I have been invested in investigating my story; intersectionality really makes one see how we are a collection of identities that flow into each other depending on situations or power dynamics. I want to go back to Albert Camus, and more specifically his novel The Stranger. For those of you who know me, this is the writer that woke me up me up intellectually, politically, and socially. Before Camus, books were an obligation and I despised being forced to read them. I was lucky enough to have a French teacher who put this author on my path; pretty much forcing me to do a book report on The Plague because she saw Camus and his ideas already alive in me.
After reading that book; life looked more complex and beautiful, food tasted more subtle and delicious, music sounded more urgent, I truly felt like I had found a new paradigm altering friend. I read all that I could get my hands on from this Algerian intellectual; I registered to study journalism in university to follow in his footsteps and hopefully write engaging and important articles like he had (he was pretty much kicked out of Algeria because of his articles on Kabylia). I like all self-respecting philosophy undergrad students I dabbled in Communism just like Camus (he was eventually kicked out of the Algerian Communist Party because he was recruiting Arabs to fight colonialism and the party was more interested in the upcoming war).
Let’s go back to The Stranger, the novel that made Camus. The story of a European that kills an anonymous Arab (which throughout the whole book we never learn his name, it became the inspiration for Daoud’s novel The Meursault Investigation), when this book was hailed as a masterpiece (he became part of the holy trinity with Sartre and de Beauvoir after the publication of the novel). Later on however, people started to harshly criticize the fact that the victim of Meursault’s murder was just another nameless and faceless Arab, yet another victim of French colonialism. Some people even went as far as saying that Camus was participating in racism rather than describing a racist society. I think however that Camus was not a racist, I think that he definitely had an affinity with the Arab population of Algeria seeing as how he was raised in the poor neighbourhood of Belcourt in Alger. He was showing that some lives were more valuable than others.
Most of the trials that Camus covered were based on racial tensions between Arabs and Europeans, this influenced Camus greatly in the writing of this novel. Camus is known to have said that no European would be condemned for killing an Arab; he was appalled by the courts and found the justice system to be ridiculous and absurd. This trial was then Camus showing us the hypocracy of the justice system. If we think about it, Meursault is not actually found guilty of killing the Arab, but he is sentenced to death because he did not cry at his mother’s funeral. He was killed because he did not seem to have remorse, he did not play by society’s rules. This was Camus showing just how much racist his country was towards their colonised.
When I think of the Black Lives Matter movement and the extremely important discussion that they brought to mainstream society: “are certain lives worth more than others in society? ” I think that this is exactly what Camus was wrestling with in this novel; he was trying to show the reality of Algeria . I think that he did not name the Arab victim to show how the Arab was viewed by the coloniser; how Europeans discarded the Arab population as just a faceless lesser population. It has been said that a Frenchman would have never been condemned to death like Meursault in real life, I think that is exactly why Camus had the protagonist wrestle with the absurdity of life and the release that happens when we are confronted with our mortality and death. But the climate that is throughout the book seems to be a European who sees himself much more in the Arab than the rich Frenchman coloniser, and wrestling with the colonial heritage present in his home.
This notion of colonialism and the anonymity of the oppressed shook me, in a very personal way. Being an Acadian and a Canadian I feel that I live between these two positions: I am the oppressed as an Acadian where my people were deported throughout the world away from my homeland or forced to flee into the woods and survive in hiding as British forces searched for them, with the French nowhere to be found to defend or help a people who only wanted peace and did not want to take part in a war of the two world colonial powers; I am also a Canadian, the same country that murdered and civilized (we took the savage out of our First Nations like some would say) Native populations that lived in somewhat harmony with the Acadians but were then shipped off to residential schools to be “educated”.
I still to this day wrestle with my identity when it comes to French and English; I come from a French mother and English father, I am lucky to have been raised in both cultures simultaneously and yet I struggle with trying to find one identity (I sometimes feel like I never really belong anywhere during debates of identity in Canada). I feel that Camus struggled with the same issue to a certain degree, when I read his books I am able to see his blindspots for certain issues (like I have been guilty for my faire share of times). I think that I could sum up my position on the whole French vs English fight in a similar way as he did when in Sweden during his Nobel Prize visit “People are now planting bombs in the tramways of Algiers. My mother might be on one of those tramways. If that is justice, then I prefer my mother.” I try and be sensitive to everyone’s situation and view of the world, where we come from shapes what lense we will use to view the world.
I don’t come from Belcourt in Algier, raised in poverty (quite the contrary, I have been extremely lucky to be raised in a loving home; we weren’t perfect but my parents did the best they could and I know this) in the middle of the beginnings of a bloody civil war. I have suffered prejudice because I was an Acadian and I have never truly felt accepted by my Québécois cousins, my mixed heritage has made me a minority no matter which part of Canada I reside, never truly belonging. It is in this solitude that I developped my friendship with Camus and his own identical struggle… Canada we say is made of two solitudes (French Canada and English Canada), I feel lucky that I get to cross that line and see my country from both sides.