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.