visitors’ minds.

Musicologist and guest curator from the Philharmonie de Paris Vincent Bessières explained that the first part of the exhibit was made to give a contextual and biographical background on the importance of music in Basquiat’s life, while the second part centers on how music oriented his pictorial universe. 

From his band Gray to his appearances as a DJ, nothing is forgotten in the extensive discography that has found its way into the artist’s work. 

The scenography uses a multidisciplinary approach that reflects Basquiat’s own methods. 

Woman looking at painting – VALENTINE ALIBERT

Visitors are projected into an atmosphere by the music playing in each room while videos and archives play everywhere. 

Visitors Ismaila Diallo and Anastasi Eosforos said they particularly appreciated the exhibition’s scenography and the way the different parts were orchestrated.

“Seeing urban art in a museum was fun,” said Diallo. “You would think there’s kind of this clash between the two, but it was very well executed.”

Jazz specialist Bessières explained that, even though Basquiat was a painter of his time and was involved in a dynamic and creative environment, he brought past music to the canvas.

“Looking at Basquiat through the prism of music allows at the same time to talk about the social journey of his life but also an interpretive key that allows us to understand things about his work,” said Bessières. “Jazz is really the music that he most celebrated, quoted, and represented in his works.”

For Bassières, these visual references to African-American culture and music are part of Basquiat’s wider connection to his identity as a Black man. 

The exhibition shows how music in Basquiat’s mind connected him to the world as an artist but, more importantly, as a Black artist living in America.

Seeing Loud runs until Feb. 19, 2023. Tickets are $16 for 21 to 30 year olds while general entry is $24. For more information, visit the MMFA’s website.

Student Life

Jad does things! Wearing all black

Hi! I’m Jad Abukasm, News Editor at The Concordian, and in this segment, Kayla runs my life!

[Upbeat music]

Kayla did not tell me why I was supposed to wear all black until the very last day of the challenge.

“It’s an experiment. I want to see something,” she texted me.

“So, I’m your guinea pig?” I replied.


I think that from now on, Kayla won’t hesitate to try weird stuff on me and I’m kind of questioning why I got involved in this…

I own a total of two black shirts and one pair of black jeans. Do the math and you quickly realize that 1) I will be wearing the same jeans all week, and 2) that I quickly need to find three shirts or else I will end up smelling like my running shoes. My dad was kind enough to lend me two of his shirts—that, by the way, look bomb on me—resulting in re-wearing the same shirt only once. At least I have a bunch of black socks and a new pair of black Vans.

During the week, I tried finding out why the hell Kayla would ask me to do this. I went online and discovered some not-so-reliable scientific websites that mentioned people wearing black either experienced high levels of anxiety and sadness or that they have mysterious and “sexy” personalities (whatever that means). Am I surprised? Yes. Am I more so confused? Yes.

During the week, I noticed that I got a lot of compliments on my outfits and people told me I looked on top of my sh*t. I was only wearing a black shirt tucked into black pants—but I didn’t complain **insert sassy emoji.**

Friday comes and Kayla texts me “I wanted to know if wearing all black would affect your mood, especially with the socks because I know you use those as a form of self-expression,” and this was when everything started to make sense. I realized that throughout the week, I was feeling so much more confident and less self-conscious, to Kayla’s surprise. I think that I used to try matching my personality to my outfits which would only result in me stressing about what others thought about my appearance. Wearing all black in contrast to my vibrant personality really made for an interesting duality.

Now, the big question: will I keep doing this? Obviously, wearing all black every day was fun and empowering, but I also own three times as many other clothes that I love. However, what I really learned here is that clothes don’t define who you are and you shouldn’t use them as self-expression if it is a source of stress. From now on, I will think less about matching my clothes to my character and just be myself. And yes, I did go to Marshalls and Winners on Friday to buy more black shirts.

Graphic by @sundaeghost


Don’t touch my hair, don’t speak on my behalf

We must avoid generalizing and include specific people in discussions about race

“Can I touch your hair?”

I don’t think I’ve ever asked anyone that question in my life, and I have a very hard time imagining a situation where I would. I’ve never walked up to a total stranger or someone I barely knew in a bar, at school, or at the water cooler at work, and asked them if I could touch the hair on their head, with my fingers eagerly stretched outwards.

It sounds absolutely disgusting to me, yet it is a question I am asked a minimum of once a week, and that’s just because I wear a toque most of the time.

Yes, as you must have guessed, I am black, with long, beautiful, natural hair. Locs to be exact (not dreadlocks, because there is nothing dreadful about them), and yes, the people requesting to touch them are typically white. After politely saying no, I am usually asked insulting, but amusing questions like: “So you don’t wash your hair to get it like that, right?” Or, “Do you have any weed?”

Black people’s hair has always seemed to be a fascination for some white people. Some seem amused, and others puzzled by it: wanting to touch it, asking questions about it, and even sometimes attempting to emulate it. And some seem to fear it: wanting us to shave it off, cover it, or straighten it, wanting it to mimic theirs so that they feel more comfortable when we’re around.

Luckily, in Canada, we don’t seem to hear as many stories of discrimination against natural black hairstyles like in the United States, where their justice system found it legal for Catastrophe Management Solutions to rescind Chastity Jones’s job offer because she didn’t comply to their grooming policy, which is supposedly “unrelated to race,” by having locs. Or, where recently, Andrew Johnson, a high school varsity athlete, was forced to cut off his locs or forfeit a wrestling match.

Last month, a comedian was told he couldn’t perform at a comedy bar ironically titled “Snowflake Comedy Club.” He also couldn’t perform at another event held at the Coop Les Récoltes, a bar and solidarity co-operative operated by Université du Québec à Montréal’s Group de Rechercher d’Intérêt Public, because he has locs.

Well, actually because he’s white, and has locs.

In an extremely long message posted on their Facebook page, the Coop defended their decision to ban Zach Poitras from performing at their establishment. Essentially, they explained that they operate what they call a safe space exempt of oppression, in which no discrimination or harassment of any kind will be tolerated. They stated that they consider a white person with locs to be a form of cultural appropriation, which they describe on their post as: “the fact that a person from a dominant culture appropriates symbols, clothes or hairstyles of people from historically dominated cultures.”

They continued by saying that: “It is a privilege to be able to wear dreads as a white person and to be seen as fashionable, or as being edgy, while a black person will be denied access to job opportunities or spaces (housing, schools, parties, sports competitions, etc.).” Are white people with locs, like Poitras, racist, cultural appropriators? I don’t know––the few interactions I’ve had with them, I usually just sign for my package, and they ride off on their bicycles. I’ve never felt oppressed.

The incident and the message posted by the Coop has sparked a nationwide conversation on cultural appropriation and racism over the last few weeks. Well, a conversation that’s had mostly among white people, in my opinion.

Journal de Montréal columnist, Richard Martineau, ridiculed the matter, stating that this situation has opened his eyes, and he will no longer use numbers because they were invented by Arabs, and the fact that lithium batteries were created by a Moroccan man will cause him to stop using his cellphone, because he now realizes that would also be a form of cultural appropriation.

On Twitter, many debated the matter, like user @LavenderBlume who posed the question: “Why is #CulturalAppropriation so hard for people to understand?” Alongside a meme asking: “What if America loved black people as much as black culture?” This was then answered by user @thurnuz, who claims Poitras is innocent of what he is accused of, stating that locs “have been found depicted in frescoes from Mioa over 3,500 years ago, and were worn in ancient Greece and Sparta.” Therefore, a white person wearing locs is not appropriating black culture, the user argued.

Yes, I do believe a conversation should be had on the matter, but as Poitras himself said in a statement obtained by Radio Canada, “I do not think it’s up to whites to decide what is racist, or cultural appropriation.” This is not a conversation white people should be having alone. Not only should minorities be involved in the discussion being had about their cultures, I believe they should be leading them.

In a second message, posted to Facebook a few days later, the Coop attempted to further explain their decision not to let Poitras perform. They stated that they wished to clarify that they didn’t speak on behalf of all “marginalized” populations, and they never intended to suggest that the comedian was racist. But they reiterated their belief that his presence would not have been in accordance with their “inclusivity” policy. A policy, which along with their previous post, they now claim was written by “racialized” people.

The word “racialize” is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as the act of giving racial character to something, or someone. I know what “racialized” means, but I looked it up because I would like to know exactly what the Coop meant by “racialized.” I may be reading too much into it, but it sounds a little condescending to me. It appears to me as if they are speaking of defenseless victims, or fragile creatures who have been made victims of their own race.

I hope the Coop is referring to particular people, in their particular group, because as a black person, I only speak for myself. I would feel pretty insulted if they are insinuating that Poitras wasn’t allowed to perform in their space on my behalf, as well as by being called “racialized.”

Personally, my concerns when it comes to cultural appropriation are less about whether or not Poitras can have locs, but whether or not the “genuine” red, gold, and green Rasta hat he might hold them in was bought from real Rastafarians, or from an American company that also sells sombreros, dashikis and chopsticks.

It’s the context of the hairstyle that might hurt, or anger me, not the hairstyle itself. If we are going to accuse him of appropriating Rastafarian culture, examples of real issues for me would be if his comedy routine consisted of him being a caricature of that culture; if he was claiming ownership of its rituals and practices; if he was trying to rewrite its history. If he was trying to commercialize it, presenting a whitened, watered down, or cartoonish version of it to consumers, or if he was trying to profit off of it by misrepresenting it as a dangerous culture of violence and drugs––then, I’d be upset.

Although the social justice warriors at the Coop may have had good intentions, I believe they should consult more sources than just the “racialized” people in their social justice circles. They should consult people other than Greg Robinson, the UQAM professor specializing in black immigration in Canada, who appears to have been quoted in all the articles I’ve read on the matter, and seems to claim that white people with locs equates to white people wearing blackface, or using the n-word. I’m hoping he was misquoted, because I don’t feel like going on to explain how those are completely different things.

In my opinion, the Coop’s actions created an opportunity for detractors of real racial oppression to downplay the notion of cultural appropriation, and for those unaware of it until this situation, to believe it is a topic of no merit. Again, they might have had the right idea, but they must be wary of the battles they pick, and on whose behalf they are supposedly fighting them. Because, as philosopher and writer J.P. Satre said, “When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die.” Or, in this case, the “racialized,” I guess.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin

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