Keep Conversing

After seeing this post shared by one of my friends on social media, I felt the overwhelming weight of a heavy heart. Where to even begin with the issues in this? I sighed. Shook me head. Felt a little deflated.

I AM CANADIAN... maybe we should remember the words of our founding fathers:
Wilfred Laurier - "We must insist that the immigrant that comes here is willing to become a Canadian and is willing to assimilate our ways, he should be treated on equal grounds and it would be shameful to discriminate against such a person for seasons of their beliefs or the place of birth or origin. But it is the responsibility of that person to become a Canadian in all aspects of life, nothing else but a Canadian. There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says that he is a Canadian, but tries to impose his customs and habits upon us, is not a Canadian. We have room for only one flag, the Canadian flag. There is room for only two languages here, English and French. And we have room for loyalty, but only one, loyalty to the Canadian people. We won't accept anyone, I'm saying anyone, who will try to impose his religion or customs on us." -1907

I wanted so badly to respond out of impulsive emotions. Out of outrage and despair.

Then I remembered a quote I heard recited recently by a panelist at an event I attended titled, "Beyond the Women's March: Inclusive & Intersectional Organizing". The quote was something along the lines of, "you know what you know, and you don't know what you don't know" - you have to meet people where they're at. And instead of accusing someone of ignorance, take time to share the knowledge you have. 

Especially right now, we have seen that divisive tactics are not productive in working towards progress. And so, I took a few deep breaths. I responded with the simple fact, "There are over 60 Indigenous languages spoken in this country.", and put it to rest.

I thought this was a succinct statement that reflects upon colonialism, white supremacy, Indigenous rights, societal privilege, etc. As someone who cares deeply about reconciliation, who is educated in Indigenous history, who has traveled to remote Inuit communities, and who has studied anti-oppressive practices; my words were a clear indication of how disapproving I was with this post.

For someone who doesn't know what I know, who hasn't had the experiences I have had, those words were not enough. If I wanted to truly convey my thoughts to this person, I would have to invest some emotional labour. 

I had been cautioned, "You cannot teach a fence post!" in reference to this specific individual. But I think that this mentality is detrimental to opening space for dialogue about these issues which is so extremely valuable. You cannot give up on people, no matter how hopeless you might feel. Continue to resist. Battle until you can't anymore.

While I don't think I did much damage in changing this person's mind; I gave it a shot. And maybe, just maybe, some of my words sparked something in this person. Maybe I opened a can that they have never considered before. Maybe I tugged at some heartstrings. 

Maybe, or maybe not. 

Even with the smallest of likelihoods, it is worth a try. Communication is an innate human behaviour grounded in cooperative and shared intentions. Keep conversing. 

Here is my response:

Dear blank,

I wanted to take the time to share my opinions on this recent post you made on Facebook. I am doing this not to spark an argument but because I truly believe that people with differing views can benefit from listening to one-another and trying to understand the other person’s perspectives and learn where they might be coming from.

Reading this quote you shared by Wilfred Laurier, I was frustrated particularly by the line, “There is room for only two languages here, English and French.” Not only is that inaccurate; since languages are intangible, they do not occupy physical space and therefore there is room for infinite languages in any given space. On top of that, the history of Canada’s official languages is rooted in colonialism, oppression, and silencing of Indigenous voices. There were over 60 languages actively spoken by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people before European settlers began trespassing on this land. To say that there is only room for French and English in this country is extremely hypocritical to the point Laurier is trying to make (Direct quote: “We won’t accept anyone, I’m saying anyone who will try to impose his religion or his customs on us”). European settlers came over here to Turtle Island and imposed their languages, religions, customs, etc. on the people who were here before us.

Not only did European settlers impose their languages, religions, customs, etc. but they also practiced horrendous acts of violence and oppression against Indigenous peoples. The forceful assimilation of Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture through the residential school system has had systemic, intergenerational, and traumatic legacies on the Indigenous community. The federal government’s forced relocation of Inukjuak Inuit from their homes in Quebec to the High Arctic has had consequences that transmit throughout the health and well-being of many Indigenous peoples. Because of this colonial history; we as Canadians – both you and I – have a moral responsibility to actively work towards reconciliation and decolonization.

This post you shared fails to acknowledge and recognize those whose land this nation is situated on. It fails to consider the colonial history in which Canada was born out of. It does not acknowledge that French and English, as Canada’s two official languages, are, in themselves, an imposing of customs.

The reason I am frustrated is because I know we can do better. If we start by acknowledging our privilege as white settlers here in this country, then we can begin to open our hearts and our minds. White privilege means that us white folks have been afforded societal privileges that benefit us in a way that people who are non-white do not experience.  When we acknowledge that privilege and hold that as a centre-point for considering ideas such as immigration, multiculturalism, and diversity; then there is so much space for love, compassion, acceptance and inclusion. There is room. If only we dig deep enough, open ourselves up enough, to find it.


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