Montreal

Montreal mom lodges racism complaint over 'unthinkable' Scouts songbook

One song in particular describes how a black child "eats a banana when he's hungry, when he's dirty he washes himself with [bleach]," says Fo Niemi, the head of CRARR.

Fo Niemi, head of CRARR, assists with complaint filed with province's human and youth rights commission

The "Cigalou" songbook was being handed out by a Montreal chapter of l'Association des Scouts du Canada. (Submitted by CRARR)

A mother in Montreal has lodged a complaint with the province's human and youth rights commission against her local Scouts chapter over racist lyrics in a songbook her daughter was told to sing from.

The Center for Research-Action on Race Relations executive director Fo Niemi said the lyrics in several songs found inside the songbook depict harmful stereotypes from colonial days.

Niemi says one song in particular describes how a black child "eats a banana when he's hungry, when he's dirty he washes himself with [bleach]."

Some songs reference cannibalism — one has with lyrics about visiting Africa and bringing a black child back as a souvenir after a white one was eaten.

In another, "it's a pygmy who eats a friend," Niemi said.

The book also contains songs playing on stereotypes about Indigenous people and the founder of Islam, Muhammad. 

Niemi is speaking out about the situation on behalf of the Haitian family so they can remain anonymous.

There were two black girls in the Montreal group of more than 30 children, according to a statement from CRARR.

The mother of one of those children made the complaint when l'Association des Scouts du Canada ‐ District de Montréal métropolitain (ASC‐DMM) failed to properly investigate the situation.

This song is taken from the Cigalou songbook. (Submitted by CRARR)

She wants the songbook to stop being used and for Scouts to develop a better complaint procedure. She also wants leadership to get sensitivity training.

"This is a pattern we see often — when black individuals complain of racist, offensive representations — they tend to get trivialized," Niemi said.

"They get shut down and the institution doesn't do anything."

CRARR director Fo Niemi said the lyrics in the songbook are unthinkable in 2019. (CBC)

According to Niemi, the mother works in education and felt it was particularly unacceptable to normalize this for young people.

"This is unforgivable, this is unthinkable, that in 2019 this association still allows this kind of racist representation of black people," Niemi said.

L'Association des Scouts du Canada - District de Montréal métropolitain (ASC‐DMM) did not immediately return a request for comment.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak

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