‘Segregation’ has no place in language dialogue
Published in Brunswick News
March 12, 2016
Over the past year, the term ‘segregation’ has gained popularity in comments regarding linguistic duality in the province. This word is frequently tossed around in letters to the editor, social media and opinion pieces. Again this month, there have been several mentions of the word ‘segregation’ sometimes in direct reference to the historical concept. Does the historical meaning of segregation reflect the situation in New Brunswick? How can the historical significance of the word ‘segregation’ in the United States prior to the Civil Rights Movement be compared to New Brunswick’s linguistic duality? What is to be gained by comparing New Brunswick’s efforts in language preservation and vitality through the use of such heavy terms as ‘segregation’?
Segregation is a historically charged concept that is commonly recognized for the United States’ forced racial segregation until the mid-1900s. The struggle of racial discrimination during this period was based on an oppressed group’s desire to gain equal representation in society and before the law. Efforts from this minority to end segregation were based on the notion that this division symbolized a lesser worth of their group. Recently, some New Brunswickers have presented a comparative argument that sensationalizes the connotation of discrimination by unfairly referring to language-specific services as ‘segregation’ in an attempt to attach emotions of injustice and unfairness. The situation in New Brunswick has never been about saying that one group is better than another, it is simply about ensuring that both groups are treated equally. In fact, New Brunswick’s separate institutions were created to protect the rights and equality of all New Brunswickers. The Francophone community of New Brunswick, with the support of English-speaking community leaders, worked tirelessly to obtain these fundamental rights that protect New Brunswick’s official language landscape.
Social leaders, including Mr. Justice Sopinka’s Supreme Court of Canada decision in regards to the special education context (Eaton), have noted that segregation can be both protective of equality and violative of equality depending upon the person, group, and state of the situation. It is important for a concrete distinction to be made. As previously mentioned, the historical segregation of the US was indicative of a lesser value associated with the minority, while, today, our distinction in linguistic duality is meant to protect the equality of all individuals. This is why we must refrain from using such an emotionally-charged and historically loaded term as ‘segregation’ in the discussion of hard earned rights for protective separation and linguistic duality.
Using the events surrounding the civil rights movement as comparison is a gross misappropriation of their struggle and fight. This use of the term impedes the thoughtful development of equality rights and progress in our own communities. The misuse of the term segregation and the projection of an image that ‘our diversity is hindering our collective prosperity’ is not conducive to our province’s advancement on the world stage.
Official recognition of our distinct community needs is not a form of segregation in the common knowledge sense of the term. In our local context, distinction in services seeks to reaffirm the equal worth of the people and is not an attempt to justify a belief that different groups are of unequal value and worth. It is a means of protecting communities to ensure their equality and collective prosperity.
Dialogue New Brunswick believes in and encourages healthy and open-minded conversations between communities. However, we find it alarming that the term ‘segregation’ is being brought into the discussion. We fear this is done without proper recognition of the historical symbolism of the term. Everyone needs to remember that it is not just a word, it represents a concept with great history and consequence.
Let us be clear, we are not saying that there are no conversations to be had about the importance of New Brunswick’s social cohesion. Rather, this is a call to action to ask that we remain vigilant about the influence and consequences of the concepts and examples used when trying to convey our perspective. Discussions must remain respectful in order to be fruitful.
Patrick O’Brien – Co-Chair
Mirelle Cyr – Co-présidente
Dialogue New Brunswick
Dialogue New Brunswick is a non-profit organization governed by a volunteer board which promotes and celebrates understanding, respect, appreciation, and inclusion among the Francophone and Anglophone cultures of New Brunswick.