Flags by kevinroessel at Morguefile.com

Invisible Minority

We moved to Canada 5 years ago and it has been an interesting adventure.  One of the most curious aspects has been for both the Americans and Canadians in our family to experience negative Canadian attitudes towards America and Americans.  We have had numerous conversations about why Canadians belittle Americans, the improbable stereotypes they use, as examples of how, generally, people use stereotypes to pigeon hole others.

An interesting book by Michael Adams, Fire and Ice, looked at comparisons in the late 1990s between the US and Canada.  He argued against the assumed convergence of US and Canadian culture.  I’m not totally convinced.  Having lived in some of the areas lumped into the demographic categories, I’d have to quibble with some of the groupings.  As I explained to our kids, when you live in Arkansas and Texas, or Illinois and Michigan, there are just as many differences as there are between Ontario and Saskatchewan or between the Greater Toronto Area and near north Ontario.  I realize that my perspective is different from that of demographers.

Our children aren’t visibly different from the average white child at their school, nor do they speak differently or otherwise stand out.  My daughter was taken aback, today, when her teacher disparaged Americans in relation to the War of 1812 history lesson being taught, relying on modern stereotypes Canadians apply to their southern neighbors.

It is interesting how people will submerge their prejudices when they are face to face with the person whom they are speaking about.  It was a good opportunity to discuss how, when you’re face to face, most people (Uncle Paul excluded) will, out of tactfulness if nothing else, not say unkind things.  But when you are in a room full of people who look and sound like you, sometimes people forget themselves and use stereotypes without thinking about it.

She was most hurt, I think, because it was a surprise and said by a person in authority.  Most of her peers are aware that she is a dual citizen and avoid saying negative things in her presence.  But they say them, I am sure, when she isn’t around.  Not about her, but about her country.  They probably learn them at home, because I hear the same stereotyping nonsense on the commuter train, and at the office.

It can be difficult being a dual citizen, and having fondness for both of your countries even though you can only live in one at a time.  This is not uniquely Canadian – people always tend to fear or disparage the Other, whatever it might be.  The reverse rarely happens in the U.S. mostly because no-one thinks about Canada, let alone feels the need to put it down.  It was a good learning experience, in any event.  It can be hard for someone in a majority culture to really understand the hurt, even unintentional, that stereotyping and labelling can cause.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.