Some members of Montreal's black and Haitian communities say a French textbook being used in Quebec elementary schools contains racist material, and should be pulled from the curriculum.

The Ardoise grammar book, for Grade 3 and 4 students, tells the story of Fancia, an 11-year-old girl from Haiti, through a first-person letter. She is depicted as an orphan who does not attend school and spends her day fetching water, doing laundry, and cooking.

When books are brought to her neighbourhood, Fancia says she goes to have a look, even though "people make fun" of her because she is "poor and [her] skin is very black."

The full translated text:

"I live on the Island of Haiti. Since my parents died, I live with my grand-mother and my little brother. I go fetch water, I do the laundry, and I cook. I don't go to school, but I love listening to stories. When books are brought to my neighbourhood, I always go, even though people make fun of me because I am poor and my skin is VERY black. I wish all children could go to school and learn with their friends."

'Some might call it poverty porn'

Since being posted to Facebook by a concerned parent, the Ardoise excerpt has spread through Montreal's Haitian community, with many members calling it racist.

"It's stereotypical, it's racist, and no other perspective of Haiti is being presented to kids. Some people might call that passage poverty porn," says Nathalie Batraville, a Montrealer of Haitian descent who is completing her PhD in Haitian literature at Yale.

Some members of the black community have written letters to the publisher, Anjou-based Les Editions CEC, asking for the passage to be removed.

"The image needs to be pulled," says Rachel Zellars, a PhD student at McGill University who studies race in Quebec and Canada's education system. 

"We need to shift away from these individual instances [of protest] to the larger structural issues, which are really in this case the absence of historical curriculum and cultural curriculum in our classroom spaces, public and private, that allow for diverse representation of black people," she continued.

"In Quebec, we have the most diverse community of black peoples in this province — in the entire country — and something has got to shift in terms of how we teach in our schools."

Response from the publisher

In a letter to CBC, Les Editions CEC says the text is meant to guide teachers and students in a discussion on poverty, literacy, and racism. The publisher says the text, originally published in 2001, reflects a situation that is "very real and continues to this day." They could not confirm whether Fancia is a real person or a fictional character.

The Quebec Ministry of Education says the book "meets its pedagogical standards" and that it's up to teachers to explain the image and text to students.


  • An earlier version of this story quoted Rachel Zellars as saying, "We need to shift away from these individual instances [of black representation]..." The quote instead should read, "We need to shift away from these individual instances [of protest]..."
    Oct 25, 2015 7:16 PM ET