Our very first guest rant, courtesy of Sankaran Krishna of the University of Hawai`i at Manoa.
Okay, I need to get something off my chest. I am sick and tired of the way “Canada” is positioned as a beacon of progressive socialistic state policies and a peaceful, enlightened citizenry. I am sick and tired of hearing white, liberal colleagues assert during every Presidential election in the United States that if “… Dole/ Bush / McCain / Romney … wins, I am moving to Canada.” I am also sick of the way Canada’s educational system, its health care system, its gun control policies, and a variety of other practices are contrasted favorably with the United States and held up to the latter as a model worth emulating. I am sick of American tourists abroad putting Canada stickers on their backpacks as a way of immunizing themselves from opprobrium. I am sick of all the evocations of Canadian politeness and niceness and what not, conveniently forgetting that in every war-making venture the United States has been in since its founding, the Canadians have been there right alongside. I am sick of all this for at least three reasons.
One, it effaces the conjoined history of both the United States and Canada as settler-colonial societies constructed on the violent usurpation of the lands of indigenous peoples and continued into the present through their ongoing dispossession and marginalisation. Do people not realize the enormous privilege inhering in the idea that you can just move to another country because you don’t agree with election results in your own? That the very idea of such a movement reenacts the originary violence that created both societies?
Two, in this entire imaginary that depicts the US and Canada as contrasts (as distinct from being overwhelmingly similar settler colonies), the unspoken locus of enunciation is white. How does the alleged contrast between the two societies look like from the perspective of someone from one of the pre-contact indigenous groups in either of these nations? What does it look like from Black or South Asian or East Asian or other immigrant (or “arrivant” as Jodi Byrd terms them) perspectives? These questions do not seem to be within the frame of analysis when Canada is presented as a liberal wet-dream in contrast to the United States.
Third, instead of contrasting them, might it not be better to see Canada as the alibi that normalises the extremity that is the United States? And the US as the egregious violence that sanitizes and renders more benign the incredible violence that is Canada? To twist Baudrillard, in different ways Canada and the US serve towards each other the same function that Disneyland does in rendering the rest of Los Angeles real.
So the next time you hear some allegedly liberal colleague, friend, whatever of yours praise Canada and offer it as a salutary contrast to the benighted United States, say something like “a pox on both (y)our houses” – and you can add any expletives that seem appropriate and tactically permissible at that moment.