Change is the one constant in life. There is so much change in our lives individually and collectively in society that we forget to take a look around us and ask ourselves: What has changed, what is still the same, and what needs to change?
Evolving our perception, ideals and hegemonic values can take a lifetime. Even when a shift occurs it is not universal. The light never completely diminishes the dark.
In reality, social change is very slow. Extremely slow. While large sections of society grow and develop intellectually and empathetically, many choose to hold onto their "old" ways and "traditional" ideas. Whether this is a conscious or unconscious decision is a debate for another time, but the reality is that hatred, prejudice and discrimination occur everywhere. Prejudice and discrimination take time to address or resolve completely.
Canada is no exception to this.
Canadians are not immune from participating in commentary relating to the race or cultural background of another fellow Canadian, even in what we believe is a "post-racial" society. We are not an exception to the complex dynamics of stereotypes, assumptions, racial prejudice and bigotry. As much as we'd like to think otherwise: we are not a shining beacon of a post-racial society.
Just last night I was leaving my evening class at SFU's downtown campus to take the train home. I was stopped by a hesitant tourist with her husband and young daughter. "Excuse me... can you help me?" she asked.
She wanted to know where she could purchase a swimsuit for her child, so I looked up the nearest Swimco on my phone. Unfortunately, the store was closed.
It was almost 9 p.m. and I knew that the retail shops were closing down and they would have to try again tomorrow morning. I did what came naturally and drew them a basic map to showcase where the mall and shopping strip was in relation to their hotel. They were beyond grateful.
The woman, a tourist from South Korea, thanked me and said "You Canadians are so kind." I am not going to lie -- a grin grew on my face and pride swelled through my chest, especially when the little girl gave me a large smile in return.
A woman from South Korea does not have a preconceived idea or narrow understanding of what a Canadian looks like. Dresses like. Speaks like.
She only has an idea of what a Canadian acts like. Kind. That is all it took for her to identify me as a Canadian. Nothing else.
Kindness: a source of pride we hold close to our hearts when we meet people from other countries, or travel the world. We're Canadians, and we are so bloody kind. Isn't that a wonderfully deceiving reality; a boldfaced lie we tell ourselves?
If only that were completely true.
Do not get me wrong, we are kind. We are polite. We are so many wonderful things, but that does not mean we do not have issues we need to address or take care of. Hard truths that are often overlooked or not spoken about. While we bask in the wonderfully positive stereotypes about our kindness, beer, maple syrup and hockey, we need to remember that these stereotypes are not a complete truth; they are a partial truth that we endorse and love to highlight. Some may argue that in relation to people of other nationalities, we are "not as bad" or "so much better," which sounds a lot like: "Why are you talking about this? It's not a big deal. Suck it up."
It's a shame that on one hand, a visiting tourist from South Korea can identify and appreciate me as a Canadian, but some fellow Canadians will easily spew vile rhetoric and ignorance:
"Go back to your country." This is my country.
I thought we were kind.
"Fuckin' immigrants." Wait, what? Are we not all related to some immigrant, are we not a country built on immigration?
I thought we were polite.
"Your people are responsible for this." You and I are the same people. We are both a part of the true north, strong and free.
I thought we were enlightened.
We are so many things: Kind. Polite. Enlightened. However, not all of us are kind, polite or enlightened. Therefore it should not be taboo when experiences of bigotry, racism and sheer hatred are expressed by victims; highlighting this disconnect between what we like to think all Canadians are like, and what the reality is. So, next time your fellow Canadian faces a negative experience that involves their race or cultural heritage, particularly in Canada: Listen to them. Understand that this is a part of our Canadian reality. You may not be a part of it. You may not experience it. You may not even consciously contribute to it, but it is there, and it is a truth. A hard, ugly and unflattering truth.
I know we have kind people. So many wonderful Canadians.
But, we are not all kind.
We are not all accepting.
We are not all proud of our mosaic.
We are not all the ideal, liberated, and wonderful "Canadian" which we assume to be part of our national identity. We're not all there, but hopefully one day we will be. One day we can proudly proclaim that these wonderful positive stereotypes we hold dear to ourselves are complete, factual truths. We are all kind, accepting and proud of our mosaic. One day, it won't be a lie.
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