Academic journal article Discourse (Detroit, MI)

The Struggle of Others: Pierre Vallières, Quebecois Settler Nationalism, and the N-Word Today

Academic journal article Discourse (Detroit, MI)

The Struggle of Others: Pierre Vallières, Quebecois Settler Nationalism, and the N-Word Today

Article excerpt

Une vie de ne[···] n'est pas une vie. Et tous les Québécois étaient (et sont) des ne[···]s.

"A n[····]r's life is not a life. And all the Quebecois were (and are) n[····]rs."

-Pierre Vallieres

At any rate, I had missed a vital connection to the present. I had honored the past, but the past was not history.

-Michel-Rolph Trouillot

In "The Intimacies of Four Continents," Lisa Lowe states that "[t]he affirmation of the desire for freedom is so inhabited by the forgetting of its conditions of possibility, that every narrative articulation of freedom is haunted by its burial, by the violence of forgetting."1 She explains that "race" and "gender" become the traces of such humanist forgetting-a modern humanism whose conditions, she explains, were created by "New World" people for whom the production of "freedom" was first predicated on the creation of the racialized category of the "unfree" and the "enslaved," next to whom it was then possible to racialize otherwise those liminal or transitional subjects in between as well as those thought to be on their way toward "freedom." My research builds on such critical intuition in order to illuminate such "violence of forgetting" in the desire to produce "freedom" in the context of the doubly complex coloniality of French Canada once it became a British settler space. In this particular essay, I focus on the use of racial analogies and the production of the paradigm of the French Quebecer as a ne··· blanc (or "white N-word") in the 1960s Quebec literature of decolonization, most influentially in Pierre Vallieres's celebrated and influential 1968 book-length manifesto/autobiography Negres blancs d'Amérique (NBA). Despite the sympathies expressed by prominent figures of the Black Power movement (such as Stokeley Carmichael) toward Vallieres's political activism and his legal struggles,2 I argue that Vallieres's racial analogy, and most notably his misguided conflation of exploitation and slavery, has the effect of de-racializing colonial history, of turning race into a politically insignificant (and acquirable) category within the settler colony, and of obfuscating the fact that national liberation for Quebecers (Quebecois) is itself predicated on the pursuit of a peculiarly malleable project of native dispossession and political co-optation. In conversation with Mark Rifkin's recent analyses of what he theorizes as "settler common sense,"3 I explain that Vallieres's loose theorization of a race-neutral, global village of all exploited underclasses under the rubric ne··· provided new orientations for an emergent structure of feeling in Quebec, one that would easily be incorporated within the hegemonic because it already spoke (and still speaks) its language: it effectively assumed forms of dwelling and personhood predicated on the geopolitical self-evidence of settler sovereignty and settler occupancy while exculpating the implied whiteness of the Quebecois national reference and disengaging it from a history of Western coloniality. Such a project, I explain, is embedded in complex political strategies of remembrance that are "building upon perceived historical injustices [as a people abandoned by France and colonized by the British] and consequently constructing a politically useful collective identity."4 These strategies of remembrance are often "oriented" by governmental acts and policies that "provide shape and structure" to everyday experiences and inhabitances for settlers. In the context of Quebec, the "becoming-given"5 of stable and lawful settler identities and modes of occupancy is constantly and peculiarly felt and reenacted away from the exculpatory discursive strategies that have otherwise become crucial to governmental strategies and sovereign narrative in other white settler states such as Australia and English Canada- states that have cunningly6 been trying to reimagine themselves as belonging to an "after" (as opposed to an aftermath) of colonialism. …

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