Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Canada: An Open-minded Nation...Most Of The Time

Without going into too much detail about the party who inspired this post because I don’t want to stir up any trouble (although I’m certainly tempted to do so, really tempted, occasionally), I would like to vent, nonetheless, about a recent experience that annoyed me to no end. And an experience that isn’t isolated. I’ve come face to face with it before. Every now and then I run across the attitude that this woman displays in others; an attitude that is blatantly ignorant, bigoted and so damn un-Canadian.

What is it you ask? What is this hairball that I need to spit out before I choke on it?

The attitude towards immigrants. And the attitude towards the diversity of people in this country. Particularly towards individuals whose skin isn’t milky white. Or whose heritage is different than the people who originated from European countries. Or whose roots in this great country of mine don’t go back far enough to satisfy some people who believe that your family has to have been here an X amount of time, generations worth, for you to be considered a ‘true’ Canadian.

Pfffttt...

[Pause...take a very, very deep breath]

To pass the Canadian citizenship test, you must be able to identify this place. Honest.
Every time I speak with this person, every single time, eventually she’ll make some derogatory comments, albeit in such a subtle manner that you could miss it (but you know they are meant to insult if you pay attention), about individuals who she ‘perceives’ as being immigrants. Every single time, people. It’s uncanny. There are moments when I wonder if it’s meant as a personal jab since my parents came to Canada in the 50s, which in her eyes makes them bona fide immigrants despite the fact that it’s been over five decades. Maybe I’m just too cynical. Maybe. Because about three years ago when this same woman asked if my mother was a Canadian citizen as I stared at her in disbelief (and amusement at her level of idiocy), I wonder just how cynical I’m being. My mother has been here since 1957, so anyone with half a brain would assume that somewhere in alllll that time, she was granted citizenship. Possibly within the first five years. But what do I know.

Anyway.

I place emphasis on the word ‘perceives’ because she labels certain individuals as immigrants because of the way they look. If they don’t dress like Canadians should, whatever that may be, they are immigrants. If the colour of their skin or other features don’t align with that white, European look, well, they must be immigrants. If their religion isn’t Christian, oh, yeah, immigrants. If they have an accent or speak differently, they are absolutely immigrants. She comes to these conclusions entirely on her own. She has no idea about the background of these people, she certainly hasn’t asked them directly what their story is; she just makes that assumption based on their outward appearance. For all she knows, they may very well have been born here, along with generations before them. And may even have roots that go back further than her own.

But even if they weren’t born here, so what? The fact that they live here, raise children here, work here, pay taxes here, vote here, go to school here, open businesses here and so on, means that they are citizens and that this is their home. And that makes them as Canadian as everyone else. No matter the time frame, or how many generations they do – or do not - go back, or how they look.

It’s just so Archie Bunker-ish to behave in such an outdated manner when we’re proclaiming – and proudly - the notion that we’re a multicultural, all-inclusive, highly-tolerant, progressive, open society, and then turn around and bash immigrants, make derogatory remarks about them and marginalize them. It’s even worse when we toss around the word ‘immigrant’ like it’s something dirty, making our newest citizens feel unwelcome. And absolutely horrible when we define certain individuals as being less Canadian because of the colour of their skin or the way they dress or the food they eat or what they believe or how they speak.

If your garden has been taken hostage by one of these critters, then you are Canadian.
When I was living in Montreal, I once volunteered at a community center with a group of many other women toward bettering the neighbourhood we lived in, and helping the less fortunate members of our community. There was a lot of diversity in our team; some were newly-arrived and waiting to get their Canadian citizenship, some had just recently become citizens, some had a few generations going back, some just a few. Some were darker; some were lighter. We dressed in different ways and ate different foods. And never mind religion; I think we covered almost every type of faith there is; our group also included atheists and agnostics. But no matter what our stories were, we were no different from one another in the big scheme of things. We all wanted to carve a little space in this country, work, raise our children, live a happy, healthy life, and live peacefully. Yet, regardless of these obvious similarities, one day when we put together a small party with the community center’s workers, I heard a few of them whisper “What are THEY doing here?” about the newly immigrated and the newer citizens, as if those women didn’t warrant a place amongst the rest of us ‘true’ Canadians, and didn’t belong at that celebration. There are no words to properly convey the level of disgust I felt at that moment for fellow citizens.

Grrrr...

♪♫♪ "This land was made for you and me..." ♫♪♫

And for everyone that embraces it.

Canada boasts being a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity, and mutual respect. But despite these claims, and as polite and friendly as we come off as being, some of us can be cold and uncaring towards immigrants, newer members of our society or individuals that don’t fit the definition or description of what a ‘true Canadian’ is --- aka: what they should look like. This is not to say that there aren’t any wonderful, open-minded and progressive people in this country; there are many. But we still have a lot of work to do before we meet our full potential.


In this great country of ours, we are all equal. There are no second class citizens. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is no hierarchy of citizenship where some individuals are more Canadian than others, no matter how much some small minded individuals wish it to be so.

When I spend time with these types of Canadians, I am reminded of the profound sentence in the satirical novella ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell, which goes like this: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.

Is that what these bigoted individuals believe? That “All Canadians are equal, but some Canadians are more equal than others?”

Not in my Canada.

Ugh.

I’m done here.

22 comments:

  1. Bravo, well said! Unfortunately, there are such people in the world; I suppose one has to be.. what's the word.. understanding?.. because they honestly, sincerely feel that their opinions or prejudices are well-founded; if you asked them, they could probably come up with a hundred justifications. One can't somehow reason it out of them, or go into a history lesson on indigenous peoples or European colonisation. I think a loving, open-minded attitude comes with some sort of personal enlightenment; hopefully it will happen for your "friend" at some point. (and o yeah, Tim Horton's -- could I have a bagel please?).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, they do have a hundred justifications for the way they are thinking. Some of the prejudices are so deep that they will never be able to be reasoned with. No, I don't see someone like this being enlightened. This is the type of attitude that you take to the grave with you. Sadly.

      Delete
  2. Great post, Martha! Yeah, people like that are baffling (haha...I just accidentally typed "babbling" instead of "baffling"---Freudian slip?) to me. I have a hard time understanding that kind of prejudice. I think some folks just have a need to feel superior to others. And you see it manifested in so many different ways. Here in the North Carolina mountains, especially in the deeper country, a lot of the "natives" (that is, those whose families have lived here forever) are quite cold towards those they consider outsiders (that is, people like me who moved here). The funny thing is, I probably love these mountains even more than some of them do, but because I wasn't born here, I'll never be accepted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hehehe...yup, could be a Freudian slip :)

      That is definitely one reason for that attitude -- to feel superior to others. The way you speak of your area shows how much you love it, how you have embraced it. I bet a lot of those 'natives' don't feel as intensely about it as you do, and yet you're the one that's 'the outsider'.

      Delete
  3. I've encountered people like your 'friend'. Usually they are elderly and remember a time when the phone book only held names from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Itis shocking to encounter such an attitude in a younger person but it happens. If they are old i don't say anything just change the subject. If they are young I try to politely disagree. Or I blog about it. Enjoyed reading your comments on this subject, Martha.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are absolutely right, Francie. A lot of the elderly are this way, but I've run across many young people with the same mindset, too. And where do they get it from? From previous generations, of course, like the elderly. The older folks may be too old to be reasoned with, but they were once younger and full of those prejudices that they passed along to others. I also tend to change the subject with the old folk, but sometimes it's important, especially if younger people are around that can be influenced, to tell the elderly that you don't agree with their prejudices and to tell them not to speak that way around your children, young people, etc.

      Delete
  4. Good rant, Martha! What makes Canada unique is that being "Canadian" has nothing to do with race, colour or country of origin. Being Canadian simply involves recognizing that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I couldn't have said it better myself, Debra! That is right on. Being Canadian IS recognizing that. Thank you for this.

      Delete
  5. Your Archie Bunker line cracked me up! I still can't watch that show - even when I was a kid I recognized and hated his bigoted attitude (yes I know it's a comedy, but I don't see the humour in it). I really believe things are changing with our children's generation onwards. I notice that for the most part, they all accept everyone and judge them on their actions, not their ethnicity or colour and they open new Canadians with open arms into their friend groups - even going so far as taking them under their wings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I loved All In The Family because it was quite progressive for its time. And gutsy. It tackled issues that no other show wanted to touch; issues that were considered unsuitable for network television. And even though Archie was such a huge bigot, he was ridiculed regularly and made to look like an ignorant fool. This must have really upset people who were just like him in real life!

      Yes, I also believe things are changing with our children. They are much more open and accepting, and their groups are often quite diverse. My own girls are wonderful with that, and I am proud of them for it.

      Delete
  6. Martha, I appreciate your passion! You know how to stop this type of bigotry on the spot? Tell that person face to face that you do not like to hear this garbage and you ask her to not speak that way in your presence!
    It is difficult to do this and you will probably faint with nervousness but there comes a time when the only thing left to do it is to bring that kind of thinking OUT OF THE CLOSETS of Canada and expose it to full sunshine!!
    I hear this kind of stuff all the time. and it makes one wonder if we are getting anywhere with accepting differences. And I must say, as you did in a comment on my post the other day, change takes time and it is slow to come.
    But we have to start ourselves. Growing up gay in our culture has been an eye-opener for me because it enabled me to identify with all the 'immigrants' and anyone else who didn't look like they should. I knew as they do, what it was like to be treated differently and not fully accepted.
    Talk about a rant...see what you did Martha....got me 'goin'!!lol

    Change won't come if we don't have the courage you just displayed here Martha. Thanks for this and keep 'rocking the boat'!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahaha...yes, I did start something, didn't I? But we must rant about these things. You are so right, Jim, about bringing these out of the closets of Canada. We have to start somewhere, don't we? We must bring these things to light, so we can deal with them. Many times I do speak up, sometimes my overly-polite Candian side gets the best of me. I usually depends on who the person is.

      Delete
  7. Martha, isn't that so sad? It is no different in the US, but what I find it so funny at this entitlement of those who migrated a long time ago from European regions is that the rightful dwellers of this land were well, BROWN. They were our Native Americans, who lived here for thousands of years before seeing their land taken over and their heritage destroyed. I am glad that you have the courage to stand up and say something. My mom always told me that we all bleed the same and our shit stinks the same... yeah, that's my mom for you. I think we should care most about who people are or look at things from a different perspective. I always ask people when I hear comments like that: if your children were hungry, if your government gave you no rights, if you were afraid for your life, would you try and move somewhere else? The answer is always inevitably a big YES and it gets people thinking.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know! They were BROWN! We tend to conveniently forget that we are all 'immigrants' when you think about it. The land belonged to the Native Americans, and it was stolen from them.

      Sometimes it takes the dying of generations for the world to evolve. Sad, but true.

      Delete
  8. Ignorance knows no bounds, but life has a way of teaching nevertheless. Perhaps one day she'll learn different in spite of herself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I seriously doubt it, Tatiana. I don't see this woman ever opening up her mind. She'll take this attitude to the grave with her.

      Delete
  9. I agree with Francie in that, in my experience, this is very common in elderly people. Unforuntately, this type of bigotry often gets handed down to the next generation of the family and begets a "familial bigotry". I'm ashamed to come from a line of this. I learned early on from a line in a children's song ("red or yellow, black or white, we are children in His sight") that we are all the same despite colour, religion, culture, etc. My husband and I have tried to teach our children to be open and inclusive. This is how change happens. Like Jim, I think we also need to challenge people as soon as we hear it. I was so proud of my daughter this past Fall when she challenged her grandmother, her great-aunt, her uncle and second cousins by saying "I do not appreciate you calling people **** (the offensive word)! They are some of my friends and they are the nicest people! This is rude and offensive to me!" The conversation continued and my daughter interrupted again and said "I asked you to please stop calling people that!" and she got up and walked out of the room. Unfortunately, she was called "naive and lacking world experience". Bigotry is a pervasive "cancer" and can only be stopped by mentioning our distaste for it in converations. My husband, daughter, son and I also try to nip these kinds of conversations in the bud when we notice extended family members taking visits in these kinds of directions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's it, Cathy, it gets passed down to the next generation and the next. And although I do believe that it's too late to reason with some of the elderly, I do not believe that they should just rant on and on this way. Changing the subject, or asking them nicely to stop speaking that way, is a soft way of shutting that attitude down.

      And don't be too hard on your family, Cathy. I don't think there's a person alive who doesn't have family members like this. I do, too, but I work hard at raising my children to be better than that. How wonderful that your daughter had the courage to stand up to everyone! That is a step in the right direction.

      Oh, you are so right! Bigotry is a pervasive 'cancer' that should be stopped. I truly believe it is our duty to do this, so the next generation can grow to be a better one.

      Delete
  10. As IA said it is pretty much the same in the USA. Ignorant and frightened people are always looking for someone to blame for their woes. I love your button on the side bar --- What race do you identify yourself as? HUMAN!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The only race we belong to is the human race. It's that simple.

      Delete
  11. Have you been speaking with my mother by chance? Geesh! I'd be feeling this same way..

    That woman also reminds me of a woman I met on line who would send me outright racist email forwards. I finally told her off and cut her off. It was so disheartening. She was doing this all out in the open,like there was nothing wrong with her actions..

    My dad-who is Cree- was once told to "Go back home" by some dude in Woodwards one day...yeah we laughed and laughed about that one.
    But of course we could imagine how hurtful that would be to somebody else..and that's just plain wrong and yep, totally Un-Canadian.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahahahha...Lael, I can't tell you how much I laughed at someone telling your father who is Cree to "Go back home". Talk about being as ignorant as one can possibly be. Har har har... I loved this!

      Delete