Sunday, February 12, 2012

Because I'm [Different] too.

It's a strange quirk of the Canadian identity that culture must be simultaneously celebrated and diligently ignored.

Think about it - really, there are only two facets to the Canadian cultural heritage:  our multiculturalism, and our not-American-ness.  That's pretty much it.  We're encouraged to celebrate our differences, but woe to those who treat one group differently from another.  That's not a bad thing - it's just where we're at.

A lot of people, myself included, are fascinated by the lives of others outside our narrow cultural niches.  I love looking at photos from friends' Diwali and Holi celebrations.  I live vicariously through my church friends who vacation in Brazil, in Argentina, in the Belgian Republic of Congo, in Benin and Burkina Faso, and Trinidadians who live in the UK.  I'll ask questions of people in wheelchairs, or who are blind or deaf, because I genuinely want to know more about their life's experience.  When the time is right, I say "Eid Mubarak" to my friend at the Second Cup.  I know that it's okay to say "Happy Hanukkah" but pretty awkward to say "Happy Yom Kippur".  My friends say "Happy Easter" and "Merry Christmas" to me, whether they celebrate it or not.

And I love it.  These are people who are different from me, and these are people from whom I can learn new ways of thinking.  And I'm happy to share my heritage, because in their world, they are normal and I'm the different one - and in some rare instances, my heritage is just as interesting as theirs!

But when it comes to work, their identity is invisible to me.  When it comes to standing in line, or to being served in a restaurant, or to serving someone else, identity simply has no bearing on the business at hand.  Language barrier?  We get around it.  Cultural misunderstanding?  We ask questions of each other, we apologize respectfully, and we don't do it again.
Do I care about the race of the person who just stopped me on the road to tell me I'd dropped a twenty dollar bill?  Does it matter if they're Chinese?  Do I care if they're Jewish?  Do I care if they're Martian?  No!  I'm over the moon that some honest person just saved me a week's worth of coffee money!

Do I really care if you're a White anglophone bad driver or a good driver of mixed-race?  No!  If you're in my way and if you're a lousy driver, get out of my face and take your car with you!

Special note:  if you don't have an open mind, save yourself an angry, sleepless night by stopping right here and going away.  If you are going to respond, please make sure you've read all the way to the end.

There are some that are exceedingly conscious of difference, and they can't get past it.  Racism, sexism, homophobia - it exists. History is paved with all the evils we have done against one another.  Ignorance begets ignorance; but studying history can bring up a lot of bad blood.  It reminds us how we've been wronged.

But this obsession with difference goes both ways.  Belittling one group in favour of another is bad enough; we can sometimes go too far with "[Difference] Pride" as well.  It can quickly become the downhill road paved with good intentions.

Take Black History month, for example.  I love it.  I really do.

As a matter of fact, I love all history - no matter the era, the continent or the culture.  Even the stuff I don't agree with - slavery, conversion by the sword, governmental systems I wouldn't have liked if I was under their yoke, etc., I love to learn about it, because it tells us why we are the way we are today.  It should teach us humility.  If we don't know our history, if we don't apply the lessons learned from yesterday, we're doomed to repeat it - and with our technology and reach, we can make a far bigger mess than ever before.

What fascinates me most about history are the people that drive it.

Take Ellen and William Craft for one tiny example.  Here we have a mixed race woman dressing up as a man in 1848 in order to escape slavery with her Black husband.  This is the story of an incredibly daring couple who traveled openly as White male planter and manservant - not as husband and wife - in an era of great violence against fugitive slaves, and of cross-dressers!

How about Marian Anderson as another example?  Or George Washington Carver - scholar and inventor?  Benjamin Banneker - astronomer and mathematician?  How about C.J. Walker - the first self-made, African-American female millionaire?

But why stop there?  African-Americans have a long and rich African history too!

Take 17th Century Queen Nzinga for another example - an African queen who didn't take any guff from the Dutch, the Portuguese or her own people, but rather who put herself on par - physically and mentally - with those who were her diplomatic equals.

Or Mansa Musa, Malinese king, who was arguably the wealthiest man of his day, who reinvented his country into a centre of global commerce and scholarship.

Hannibal - African. Shaka - African.  Osei Kofi Tutu - African.  Name a pharaoh!  Or how about reading up on the Dahomey Amazons!  Bet you never heard of them!  (Actually, until tonight, neither had I.)

But why focus specifically on one continent or another?

How about Trung Trac, the "She-King" of Vietnam in 43 AD?
How about Aisha bint Abu Bakr, one of the wives of Muhammad, and her rich history and incredibly complex involvement in the battle of Bassorah?

Or Yi Sun-sin, the brilliant Korean naval commander, who repelled 133 Japanese warships with only 13 ships of his own, at the Battle of Myeongnyang?

What about Catalina de Erauso?  Nun turned sailor turned soldier - just because she could?  Who, for fun or by accident, entered a Catholic church dressed as a man and was very nearly recognized by the same nuns from whom she had escaped?  And by her own mother?

And did you know the term "genocide" didn't originate with the Jewish Holocaust?  Did you know that during World War I (and after), Armenians were also subject to so-called ethnic cleansing?  How did I miss that in school?

I could go on for hours, I really could, but I have a point to make.  And that point is: we have a bad habit of celebrating one culture over another, even when we do it with the best of intentions.

Take Black history month for a prime example.  Morgan Freeman says it better than I can.

And yes, he said it.  Here's the interview to prove it.  And there's little more that I have to say about Black History month, after that.  But I will, because I can.

Let's take the timing of the event.  February is Black History Month.  February.  The second month of the year.
For fun, let's say we're now going to add in a Jewish history month.  Do we put them in January, before Black history month?  Or do we put them in March, after Jewish history month?  Do we put Jewish history before Black, or vice versa?  What a delightfully stupid question to have to ask!

Now, let's take a look at U.S. demographics.  In 2010, Black or African American citizens made up about 12.2% of the population.  That's a significant portion of the population.

Did you know that Hispanics and Latinos made up 16.3% during the same census?  When will their month be?  Or do they get six weeks, since they have more representation?

And heck, if anyone deserved January as a history month, wouldn't it be the First Nations?  How many "First Nations" were there in North America before the first Europeans arrived?  And within those nations, how many tribes?  How many clans?  We're talking about the combined land space of roughly all the countries in Europe, all the Middle Eastern countries and most of the countries in Africa - surely there's some Pre-Columbian North American history worth touting.

And what happens if you're of mixed race, as have been your parents, or grandparents?  Do you get to celebrate five or six times a year, or do you have to pick a race that best suits your colour?

But let's not divert too far away from the topic at hand.  Let's say Black History month is a good thing - and in a way, it is.  It helps us to stop and really reflect on how eurocentric North American history classes tend to be.  For example, I recall in high school that the closest thing to "non-European history" was Ancient History - Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Hammurabis and Pharaohs of the ancient world.  Nothing - zip - zilch - nada - about any culture south of the source of the Nile, and certainly nothing southeast of Siberia.  If we had "Asian History month" and "Middle-Eastern History month", I'm sure our young scholars would recognize more than Napoleon, Cleopatra and Hitler.

But there's a problem with making a big, month-long event of one culture's history.

For one thing, we're lifting non-WASP contribution out of the general context of history, instead of integrating it all together.  History wasn't written one race at a time; so why should we teach it that way?

Like Freeman says:  "Black history is American history."  The two are one and the same.  We should say the same about Canadian history.

And because there is a month reserved for one section of history, there's a tendency of saying "Oh, hey!  This is a great article about Elijah McCoy - the man to whom the phrase 'The Real McCoy' is attributed.  Oh wait - his parents were refugee slaves from Kentucky, and he was born Canadian, and then he moved to Scotland...Let's not talk about this now.  We should leave it for February instead."

Black History Month compartmentalizes African American history - which is the antithesis to the whole point of Black History Month.  Vice versa, it becomes terribly gauche to talk about White history during Black History Month.  To me, that sounds awfully like "Separate But Equal."

And worse - like Freeman says:  you're going to relegate Black History to a single month?  So who gets the other eleven?  Do we need a highly detailed calendar that summarizes all of history and all of culture into twelve neat sections?  Excuse me - ten.  After all, school lets out for summer.  And who goes first?  Who chooses which groups go first and which go last?

Now - here comes the backlash.  Someone, somewhere, is going to say that I'm against Black History Month - which in turn, makes me a racist.  Far from it.  Someone is bound to say that I'm protective of my WASP history and heritage, and that somehow, Black History Month is a threat to that.  Far from it, and shame on you for not reading the first half of this blog post.

There is a sentiment of "Now it's our turn."  Yes, it's time to celebrate your "differentness".  Guess what - it's always a good time to celebrate our differences.  Now more than ever!  Thanks to the Internet, and to those few, brave, firewall jumping freedom fighters, we have the means to do it.

But there is a backlash out there, and it's ugly.  I wish I could say it's done by the anonymous trolls of the Interverse, and in most cases, it is.  But I'm looking squarely at people I know as personal friends.  Smart people.  Eloquent people.  People who have a right to stand up for themselves and for their beliefs, who, in the process of blindly swinging their rhetorical fists, have socked me square in the mouth - without just cause.

Yes, Whites were engaged in slave trade.  I'm not.  That was history.  This is today.  I can't do anything about my being White any more than Louis Armstrong could have stopped being Black.

Yes, Christians - Catholic and Protestant - are guilty of some very bad things in history - to other cultures, against other religions, against other beliefs.  The Conquistadors are dead.  The Inquisition ended 800 years ago.  What the Catholic boarding schools did to First Nations children was wrong.  But I'm not one of those people.  In fact, if I overhear a Christian cursing anyone, I will go up to them and softly read to them a few choice Biblical verses about casting stones, overturning tables at the Temple, and about somebody not being sent into the world to condemn it.

And yes, straight people were - and some still are - guilty of atrocities and hypocrisies against people who don't share the same sexual and marital values as they ascribe to.  I'm not one of them.

I'm White from British descent.  I'm proudly and openly Christian.  I don't use euphemisms like "faithful" or "spiritual".  I'm Christian - moreover, I'm Baptist.  I'm also straight, and celibate.  Does that make me a slave-trading, eurocentric, Bible-thumping homophobe?  Far from it.

I won't speak against Pakistanis, or Afghans, or Pagans, or married transgendered people, or Americans from the Deep South, or people with physical or mental disabilities. For the sake of the individual, I will not judge anyone by the colour of their skin, or by their culture, or by their heritage, religion, sex or orientation.  To do so is called prejudice.  To insult someone based on their biology, nationality or ideology is called harassment or bigotry.  To insult a whole group of people based on their biology, nationality or ideology - that's called racism, or sexism, or any other number of -isms that are counter to rational thought.

And frankly, if you put a brown-haired, brown-eyed, well-tanned individual in front of me, I couldn't tell you if they were Russian, Italian, Egyptian, Indian or Armenian.  I won't even guess.  If you tell me they're Armenian, I'll ask all sorts of intrigued questions - what's it like over there, what did their family do, what's the best food, what's the best natural features of the landscape - because I celebrate our differences.

But I will judge someone against their own standards.  This includes Right Wing Christian Fundamentalists, agnostics, political leaders, thinkers.

So for those of you who are outspoken in your rights to be recognized and protected under the law, for those of you who are "[different] and proud of it," I say, good for you.  You deserve recognition, and you deserve protection.  That's why I live in Canada.  That's why I'm proud to be here.  And you don't need a month or a parade or an awareness campaign to do it.  Just be it.  All the time.  Everywhere.

But be respectful of others, lest you be judged a hypocrite yourself.

You have the freedom of speech - by internet, by print media, by spoken word.  You have that freedom guaranteed under by the constitution of this nation - the very backbone of all other Canadian legislation.

You even have the right to post "funny" pictures about people who ascribe to one religion over another - or to religion, period.

That is your right.

You have the right to insult my beliefs.  If it came down to it, if we were invaded by a totalitarian state that sought to revoke our right to speech, I would do as our forebears have done, and I would put my life on the line in armed combat to protect your freedom of speech - even when your mouth is full of insults and hatred.

Now take a look at the picture below here.

"Oh Memebase."  Facepalm.

Now, let's say I had put up a picture of two men holding hands and kissing, and I made some "funny" comment about them not being acceptable in today's society.  What do you think would happen?

I'll tell you what would happen:  George Takei would get on YouTube and put a rhetorical bullet in my rear end, that's what.

Now what if I replaced this image with one of the Buddha?  Or Mohammad?  It wouldn't get past the moderators, I can tell you that.  And if it did - well.  The consequences could be public and grave.

So what should my reaction be to this?  I could do the Christian thing and turn the other cheek.  But I only have so many cheeks to turn, and in the last couple of months, I've turned them all.  Now I'm dizzy and the problem hasn't gone away.

And even Jesus lost his temper when hypocrites and capitalists took over the temple.  Sometimes it's okay to get angry.  Sometimes it's right - and imperative - to call out hypocrisies.

My reaction is not "How dare you insult who I worship?"  What, did the Christ go cry in a corner the first time the Pharisees pointed their fingers at him and called him a blasphemer?  No.  He's bigger than any insult the interwebs can throw at him.

And my faith is not so weak that I feel threatened by outspoken atheists.  They're not likely to convert me to atheism with a poster like this any more than I'm likely to convert them with all my scriptures, testimonials and best wishes.

By the way, abiding by any particular religion doesn't make me somehow intellectually inferior or morally inept.  I have my reasons for joining this particular church; it was my choice, and it's a choice I stand by.  My faith directs how I act - even now, in how I write this post - and my membership in a church allows me to be part of a bigger community, one where I can make a contribution and where I can be welcomed. We help each other, and we hold each other to a standard we have share in common.  We hold each other - including the leadership of our church - accountable to that standard; we forgive each other when we fall short of that standard, and we help each other along.  Is that so wrong?  Really?  Really?

My real reaction is this:  who has the right to tell me what I should or should not believe?

This is an intellectual question as much as it is an angry one.

Don't we all have the right to freedom of religion?  Didn't we institute that in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so that the Jewish faith could be practiced in safety and liberty?  And Islam?  And Hinduism?  Paganism?  Atheism?  Jehovah's Witness?

Do not get me wrong here.  (If you do put words in my mouth, I will ask George Takei to belittle you on YouTube.)  I'm not about censorship and political correctness; that would imply I want to shut you up.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I'm asking you to be sensitive to what harm we're doing to each other, and stopping it, voluntarily, consciously.

I'm asking my own friends to realize who they're hurting when they redistribute anti-religion propaganda like the above picture.  You have the right to insult me.  But be aware of how much it hurts me, and how much it undermines my faith in you.

I'm about celebrating differences, yours and mine.  If you say "Protect the rights and freedoms of my [Different Group]," I will support you.  I will defend you, even at great personal cost.

But what am I supposed to say to those who shout "Rights and Freedoms for my [Different Group]!" and then turn around and ridicule me for my own beliefs?

Memebase is grand, ain't it?

There are two such people I haven't confronted about this yet - two people that I count as personal friends outside Facebook and the blogosphere.  My passivity weighs heavily on my conscience, because I don't like pushing away people who are different from me, from whom I can learn, but I can't sit silently by anymore.

So why should these individuals ridicule my faith, when their own beliefs have been subject to persecution for so long?  Why should they ridicule those who have joined a church voluntarily in search of self-improvement?

It's not a question of "What right have they to do this?" because the answer is, "The right that's guaranteed by the Charter."

It's an intellectual question, and a painful one - asked in the same sad confusion a very young child might feel the first time someone says "no you can't, because you're [Different]."

You cannot uphold equality for all, not so long as you're bashing someone else for what they believe in, or for who they are.  So choose carefully between "celebrating" and "getting revenge."

So, what's say we stop bashing each other and start working on the hypocrites, and judging them by their own standards with the intent to address the behaviour, and not the beliefs?

Because I for one have a heck of a lot more fun celebrating differences, instead of dwelling on them.


  1. Wow, Patty, that's deep, heavy and I love ya! You have very succinctly summed up a lot of what I personally have come to believe. I'm still not sure if I'm a Christian with Pagan beliefs, or a Pagan with Christian beliefs. I do know that the Christ, as you say, came here with a message of love. LOVE one another, as I have loved you. John 13:34-35 I feel like this is the second time in a week I've had a similar conversation. Somewhere, I swear, Jesus, Buddha, Isis, Mohammed, all of them are sitting around, sipping a cold one and shaking their heads saying, "Man, those humans sure have screwed things up."
    It IS hard to get ingrained thoughts and messages out of your head. Or at least I find it hard when I grew up in an era of bigotry and homeophoia, I don't want to always notice a person for their colour, or their clothing and think they're different than me. It's hard, but I am trying. I try to look at them with a curiosity, similar to yours. What was it like where they grew up? What did they eat? Think? What was it like living there? We are all different, yet so very much the same. We are all humans (well, we won't get into the 'aliens among us' conversation, I'll save that for another day) but we're also all Earthlings, blessed to be inhabiting this glorious planet, the Third Rock from the Sun. We have been given a gift in so many, many ways yet all too often we get caught up in crap and don't take the time to address the things that really matter.

    There's got to be a healthy median between the Archie Bunkers of the past, and the Politically Correctness of the common era. Neither are good, the pendulum is best right in the middle, in my opinion, which, under that same Charter you mentioned, is my right as a Canadian citizen.

    You never cease to amaze me Patty, on so many levels. I once said you were the strangest Baptist I've ever met (and I've known a lot) but I meant then as I mean now, it in a very positive way.

    Sometimes I think we get so caught up in routine, habit, whatever, our thoughts as well, and sometimes we just need to have someone give us a cuff upside the head and reboot our thinking. May God bless you and keep you, and may you please, please keep being you.

    1. You're absolutely right - we're all human, all deserving of dignity, and we have a lot of bad habits to break. I do think we are making progress - we have Amnesty International, we have Human Rights Commissions, we have Charters of Rights and Freedoms, and we have the freedom to openly debate these things. And I think, until the pendulum swings to a stop in the middle, the best we (writers and thinkers) can do is keep batting the pendulum away from the extremes.

  2. Granted this is from a minor point in your (well-stated) views: I call myself 'heterosexual', not 'straight'. The opposite of straight is crooked, and I don't consider anyone with different tastes than me crooked.

    1. That is a very good point, and I'll keep it in mind going forward. It's amazing, what we imply when we speak in the vernacular.

  3. Wow.

    I don't know that I've ever read anything with such righteous anger from you before Pat. This is 100% brilliant, absolutely true, and should be read by everyone.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this.

    And make me a promise: if I ever say something stupid (as above), call me on it. I would want and expect you to.

    1. I'd call you on it. ;) But I'd probably do it in a private message :D

  4. "Righteous anger" is what I was thinking all the while reading. Excellent! This is some of your best writing yet! Hope this blog post gets read by thousands.

  5. Absolutely brilliant! How do I sign up for your blog?

    1. Hi Elizabeth - glad you liked it. If you're on a home computer reading this, you can look to the right hand side of the screen for any number of options: you can subscribe to an RSS feed, you can sign up to have the blog posts sent directly to you by email (follow by email), you can click "follow" if have a Google profile, or, if you have Facebook, you can "like" the Nine Day Wonder page at (copy and paste the link into your browser, then click on "like"). And thanks for following! Pat

    2. Duh! Sorry Pat, your page is much larger than mine so I couldn't see any of the information on the right until I scrolled over. Have signed up now, and many thanks!

  6. Aww, you feel persecuted for your Christian beliefs? Let me play you a sad song on the world's smallest violin.

    1. And let me publish your comment, because I'm good to my word, and because you missed the point of this blog post.

  7. Pat, I'm 7 months late in commenting on your post, but I just wanted to say that I love it! I agree. This is 100% Brilliant. So perfect. Your unique voice shines through with each and every word.

    My favourite line is: "I'm asking you to be sensitive to what harm we're doing to each other, and stopping it, voluntarily, consciously." I want that too.

    Thanks for sharing it with us.