Can you simultaneously reject parts of your background while feeling pride in it?
This dichotomy was prevalent amongst our diverse community with many feeling that holding one’s culture in complete utter acceptance is virtually impossible. Sexism, classism, patriarchy, reverse ageism are parts of pre-colonized, colonized, and post-colonized cultures. Close to home, the Canadian Residential School Crisis has meant that pride in accepting all parts of being Canadian is being challenged, for some for the first time. Our community member Colin Flint speaks to his motivation and push factors for leaving his home country of England in the 1990s and how his adult daughters return to the country has invited him to put into perspective the role of the country in his identity. As an advertising strategist and college professor, Colin has helped brands and students with their identities; and his reflection on his own identity is inspiring and resolved, yet real and unresolved all at the same time.
I don’t know who I am.
Canadian, British, English?
When Alan Doyle sings of leaving his native Newfoundland, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I know where I belong” I feel envy. Where do I belong?
Let me tell you my story.
I was born and raised in Britain, mostly around London and I moved to Canada in my mid-forties, twenty years ago. One of my main reasons for leaving was that I rejected parts of my culture. I hated the class system and the racism implicit in the petty nationalism I saw all around, and which recently came to its head with Brexit. How you speak, how you dress, where you went to school, who your family is defines who you are and how you are seen by others. It was brought to a head when my daughters started to develop Essex accents at a time when “Essex Girls” were the butt of many jokes (look them up). I was both horrified by the fear my girls might be stereotyped in this way but worse that I was complicit in this by judging them by how they spoke. So when a job offer from Canada arrived, I was on the first plane.
And on arriving in Canada we jumped feet first from the rock on the Canadian Shield into the lake of Canadian culture. We traveled and saw the country from Newfoundland to Haida Gwaii; we saw the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays and Raptors; we tried poutine, road trips with Tim Horton’s donuts, and pancakes with maple syrup; we enjoyed seeing Kim’s Convenience at the Soulpepper and celebrated when it was picked up by the CBC. And at a deeper level, we appreciated the diversity and inclusion that is at the heart of Canada. While there are class and race divides here, they are much more muted, and seen as socially unacceptable.
And yet, if you were to meet me, the first thing you would notice is my British accent, and then my British dry sense of humour. I am proud of these. I believe British TV is the best in the world. A surprisingly large number of my friends are fellow immigrants from Britain. On a recent trip back I felt very comfortable talking to people. I’ve even taken to reading books about Englishness like Kate Fox’s excellent “Watching the English”. And yes there is a difference between British and English.
In an extra irony, the same two daughters who I sought to protect from the British class system have now gone back to the UK to work. Although they went for work and adventure, were they also seeking out their roots? But though they talk to us in British accents, they talk to their work colleagues in Canadian accents to maintain their otherness.
So where does that leave me (and them)? Am I what David Goodhart in “The Road to Somewhere” calls an Anywhere? But I reject that. I am British. Just not totally. I’m also a bit Canadian. Can’t I be a combination? Can’t I choose those bits of the culture that I identify with and reject the rest? Can’t I belong in more than one place? Ok, I haven’t got that simple sense of belonging that Alan Doyle talks about. But really does anyone?