Are you a racist? Are your neighbours racists? Such questions are reverberating around Quebec this winter, following several cases that have prompted us to define the limits of "reasonable accommodation." Now an opinion poll and a study of media coverage have led some to assert Quebecers are racists.
Any discussion of this subject must begin with a definition of the term. Is it racist to refuse to rent to someone, say, because he or she is a visible minority? Certainly it is, by law and by common sense. Is it racist to be a little nervous in the presence of boisterous visible-minority teenagers speaking a language you can't recognize? Not so obviously.
The reasonable accommodation debate has come to Quebec later than it has to some other parts of Canada. A broad public debate over these issues is healthy, and should be encouraged, as the best way to build social consensus.
Meanwhile, a closer look at the assertion 59 per cent of us are racist - proclaimed in yesterday's Journal de Montreal - is instructive.
Exactly one per cent of respondents told a pollster they consider themselves strongly racist. Another 15 per cent admitted to being somewhat racist. Then came 43 per cent who said they were slightly racist and 39 per cent who said they were not at all racist.
Asking "have you committed a racist act?" might have elicited different results. The 43 per cent, and even the 15 per cent, doubtless includes many who harbour unkind thoughts but avoid race-based actions.
Nobody with any sense would argue any ethnic or religious group anywhere on Earth is totally unharmed by prejudice - or that any such group is totally free of prejudiced individuals. But by any reasonable standard, Canada is one of the least "racist" places on Earth - not perfect, but comparatively very good.
Can we do more to root out racial injustice? Certainly. Must we beat ourselves up over this? Certainly not.