“un woke”

A fun anglicism (better call the language police) and a scathing (if cringeworthy) insult hurled by Quebec Premier François Legault in a bitter exchange in the National Assembly.

In a debate that sent Quebec media into a tizzy, Premier François Legault accused Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, an opposition member of the National Assembly, of being “un woke”.

In his comments, Nadeau-Dubois referred to the hard-line that Premier Legault has taken on language, secularism and systemic racism and likened the premier to a titan of Quebec politics, Maurice Duplessis.

The comparison was not meant to flatter. Duplessis was Quebec’s longest serving premier, but his time in office is known by some as the “Grand Noirceur”, or Great Darkness. The era was characterized by strong (to put it mildly) support for the Catholic Church, the persecution of religious minorities, and rabid anti-communism, anti-unionism, and anti-feminism.

After all that, you might still be wondering what, exactly, is “un woke”?

When pressed by the media, Premier Legault defined “un woke” as a person who wants to make people guilty for defending the nation of Quebec and its values. This is a far cry from the origins of the term. Only popularized in the last decade, “woke” was born in the 1960s, when it was used primarily among African-Americans to refer to people mobilized on matters of social and racial justice.

In the context of Quebec in 2021, what appeared to be a glib snub is more than meets the eye. It is a symbol of two competing visions of the province.

Nadeau-Dubois is a spokesperson of Quebec Solidaire, a leftist opposition party that champions a sovereign Quebec committed to environmentalism and social justice. The party owed its breakout performance in the 2018 provincial election to young, urban voters. In contrast, supporters of Legault’s party, the Coalition Avenir Quebec, tend to be older and from the rural regions of Quebec.

As Nadeau-Dubois put it, Legault does not have the corner on the market in deciding what the values of Quebeckers are.

Image Source: Québec solidaire, Flickr

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