For those that are unfamiliar with Canadian politics, Michaëlle Jean is the Governor-General, the queens representative in parliament. She is Canada’s first black Governor-General. Though she is Haitian by birth, she is a Canadian citizen. Her full title is, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order of Canada, Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Military Merit, Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Canada. She has received The Order of Canada, Order of Military Merit, Order of Merit of the Police Forces, Order of St.John, Canadian Forces Decoration, The Media Award from the Human Rights League of Canada, and Prix Mireille-Lanctôt, from the Fondation Mireille Lanctôt. These are just a few of her accomplishments.
The following comes directly from wikkipedia:
Jean became the first governor general to launch an online chat with Canadians, on September 27, 2006. This initiative was part of a larger project: creating a website within the Governor General’s domain name dubbed “Citizen Voices: Breaking Down Solitudes”, where users could engage each other in blogs and discussion forums.
Jean embarked on a trip consisting of five state visits to African countries – Algeria, Mali, Ghana, South Africa and Morocco – between November 18 and December 11, 2006. She encouraged women’s rights in each country she visited, stating that women in Islamic countries were “builders and doers”, and that westerners should “look beyond the veil.” On November 23, 2006, the tour took her to Mali where she was greeted by tens of thousands lining the highway, and where she was presented, in the town of Benieli, with a goat, replete with a Canadian flag on its collar. Male vendors in Mali also gave Canadian journalists gifts to be passed on to Jean, provided that she also be given their phone numbers. The gifts, and phone numbers, were deposited with the Rideau Hall Office of Protocol. In a precedent-breaking move, on her Citizen Voices website, Jean personally explained the role of the Governor General in undertaking state visits, and the reason behind these particular visits throughout Africa. She then continued to post, from Africa, her observations and feelings on her experiences on the continent.
In her capacity as acting Commander-in-Chief, on March 8, 2007, Jean made her first visit to Canadian troops taking part in the offensive in Afghanistan. Prior to this, the Governor General had stated her desire to visit the troops, but the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, advised her not to go, citing security concerns over the Vice-regal being in the turbulent area; this was despite the fact that a number of Canadian politicians had already visited the region. Jean landed on the same day two attacks against Canadian soldiers took place. Jean had the arrival timed specifically for International Women’s Day, stating: “the women of Afghanistan may face the most unbearable conditions, but they never stop fighting for survival. Of course, we, the rest of the women around the world, took too long to hear the cries of our Afghan sisters, but I am here to tell them that they are no longer alone. And neither are the people of Afghanistan.” Part of the Governor General’s duties included a meeting with Afghan women, as well as Canadian soldiers, RCMP teams, humanitarian workers and diplomats
Clearly Michaëlle Jean is an accomplished woman. What she cannot escape, and indeed the thing that no woman of color can escape is her race. According to the Globe and Mail, “Victor-Lévy Beaulieu, who has penned some 70 works of fiction, non-fiction, drama and poetry, referred to Ms. Jean as “La Reine-Nègre” — or negro queen — in an editorial he wrote for an independent newspaper.” Unrepentant, he refused to acknowledge the racism in his statement. “It has nothing to do with racism,” he told The Canadian Press in an interview from Trois-Pistoles, Que.It’s not the colour of her skin that I’m attacking, it’s her role and the way she assumes it. It’s the role of a reine-nègre.” Michaëlle Jean is committed to an integrationist approach to French Canadians. It is the idea of unity, versus Quebec separatism that apparently drove Victor-Lévy Beaulieu to attack her in this manner. He further went on to say, “At a certain point you have to call a cat a cat,” he said. “We showered them (roi-nègres) with gifts, jewels, clothes, cheap junk … and they said exactly what the colonizers wanted them to say.”
This from a man who is demanding respect for his culture. When he looked at Michaëlle Jean, he did not see the Governor-General, all he saw was a black woman that had an agenda that was different from his. Were he truly criticizing her political stance, he would have felt no need to reference her race. It was meant to lessen her accomplishments, and assert his privilege as a white male.
Despite all of her accomplishments Michaëlle Jean is nothing other than a “negro queen”. This is also a specific assault on her gender. Historically a black woman who has confidence, is accomplished, and has self respect have been characterized in a similar vein. Assertiveness, aggression, and achievement are deemed to be the preserve of men, specifically white men. How dare Michaëlle have her own political agenda. How dare she assert the authority that comes with her position. No matter how hard WOC struggle to elevate themselves in this world, someone is always ready to remind us that we have over stepped our bounds. Though her appointment is a symbol of progress in Canada vis a vis race and gender, it is clear that we have not evolved as far as we need to, if comments like this can be publicly said. White men will not willing give up their historical unearned privilege. It is up to us as POC to demand the respect that we deserve. Black Canadians have more than paid our dues, and it is time that we have our seat at the table of plenty. Victor-Lévy Beaulieu may attempt to deny the racist, and sexist under tones of what he said, but those of us that must negotiate racism, and sexism everyday fully recognize his undeclared meaning. His language was assaultative, and to refuse to apologize further confirms his intent. Through your own language it is you Beaulieu who have been laid bare. We recognize you for what you are, and it shall not be forgotten.