For Canada Day, the story of Alex Cuba, a Cuban-Canadian musician living in Smithers who decided to learn some of the indigenous language of Wit’suwet’in so he could sing it when he was invited to perform on Parliament Hill.
Cant believe we’re celebrating Canada Day again… I mean when will we have a day for all those countries that aren’t Canada… your Canadian fine but why do you have to dress up and make a big deal about it and wave your flag everywhere…. most of the world isnt canadian… dont get me wrong I just think we should treat everyone equal… having a special day for one group of ppl is like reverse discrimination
The future of travel comes with homework pic.twitter.com/F4XIDEauMb
— Andrew Kurjata (@akurjata) June 27, 2016
“In the age of inclusiveness and accommodation, reconciliation and identity politics, the world is being carved up into distinct spaces. There are women’s centres, transgender bathrooms, First Nations studies and, as of this week, a New Brunswick cabinet minister responsible for ‘Celtic affairs.'”
“These artificial distinctions are so powerful that people are blind to the frames and lenses of the glasses they’re looking through, never mind the possibilities outside of their immediate vision. The Nobel Prize winning scientist Daniel Kahneman describes this outlook as ‘what you see is all there is.’
“Worse, the current default in Canadian society has become to continuously develop more new distinctions, all in the name of progress, regardless of whether they make sense or are good for society. To oppose new distinctions, especially once they’ve received legitimacy, is to fight the tide of history, to reject modernity.”
Then, he gets to the nub of it. Just as identity politics are dividing us, so, too, are bike lanes:
“Once upon a time, cyclists rode on the street and if the road was too busy or there were vehicles parked against the curb, they rode on the sidewalk and pedestrians made way for them.
“The space was shared…
“Rebooting the timeless ideal of sharing space would bring people together, increase the sense of community and encourage residents to notice more of what they have in common with one another and less of what they don’t.
“A driver, a cyclist and a pedestrian are all just trying to get from one place to another safely.
“So why can’t we do it together in a space we can all share?”
This editorial surprised me quite a bit because Mr. Godbout has, in the past, written rather eloquently in favour of acknowledging diverse identities, most notably in an award-winning piece called “White Pride“. From that:
“We’re surrounded by so much white culture that it’s the equivalent of standing in the middle of a forest and asking where the trees are. To take the metaphor further, in that same forest, gay pride and aboriginal pride are a handful of seedlings. They are neither big enough nor plentiful enough to threaten the trees in any way but they are part of the forest nevertheless and they deserve to be there as much as the old, established trees.”
And yet here we are.
OK. So. Why do we have things like women’s centres and transgender bathrooms and bike lanes, tearing apart what was once a unified world?
Let me start by saying, as a straight white male I am wholly aware that riding a bike in no way, in any universe, comes anywhere close to having the lived experience of a woman, minority, or non-cisgendered person. At all. Not even close.
Riding a bike has given me a tiny taste of what it’s like to not be privileged.
But still. A taste.
When you ride a bike on roads designed for cars- and to be clear, that’s most roads- you are in a space that is optimized for someone who isn’t you. Drivers may not notice your obstacles, but you sure do.
When gravel is swept to the side of the road so cars have a clear path, you are the one who has to ride over it.
At weighted intersections, your presence isn’t noticed.
When you lose your lane- which is often- it’s your responsibility to make sure you don’t get in anybody’s way. They may have to watch out for you, too, but let’s be real, who’s it gonna hurt more if one of you messes up?
And sure, “once upon a time, cyclists rode on the street and if the road was too busy or there were vehicles parked against the curb, they rode on the sidewalk and pedestrians made way for them” but here in reality when you do that you get angry drivers honking at you or, alternatively, complaining that they see cyclists riding on the sidewalk so why the heck don’t they follow the rules?
Do you see where I’m going with this?
The road isn’t really made to be shared. A shared road would be one where cyclists are given a clear path without aggressive drivers who come up behind you and honk their horns or, in what is one of the scarier experiences I’ve had, swerve towards you just to make a point: this is their space, and they can take you out if they want to.
Not all drivers.
But enough that virtually every single cyclist has experienced that fear, that feeling that they don’t belong, that it is a risk to get from point A to point B on two wheels rather than four.
But here’s where we really get into it: cyclists have a choice.
(Except for cyclists who are using a bike because they can’t afford to own a vehicle and/or the transportation system doesn’t accomodate their needs).
You know who doesn’t have a choice? Women.Transgendered people. First Nations. All these people whose special needs are dividing the world, rather than bringing it together.
Except, and I know Neil Godbout knows this because he wrote an award-winning column about it, the world isn’t really designed for all people. The dominant culture- the white culture, the male culture, the heterosexual culture- it’s everywhere. It’s the forest. It’s the road.
It’s the space that the non-straight-white-men need to navigate carefully, because even though technically it’s supposed to be shared, they know who gets in trouble if someone slips up. It’s the space where obstacles are swept into their path while the rest of us whizz by without even noticing. Or the space where they aren’t noticed at all.
It’s the space where if they ask for one tiny little slice to be theirs, the rest of the world huffily demands they stop being so divisive.
When people ask for transgender bathrooms or Pride centres or First Nations cultural spaces, they aren’t asking for special accommodation. They’re asking for what the rest of us already have: a place to feel safe.
When I’m in my car, I feel safe. Yes, I still have to be a careful driver and yes, something could still happen, but I’m on a road that is designed for me. As any engineer will tell you, a lot of thought has been put into maximizing the chances of me getting from point A to point B safely.
When I’m on a bike, they’ve taken that carefully designed road and mmmmaaaayyyybeee painted a white line that’s supposed to keep me safe. But only if it wouldn’t inconvenience the cars too much. And there are still plenty of drivers that resent it being there, especially if they’d like to park in it.
When I’m navigating this world as a straight, white, able-bodied male, I feel safe. Yes, I have to be careful, and yes, something could still happen, but I’m in a world that is designed for me. I’m in a cultural and political climate whose very roots can be traced back to a time when literally anyone who wasn’t like me wasn’t considered capable of citizenship. Over the years we’ve let more people onto the road, but the road still wasn’t really designed for them. And sometimes people swerve at them, just to remind them who it really belongs to.
Not all men. Not all white people.
If we really want to share the road, we’re gonna need better lanes.
One year I worked in a temporary sales shop- it was a brief set-up that only lasted maybe six months, total.
At the end of it, one of my co-workers stood up to say goodbye to the group and broke down in tears.
He was gay and, he said, this was the first time he’d ever been in an environment where it wasn’t a source of stress for him.
Frigging mid-twenties and it was his first time being with a group of people who allowed him to be who he was without feeling othered by it.
It was then I realized I would never, ever understand the immense bravery and resilience it would take to simply exist as a gay man in the world (and by extension any non-cisgendered person, though at that point I wasn’t aware enough to understand the full spectrum).
That sense- of knowing this is a terrible thing while also knowing I will never fully understand just how terrible and deeply personal it is- that’s how i feel today.
If you are being affected by today’s events on a deeper level than I am- if this cuts deeper to who you are than it possibly can for me- I’m sorry. I can never fully feel what you feel, but just know – I am here, if there is anything I can do.
Ali did not transcend race to bring people together. He refused to hide the parts of himself that were unpalatable to polite society, and made people come to him. *That* is why he was great.
It’s tailing off now but for a good part of this week it seems like everyone (on twitter) had to declare their opinion (on twitter) over the death of a Harambe, a gorilla killed after a child fell into his enclosure at the zoo.
I’m not going to pass judgement on anyone. We all mess up sometimes, and we should strive for understanding- and be thankful our mess-ups aren’t the subject of international news. My feelings towards zoos are complicated, especially when they are involved in the work of trying to preserve and restore populations of at-risk species. I can’t imagine being put in the situation of having to decide between taking an animal down or possibly standing by and watching a four-year-old die. I eat meat, for reasons limited basically to culture and my own ability to compartmentalize what I know about the food industry and my own inertia in making that personal change.And I get why some people who don’t eat meat feel like they have a moral high ground over me, because they probably do (as do people who kill their own food).
The only thing I strongly disagree with in this whole situation is the people loudly declaring that any human life holds infinitely more value than that of a gorilla. They might be right, but I think it’s a pretty dicey proposition to think we’ve come to some great understanding of where the moral spectrum of life ends. And I think about this through the lens of human zoos:
“Human zoos, also called ethnological expositions, were 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century public exhibitions of humans, usually in a so-called natural or primitive state. The displays often emphasized the cultural differences between Europeans of Western civilization and non-European peoples or other Europeans with a lifestyle deemed primitive. Some of them placed indigenous africans in a continuum somewhere between the great apes and the White man.”
These things existed less than one hundred years ago. And (white/western) people were cool with them because they knew the value of some lives were greater than others. It’s easy to look back now and say “well, obviously they were wrong because they were putting their fellow humans in cages” but at the time they didn’t view them as their fellow humans. They viewed them as some related but less-important, less-aware, less-worthy-of-life-and-dignity subset of life. They could communicate, but like gorillas today, that was not enough to view them as full equals.
And I’m not saying for sure that gorillas, our dolphins, or any other animals are our equals. But I’m aware of humanity’s historic ability to look the other way when it comes to mistreating others, and how much we like to tell ourselves comforting myths about our own intelligence or place in the moral hierarchy in order to dismiss the claims that the way we are treating other forms of life is wrong. And I won’t rule out the possibility that it’s still happening today.
It was the summer of 2009 when I finally “got” the Tragically Hip. I don’t know how it happened, but it was like a switch went off in my brain and they went from being an OK band that was played on radio more often than I thought made sense to being One Of the Greatest Bands Of All Time.
A lot of other people I know who are Hip fans had the same thing happen. They didn’t really care for them and then, suddenly… they did. Trying to explain why you like them to someone who doesn’t is kind of a fruitless exercise, because until that switch goes off, no amount of rationalizing is going to make it happen.
And yet, with the news that singer Gord Downie has terminal cancer and the Hip are coming to an end, I’m going to give it a try.
Aside from their musical skills, which I’ll place up there with any all-time-greatest rock group, the Tragically Hip helped teach me the difference between being from Canada and *being Canadian*.
Lots of celebrities are Canadian, but only in the sense that they happened to be born here. Nothing in their music/output really reflects that background, and more often than not they wind up moving somewhere else as soon as they are able. The fact that they are Canadian is little more than fodder for one of those “secretly Canadian!” clickbait articles.
Then there’s the celebrities who are from Canada and wear it on their sleeve, in a kitschy, annoying way. Their version of embracing Canadian identity is making jokes about maple syrup and hockey and being nice. A lot of the time, these are also people who no longer live in Canada but have found it to be a good marketing exercise.
The Tragically Hip make no secret about being Canadian but it comes out naturally, not by yelling about toques and poutine. They tell Canadian stories and make Canadian references because it works in their songs, not because it will get them media coverage from journalists writing about the Canadian angle.
@mattgurney there’s something very rawly Canadian about them, but it’s never layered with the same pretensions like so much Canadiana.
— robert hiltz (@robert_hiltz) May 24, 2016
So, yeah, that’s what I appreciate about the Tragically Hip, aside from the fact they are a great band with great songs. And like many other Canadians, I’m incredibly sad to learn singer Gord Downie has terminal cancer and also incredibly grateful they will be giving us one last chance to see them live. This morning, I pulled out my old CD jacket and found the two-disc “Best of the Tragically Hip” compilation I made for myself back in that summer of 2009 and was on constant rotation when I still had a CD player on my car. I’ve turned it into a Spotify playlist, and added a few more tracks to include the releases from the past seven years and some older gems that have grown on me in the intervening years. If you care about this, tracks 1-20 (“Blow At High Dough” to “Summer’s Killing Us”) are disc one, tracks 21-39 (“New Orleans Is Sinking” to “Ahead by a Century”) are disc two, and the remainder is disc three.
The thing I’m enjoying most about Drake’s victory lap after releasing Views is the amount of light being shone on Canadian hip-hop circa 1998-2003. I’m only a few months older than Drake, so we were both Canadian teenagers when songs like “Money Part One” by Jelleestone became Canada-only hits. The obvious difference is that while while I might put the song on my barbecue playlist to inspire some nostalgia among friends, Drake is able to bring it to a global audience new audience by quoting it at the end of “Weston Road Flows.”
A lot has been made of how Drake is giving exposure to new Toronto rappers, but I think it’s fair to say he’s also shining a light on the Toronto rap scene of ten years ago. By giving love to still-relatively-unknown-globally MCs like k-Os, Kardinal, and Saukrates, he is retroactively giving early 2000s Toronto the same legendary status of the Bronx in the 1970s or L.A. in the 1980s, hotbeds of creativity that would give way to global movements.
But back when The 6ix was known as the T.Dot, there as another centre to Canadian hip-hop: Vancouver. The most commercially-successful Canadian rappers of the era were Swollen Members, a hip-hop duo from the Lower Mainland who were frequently joined by fellow Vancouverite Moka Only. Nelly Furtado came up with them and went on to global superstar status. And arguably the most important Canadian rap song of all time, “Northern Touch“- which was the first chart hit for Toronto’s Choclair, Thrust, and Kardinal Offishal- officially belongs to Canadian hip-hop legends, and Vancouverites, the Rascalz. Just as the States had New York and L.A., Canadian hip-hop had two poles, Toronto and Vancouver, neither one clearly dominant.
That’s changed today. Not just because of Drake, but certainly helped by him, Toronto is now one of the global heavyweights in the hip-hop world. Jazz Cartier, Majid Jordan, the Weeknd, Derek Wise- all routinely hitting the charts or being touted as the next big thing, not just in Canada but globally. And Vancouver? I honestly can’t name a single contemporary Vancouver MC. While Toronto’s catapulted onto the global stage, Vancouver doesn’t even seem to hold the same status on a national level. I know there is still hip-hop in the YVR, but it doesn’t seem to be spreading across the country in the same way it once did. If you have any thoughts as to why, let me know on Twitter.
Note: the below musings are mine, and they aren’t so much stating an opinion as thinking out loud about an ongoing situation
We’ve all seen them, at this point: Facebook posts and Twitter pictures of someone standing in front of a truckload of donations, ready to haul it up to help those displaced by the Fort McMurray fire.
These are heart-warming, and they speak to the better instincts of humankind: you see people in a time of crisis, and you want to help. It’s a lovely thing.
But it’s also not necessarily the most effective way to help. Edward McIntyre has written a good post about why on his own site, but the short version is the cost of storing and sorting physical goods often causes more problems for volunteers than simply receiving the money that would allow organizations to purchase what is needed as the need arises. Already, groups helping Fort Mac evacuees say they are being overwhelmed by physical goods that may or may not wind up actually being useful.
Which has me wondering about media responsibility when it comes to covering those heart-warming stories. They are great narratives, regular people stepping up to the plate to help friends, family, and strangers, often with their own personal anecdotes and motivations to go with them. But there is also a risk: the more these stories get shared, the more it might prompt other people to do the same, contributing to a problem for organizations on the ground and having the opposite effect of what everyone involved would like to see happen.
So does media ignore the stories? Cover them, but include the information about the potential problems this can cause? I think it’s an interesting conversation, and one worth having.
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