I was walking through a park near my home yesterday on what could only be described as a quintessentially Fall Canadian afternoon. There was a calm, grey lake that reflected the gray of the sky, a seagull swirling about, a bit of a gusty wind that allowed the leaves to at last loosen from their trees and gleefully rain down all around us; ending up on the ground and creating the perfect ‘crunch, crunch’ under Charlie the dog’s feet. I had on my “Roots” coat (nothing says quasi-Canadian quite like a “Roots”) and my lined fall boots thoroughly enjoying the feelings of melancholia and loneliness that only Fall can stir up so acutely that they actually transmute into contentment and joy when we let them.
As we continued our walk my mind was lolling about, as minds do, and headed back toward the car all I was thinking about was heading to a cozy home where curling up with a hot beverage and the fireplace seemed like the next right steps. As we approached the car, my eyes landed on two flags at the edge of the park: the U.S. flag and the Canadian flag standing and waving side by side as they have done in our border part of Ontario forever. As I looked up at the flags, my Canadian eyes, almost reflexively, looked away from the United States flag while, again, almost reflexively, lingered on the Canadian flag. I saw that red and white, the maple leaf proudly in the centre under a grey Canadian sky and I was overcome with feelings of pride. I felt so, so, so unspeakably proud to be a Canadian that I was nearly immediately filled with…..shame.
I was filled with shame thinking about members of Indigenous and BIPOC communities who do not feel proud of being Canadian. On the contrary, they feel ignored, shamed, marginalized and cast aside and they should. Canada has committed unspeakable wrongs and atrocities and continues to do so. Systemic racism is a real thing in Canada. Xenophobia, misogyny, genocide, you name it, are also real things in Canada. They are terrible and shameful things and, yet, I still felt unspeakably proud of my country which made me feel conflicted and angry that I may not be able to openly express that pride for fear of being shamed, accused of being short sighted or naive and, the greatest fear of all, that of being cancelled.
While I wasn’t afraid of being cancelled by strangers on the Internet I was afraid of what friends of varying communities would think and feel and whether or not my words might hurt them. I decided though to trust in the strength of my intentions and my relationships to put my feelings, thoughts and point of view on (digital) paper trusting that those who matter and those who know me will trust me enough to walk with me to the end of this piece, and, even those who don’t know me will hopefully do the same. Ultimately though, I decided to trust in myself enough to express my views in a, hopefully, thoughtful enough way so as to provoke thought and further discussion. So, I will begin here which is that, when I set my eyes on that Canadian flag yesterday, I was unspeakably proud. I am unspeakably proud of Canada and I am proud to be a Canadian.
What I am not though is proud of how Canada treats all of its people. What I am not proud of is how long it has taken to make meaningful reparations to Indigenous communities and how often they fall short. What I am not proud of is a woman lying in a hospital bed writhing in pain while nurses mock her mercilessly and she dies. What I am not proud of is how Canadian police treat members of the BIPOC community and disproportionately arrest and murder them at alarming rates compared to their white counterparts. But even with all of that said, I am still an unspeakably proud Canadian. I am because true pride is not blind. True pride does not mean loving someone or something because they are faultless or blameless. On the contrary, true love and true pride come by feeling pride in, and, loving someone or something, in spite of faults and in spite of what may deserve blame.
True pride and true love also mean caring enough to try and to help something or someone be better so they can do better. It means loving enough to tell the truth even with the truth is almost too much to bear. It does not mean the efforts will succeed, it just means we cared enough to try. And you know how human beings care? Imperfectly, wildly, gloriously, failingly, beautifully and exactly like the countries that they make up. Ibram X. Kendi wrote, “I want a new world where humans accept the hard truth as routinely as they accept the easy lies in this world…Lies are like pain relievers allowing us to momentarily feel better. The painful truth allows us to heal. There’s going to be pain regardless. Pain is a part of life. But lies do not have to be.”.
It struck me that Dr. Kendi, who is American, did not write, “I want a new world where the United States accept[s] the hard truth as routinely as they accept the easy lies in this world…”. It struck me because it would be nice if the United States did not so easily believe the lies of its President/wannabe dictator Trump. It would be nice if the United States put on a mask, believed in Science, decide climate change was real; did not fill RBG’s Supreme Court seat with the antithesis of RBG, could separate Rudy Guilani and Qanon’s fiction from actual facts and…..wait…..the U.S. can’t do any of that. It can’t because the U.S. is a mass of land conquered and colonized by human beings who, for a time, normalized conquering, colonization and slavery to hold on to their own power. They did so until other human beings rose up, pushed back, organized, outnumbered and fought to be free, equal and pursue their own happiness.
Those human beings did so with the help of those who were already more free looking back and handing them the baton. It worked, somewhat well, until those who were more free started to feel they were being chased, their dreams being overshadowed by the ‘others’ also trying to run the race and so they decided to sprint on ahead. The others got murdered, arrested, thrown in jail or were simply too tired of running to try and keep up. Those running in total freedom though kept running, their fear fuelling their adrenaline, and they ran straight into the arms of the one who said he alone could fix it all for them. He assured them with his cunning and his lies that they could stop running, their suburbs would be safe and the boogeymen would be banished and so they voted him up to the highest office in the land.
All of this got me thinking that Canada has not committed human rights abuses. Canada does not engage in racism, misogyny, xenophobia or genocide. Canada, like America, doesn’t do any of those things because it can’t. Canada is just an idea, a thing in the process of becoming itself, and, for better or for worse, who fosters Canada’s becoming: we do. The human beings, the Canadians, who make up Canada. It is okay to be proud of Canada the idea and its ideals; just like it may be okay to be proud of the U.S. the idea and its ideals.
It is equally okay to not be proud of the Americans or the Canadians who subvert those ideas and ideals, or, only pay lip service to them as convenient. We the people nominate the people and elect the parties who reflect our values. We nominated those who decided residential schools were a good thing and we allowed them to be normalized. We allow police and their unions to run amok. We allow human rights tribunals to drag on while immigrants are villainized and Indigenous women are kidnapped and murdered. Canada doesn’t do any of it but Canadians do because we decide what Canada is and what Canada does.
Overall though, and enduringly in my view, Canadians do their best and are at their best when we embrace diversity, come together, reject misinformation and political tribalism; speak in our funny accents, drink our tea and decide that even though imperfect, Canadians, and as a result Canada, can and must be better and do better and we the citizenry can make it so. We can by looking to and learning from our neighbours to the South. We can by not holding on so tightly to our own batons. We can by continuing to elect leaders like the wildly imperfect human being that is Justin Trudeau. He is, like the citizenry he governs, far from perfect because there is no such thing, no such perfect people (though if you know of one please slide into my DM’s on the ‘gram and provide their name, number and address as I will need to contact them) but Justin tries. The handling of the pandemic in Canada is proof of that effort. It is also proof that critical thought, coming together, avoiding political tribalism and adhering to scientific evidence and the truth are keys to a nations success or failure and, more often than not, Canada continues to succeed.
All politicians obfuscate and dissemble, even those I love the most (Obama, JT, I’m looking at you!) but citizens need to look at and examine whose dissembling does the least harm; that is one of the vagaries of being an adult and a politically active citizen. Justin’s trip to the Aga Khan’s island, for example, was not a good look but what real harm did it do to Canadians and their real lives? As far as I can tell, none really, but, a mishandling of something like Covid would have been devastating. At this point, Canada has resisted the strong man, resisted the chaos of a total descent into misinformation and the withering of democracy because Canadians have resisted all of those things. It is that resistance that make this Canadian so, so, so proud and we have to work to keep resisting.
Personally, I will work in the next election with everything I have, as a proud Canadian, to make sure we keep resisting chaos, descent, misinformation and allowing our democracy to wither. Glennon Doyle was asked if she is optimistic or pessimistic and she responded that she is neither, but, she is determined. She is because being determined is not tied to outcome, it just allows people to keep going so that they can keep on trying to make things better.
I’m not proud at all of America right now but neither should I look away. I am proud of Canada right now, but, I could be prouder, and I have to remember that I, as we all do, have a part to play in furthering that pride. So, my plan for today is to go back to the park and to set my Canadian eyes upon those two flags side by side. To not look away from either, but, rather strengthen my determination to do my part in ensuring that my country, your country, our country keeps becoming more than it already is so that we can be prouder than we already are and so that it becomes more fair, more just and more equitable for all Canadians. And then, at least for the rest of today, I plan to head back to my cozy home, curl up and turn the fireplace on.