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Month: November 2008

la vie en hussein

Letter from Paris.

Images, swag and model courtesy MrChiCity7.

When Barack Obama is elected President of the United States in a few hours*, I’m not pulling for an end to racial inequality, prejudice and hatred. I’m not expecting a sudden change in foreign policy, an end to war, or a global outbreak of the warm-and-fuzzies.

All I really want for Election Day is to retire the term “Anglo-Saxon.”

Maybe you weren’t aware, but this is the term — mushed into one anglosaxon anglosaxonne — the French reserve for describing anything North American.

I’m frequently reminded by my new colleagues and co-workers: “there are major differences between the frensh and the anglosaxonne approach.” In my first few weeks here I was confused. Anglo-Saxon? Flaxen tresses? What did Beowulf have to do with anything?

In Canada, discussions around difference and otherness are often rooted in language. The anglophones and francophones battled it out for territory, control, ownership. The barriers between them were deep and wide — a difference defined by invisible details, not by visible markers like skin, hair, the shape of your nose. It was a political thing, and even today those divisions have sway over everyday Canadian life, government policy, etc.

That the France-French and England-English are still distinguishing themselves this way is something I can’t quite understand, but I can respect history and nuance. In that the same distinction is being extended across a huge, diverse territory, North America, I’m massively weirded out. The idea, of course, is to define a monolithic North American culture to language — specifically, a language tied to whiteness. It’s an interesting device, and if this were the 1920s or 30s, I might see the logic. The United States was colonized and settled (primarily, initially) by white anglophones. But, really now? This is 2008. And a black man is about to take over the Big Boy Chair in the White House.

Does Obama look like the president of an anglosaxonne country to you? Won’t you feel kind of silly and awkward using that flaxen-haired term of yore from now on?

PA, OH, FLA are rolling in, and *I’m too nervous sipping energy drinks to say much more, or be eloquent, or complete my sentences properly. So, I leave you instead with parting words from my mother:

Estamos acompanhando os resultados das eleicoes e ainda nao se sabe quem vai ganhar. Esperamos que seja o melhor para os Americanos e tambem para o mundo. Ate mais logo, beijinhos!