The inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris was historic in many regards, but one particularly important and focused-on aspect was that of Harris being the first black and south-Asian vice-president. Yet here in Canada, particularly in Montreal, a good number of media outlets extensively covered the fact that for 3 years in the early eighties, Kamala Harris studied in Montreal. Many spoke of how “Westmount high shaped the would-be vice-president” or “the significant role that Montreal (and Canada as a whole) influenced her life”.
However, this may seem baffling to some. Why was it necessary to needlessly insert ourselves into the story? Why put such importance on an otherwise trivial aspect of a genuinely groundbreaking story?
I am reminded of the news last year on the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the mission that finally landed a man on the moon. Yet again, a large focus for some Canadian media was how a Canadian company was contracted to build the legs of the lunar module. From this was spun dozens of stories of how integral Canada was to the overall moon landing.
This speaks to a greater general trend of Canadian insecurity in terms of our national identity. In a way, such headlines attempt to shift some of the attention back onto Canada; as if to say “hey! I am here too!”.
Negative Option: Not American
This is particularly pronounced in cases involving our attention-grabbing neighbors to the South. Indeed, a great number of Canadians seem so quick to define themselves, at least at some capacity, as simply “not-American”.
This, I’d argue, is not as harmless as it may initially seem. By constantly defining ourselves in contrast to the US–for example by bringing up our healthcare, our gun-control, or how “polite” we are perceived to be–we take this “holier than thou” attitude which leaves us blind to very real issues we have here.
Take the recent BLM protests against police brutality in the US. A huge amount of attention was rightfully paid to calling out the abuse of minorities at the hands of American police. Yet calls by indigenous communities in Canada to put an end to their brutalization by authorities were generally met with no acknowledgment or with shrugs of “at least it is not as bad as in the US”.
While there is certainly a whole lot of good that we as a country have already accomplished, there is even more for us to work on and strive towards. There is no need for us to “piggy-back” on the successes of others. Let’s stop defining ourselves by who we are not, and instead carve out who we can become.
This article appeared in Youth in Politics