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This is a portion of Bernadette Arthur's April newsletter for Canada. Sign up to receive full-length Race Relations newsletters below! 

The U.S. and Canada have an interesting relationship. In my opinion, it often mimics a sibling rivalry. 

As is the case with siblings, identities are often described and even shaped based on the identity of the other. It is not uncommon to hear Canadians describe our national identity in comparison to our neighbours to the South. Here are a few common comparisons:

  • Canadians are more generous than U.S. Americans because we have a free healthcare system.  
  • Canadians are more welcoming to newcomers than Americans because we have a multiculturalism policy.
  • Canadians are more polite than U.S. Americans, because we say “sorry” just as much as we say, “eh”.   

Think I’m making this up? I even found a Macleans article that listed 99 reasons why it’s better to be a Canadian! There are some dangers to cultivating a culture of comparison, in fact the Bible even warns against it.   

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.  Galatians 6:4-5 (MSG)

A culture of comparison to others can often cause us to construct a story about ourselves that is one-dimensional and lacks understanding of areas for growth. I was reminded of this reality when I hosted a Toronto-based racial justice and reconciliation tour for my U.S. Office of Race Relations colleagues.  

I introduced my colleagues to some leaders and sites that are important to the conversation of anti-racism and reconciliation in Toronto. I’ve also included the impressions of my U.S. colleagues about the presence of racism in Canada after visiting these sites and participating in our new Act of Re-membering workshop

Their introduction to the race conversation in Canada came in the form of their interaction with a Canadian official: a border crossing agent. When they responded to a question about the purpose of their business in Canada, the border agent informed them, “There’s no racism in Canada!” This Canadian official’s assertion served as an interesting and informative backdrop for the rest of their trip. I invited them to share their initial impressions on race relations and racism in Canada based on the stories they heard from various Canadian community leaders and practitioners and given their experience as residents of a country that is also steeped in racial tensions.  

“What was interesting to me is the very similar history of British people getting rid of Indigenous peoples with relocation and residential schools, all to get the land. They moved people all around through laws and acts for their convenience.

Canada seems to believe their racism is lighter from U.S. when in fact it's just the same. It seems to me there's no better and worse racism and to compare ourselves with others doesn't help.” - Viviana Cornejo

“Racism in Canada seems very polite. It’s packaged in a way that it doesn’t offend people. But it does exist, in the practices and policies in our churches, law enforcement services, etc. Racism is covert here. You just can’t see it and feel it in the ways that the U.S. practices it.  It’s quiet and nice. It’s still hurtful, it still stings, it interrupts people’s lives, it’s still dangerous.

The end goal is that it’s done in a way that they don’t want you to see it or feel it, while perpetuating a false narrative that it doesn’t exist. There’s a humour with it. It doesn’t seem as serious. If you’re not conscious and you don’t understand how it works you could get confused.  - Idella Winfield

On the second day of our community learning journey we participated in a newly developed exercise called, “An Act of Re-Membering.” An Act of Re-Membering is an interactive, participatory, story-based workshop that shares Canada's nations-to-nations history using a variety of voices, including your own! Participants go on an storytelling journey while walking on a giant map. Together they seek to learn our “shared history” (George Erasmus) and "re-member" the body and land that has been divided. It’s a great community building experience. Contact me at Bernadette Arthur [email protected] to make it a part of your community’s learning and building experience.

“I started off thinking that I was  a guinea pig. I didn’t know an awful lot about the cultural context in Canada. I came into the workshop open and willing to listen. I was struck by the thoroughness of the history and the laws against people of colour. I came away thinking that there were a lot of similarities, but the Canadian context is much more nuanced and subtle. I was blessed to re-member the relationship of people to land. I came away with new knowledge that I didn’t have before. The process of adding our own stories to the workshop was great. It wasn’t just getting information tossed down your throat or into your head.   

Sadly there is racism in Canada. Did you know there was slavery here? Did you know what happened to Japanese Canadians during WW2? Y’all got are we going to deal with it?”  - Rev. Reggie Smith (Director of Office of Race Relations and Office of Social Justice, CRCNA)

Inspired? Bothered? Curious about our journey? I would highly recommend that you explore the stories of race, resistance, and reconciliation in your own backyard. What you find may offer fodder for prayer, reflection, and action! If you want help with conducting such a tour, we can help. Contact me at [email protected].

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