So I’ve been pretty ambivalent about patriotism since my early 20s, when I was a historian-in-training and the study of nationalism was more or less my field. As a theoretical concept, it does NOT hold up well to any kind of scrutiny, trust me. And in practice? It’s downright dangerous. To whom? Well, to everyone, ultimately. But most obviously and immediately, to anyone considered “other”, anyone on the margins, anyone struggling to fit into whatever arbitrary (and, if we take the long/historical view, probably temporary) border has been drawn on the map – or in society – at any given moment.
Me, I was born and raised on the privileged side of almost any border you can think of, literal or metaphorical. Being a proud Canadian would be – has been – easy for me. But it’s not a luxury I’m comfortable accepting anymore. Not unless I can be proud of Canada for taking concrete action (key words: Concrete. Action.) to address the huge historical wrongs that were done to the Indigenous peoples of this land, and the myriad ways in which these wrongs continue to reverberate to this day. Not unless I can be proud of Canada for actually walking the walk instead of just talking, with respect to multiculturalism, immigration (I’m looking at you, Safe Third Countries Act), and the environment.
We’re not there yet. We’re not anywhere close. But here’s another thing that became very clear to me back in the day as a baby historian, and has only become clearer since: anything to do with culture and communal identity on a large scale (like national identity) doesn’t stick if it only comes from the top down. It can be legislated, but it won’t really “take” unless people are inspired to start making it part of their daily lives; part of how we talk and how we act, and the stories we tell each other. What does it mean to be Canadian? I know what I’d like it to mean. How about you?
This video by a theatre colleague, Taran J. Kootenhayoo, has been shared by a few people on my Facebook timeline today, and I’m sharing it again because it’s powerful and relevant: