Culture that Unites and Divides

After coming home from a very lovely two-week vacation in Europe, I’ve realized that It is only when I travel that I find myself being the most patriotic my Canadian culture and identity. By being immersed in other cultures, I was gained further understanding of my own culture. For example, it dawned on my husband and I that Canadians may be perceived as overly apologetic because we don’t use the term “pardon”, like the French and the Spanish for small indiscretions like bumping into others, but use “sorry”, which would translate directly as a much larger indiscretion.

So why does it take a Christmas-avoiding trip to another country for me to understand our culture? I think it is because that one cannot fully understand one’s culture while in it. There is an often-used quote by McLuhan that goes something like “We don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t the fish.” His point is that it is hard to analyze or understand anything that you are so immersed in. I also think it is why Williams begins his discussion of culture with the idea that culture can be understood through an “historical” consciousness. One has to be somewhat removed from it to fully understand.

At least, that is the excuse I will use when reading Foster’s chapter on Black History and Culture. As a stereotypically “nice”, Caucasian Canadian, I always feel a pang of guilt when I read Foster’s opinion that Black History Month acknowledges an exclusion from Canadian culture. How is it possible that one of the larger minorities in our nation has a “month” to understand “their” history, rather than having the stories of the Underground Railway to Africville incorporated as “our” history?

It reminds me of the controversy surrounding the television show “Girls” on HBO. Ostensibly, the show is about four women in their mid-20s struggling to become adults in Brooklyn. Because it was based on the real-life experiences of the creator and executive producer, Lena Dunham, the cast reflected her circle of friends, all middle-class white people. The show has faced a great deal of criticism for its underrepresentation of Americans of all races. However, Dunham had defended the decision by saying it would be disingenuous of her to write about something she didn’t know, which is a wide berth of multiculturalism among friends. (you can watch her co-star Allison Williams discuss it briefly).

I find myself judging these two race-related situations differently based on the media themselves (zounds! McLuhan was right). Is it worse that black history is segregated in our schools or that a TV show has a narrow view of casting? Both can leave a student or viewer feeling uncomfortable, but only if they, unlike the fish, are unaware.


About carmelcteasdale

I am a Public Relations, Change Management and Project Management professional in New Brunswick. I'm a proud alum of X, UNB and MSVU. Taking names and collecting acronyms...
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1 Response to Culture that Unites and Divides

  1. I have also experienced a conscious identification and patriotism to my culture after moving to Canada six years ago. Back in Nigeria I rarely spoke my native tongue, now I find myself not only speaking it but thinking in it as well (also helped me realize I know more of it than I thought). The way I have come to understand it is as a protective mechanism of guarding one’s identity in a culture or place where one feels distinct and sort of out of place. Also, being in another culture or being exposed to another one even within your own cultural space helps to make more obvious the differences that exist and therefore brings to the forefront what one’s own culture is in relation to the foreign culture. Which I guess is what McLuhan was saying, because being exposed to and trying to understand another culture sort of removes you from yours and gives you a bird’s eye view of what it is.
    I would replace the word ‘understand’ in your second paragraph with ‘appreciate’ because I think what happens is one gets a better appreciation for what their culture is and that it is different and unique. In relation to Foster’s chapter on Black History, I would use the word appreciate again, because I think the month was necessary to make Blacks actually look into their history in-depth and also give them an opportunity to see it from the perspectives of others.
    The comparison of the black history month and the show ‘girls’ is genius, I for one have never seen an issue with either or felt uncomfortable about their representations. I actually find the controversy over the ‘Girls’ show a little oversensitive and troublesome because I think it is unnecessary.


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