By MIMI LILIEFELDT
As the country wrapped up another Canada Day, I found myself conflicted. It used to be an unfettered celebration of red and white, an excuse to plaster the maple leaf everywhere and possibly, to be plastered oneself.
But the last few years have revealed that we can’t suppress our past anymore.
So, what does it mean to acknowledge July 1st in the present? This is an individual answer. One of the reasons we love our country is that we are free to choose what, how, and who we love. When I asked myself this question, I had to first tackle what it means for me to be a Canadian.
In this column we have discussed the privilege of being white many times, and again in this dissection of what it means to be Canadian, it came up for me. I am the first of my family on either side (South Africa and Japan) to be born in Canada. I always considered it a great source of pride and good fortune, and I still do.
However, many times in my life (and no doubt many times in the future) I have been asked, “Where are you from?”
When my response is given, it is usually one of two reactions: One, a look of doubt and surprise (as though I might not have understood the question) or two, a follow up question that the individual believes will clarify things, “No, but where are you REALLY from?”
I can tell you sincerely, this hurts me. The message is loud and clear. Me with my Black and Asian features, does not belong here. It makes me sad to even write this sentence, but it’s true and you need to hear it.
The privilege of being white in this country is the assumption and entitlement that you deserve to be here more than I do. Most good people would never outright believe this to be their thinking, but it’s built into the system that you should believe this. You believe it without knowing you believe it. I know this is true because I have believed it.
And in a ridiculous display of hypocrisy taught to me by our forefathers, I also believed I had more right to be here than someone who wasn’t born here. This is not a thought I consciously had before writing it, but I know that somewhere deep in my naïve core I once thought this.
In the two years that I have spent writing this column (this month is the official anniversary), I have met many different Canadians with a wide range of journeys. But what they all had in common was their love for Canada.
In May of this year I spoke with Barb Nahwegahbow, a local Indigenous artist. Barb not only shared her story but also enlightened me on what this land means to Indigenous people. How they have cared for it and lived in harmony with it as the original inhabitants, and how they constantly must fight for it and their own basic rights.
The discord between Canada Day supporters and opposers is sad and possibly misunderstood. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but I felt a deep need to acknowledge the pain of our past and yet still was appreciative of what I have in this country in my present. Admitting our faults as a country does not diminish what we can be thankful for. But something to think about is that the way we got here wasn’t the only way, what did we miss out on by not choosing another path?
When I think of us as Canadians and how we like to be seen by the world, we are always proud be to recognized as polite, worldly and diverse. For the most part I agree with this image and want to keep perpetuating it.
How we preserve this image is by doing “the work”. The much talked about and never-ending work.
For clarity, the work is educating ourselves and each other about systemic and social racism, listening to BIPOC and believing them when they tell you what’s going on for them, actively pursuing equality and inclusivity in your workplaces, sports teams and community spaces – diversity is pointless if the person doesn’t feel like an equal. It’s not just about giving them a seat at your table; it’s about letting them know they have an equitable say in discussions and decisions at that table, that their voice is of value.
It is also about being a good bystander and not letting the aggressions, both macro and micro, go unaddressed. Countless times good people have stood by and done nothing because they didn’t want to embarrass anyone. It’s too late, the victim has already been humiliated. Why does the aggressor get to be spared?
The ways in which you can do the work are countless and, yes, they take considerable effort. But anything less is lip service.
And so, I piece together a picture of what it means to me to be a Canadian.
I am a Canadian in my birthright and in my parents’ immigration and adoption of this country. I am a Canadian in my privilege of living on this beautiful and diverse land. I am a Canadian in my care and activism for those who have gone before us to sacrifice so much. And I am a Canadian in my need to honour and raise up those who march forward regardless of their vulnerability.
As a result of this soul search, I concluded that for me, I will acknowledge July 1st as a day to take action: A day to honour, support and spread the word for our Indigenous communities, and a day to reflect, and a day to be thankful that I have the privilege of living in this country.
During the pandemic we plastered the words, “we are all in this together”, literally everywhere. For me this statement goes beyond the pandemic. What I have learned over the last two years is that if you live here, no matter how you got here, you are part of this country. We are all in this together, we are all Canadians.
COLUMN ON HIATUS UNTIL OCTOBER
Dear reader and anyone who has supported me in the last two years of writing this column, I want to say thank you. I write it because I really hope that hearing these voices, and my own, will help foster more understanding and closeness in our community.
I will be taking a small hiatus and returning with the column in October.
If you know a BIPOC member of our neighbourhood that would be willing to share their story I hope you’ll encourage them to reach out to me. The more voices we hear, the more perspectives we will have and that benefits all of us.
Mimi Liliefeldt is a Beach resident and business owner. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org