Dunlevy: N-word debate reveals Quebec’s blind spot regarding race

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The SLAV saga saw prominent Quebec columnists rush to Lepage’s side, picking up and repeating his arguments about freedom of expression while dismissing Black voices hurt by his artistic choices.

It took the director months to revise his position — which, to his credit, he did. In December 2018, after meeting with members of the Black community, Lepage admitted to “clumsiness and misjudgment,” and promised to do better in the future.

That debate echoed the recurring blackface controversies in the province, defended by many in the Quebec media with evasive arguments that blackface doesn’t have the same history or meaning in Quebec, that it was all in good fun and there was no ill intent.

In response to the outcry regarding the use of blackface in a sketch at Théâtre du Rideau Vert in 2014, TRV artistic director Denise Filiatrault said the company would no longer depict Black characters in its year-in-review shows — a threat of erasure employed by Lieutenant-Duval, who stated this week that she would stop teaching works by Black artists in her classes.