Black teens pushing float weren't meant to resemble slaves, parade organizers say
Organizers of this year's St. Jean Baptiste celebrations in Montreal have issued an apology to anyone offended by the sight of black teens pushing floats carrying white people during Saturday's parade.
A video recorded at the parade and posted online shows pop singer Annie Villeneuve on a float being pushed by what appears to be only people of colour dressed in what many said looked like the rags of slaves. Surrounding the float were droves of choir members, all dressed in white.
The video has been shared more than 15,000 times as many viewers comment how the float resembled a historical depiction of slavery.
But parade organizers say that depicting slavery was never their intention.
"Certainly, the team never intended to relay a racist image," according to a French-language statement released on Monday.
"We are very sensitive to the fact that people who saw this out of context were shocked. We would like to reiterate how sorry we are for how the events unfolded,” they said.
Organizers said all the float pushers were athletes from a local high school who volunteered their time as part of the parade’s goals to be more “green” and rely solely on manpower to move floats.
As for the float pushers’ outfits, organizers said they were meant to match the colour of the pages of the giant book on the float.
“That said, we understand perfectly and are extremely sensitive to the fact that people who saw this video out of context were shocked,” the parade committee said in their statement.
“That’s why we want to reiterate how sorry we are at the unfolding of events, of this sad series of circumstances that, yes, escaped us.”
But there are still some saying the float controversy is just part of a larger problem of institutionalized racism in Quebec. Artist Ricardo L'Amour says having black youth dress and act like slaves is not the way to add diversity to the parade.
“In the times of slavery, things were green as well. People were picking cotton for free, but people's lives and dignity were being destroyed,” he said.
The video has now prompted a petition calling for an inquiry into systemic racial and ethnic profiling in Quebec.
The float controversy comes on the heels of two other videos that critics said showed the province’s entrenched racism. Two promotional videos for Montreal's 375th birthday and for the city itself were criticized for featuring only white people.
Mayor Denis Coderre agreed and apologized, saying, while the videos looked nice, they did not represent Montreal. The videos were pulled with Coderre calling them “a mistake.”
But L’Amour says those kind of “mistakes” keep happening in a city and province that should know better by now.
With a report by CTV Montreal’s Caroline Van Vlaardingen