From The Globe & Mail:
We thought we were raising an enlightened child, Tama Ward writes, but have we robbed our daughter of her cultural roots?
OCTOBER 4, 2017
At breakfast, in the glass-towered city of Vancouver, five-year-old Abigail looks glumly at her half-eaten bowl of cereal.
“What is it, honey?” I brush the bangs back from her face.
She lets out a big sigh. “I wish I wasn’t white.”
I start. Nothing in the parenting manuals has prepared me for that.
“All we’ve ever done is hurt people,” she continues. “I wish my skin was dark and that I had a culture.”
We live in a part of the city where immigrant families abound. … Plus, my husband and I are children of missionaries and harbour an acute guilt for the cultural imperialism of our forebears. To compensate, we’ve raised our children with a deep appreciation of non-Western cultures.
So when Abigail laments the colour of her white skin, part of me is programmed to protest. Is it not my moral obligation to tell her that her feelings of poor self-worth are nothing compared with the psychological ruin of real racism? Girl, everything about Canadian culture weighs in your advantage and you have no right to snivel!
Instead, I feel a sadness settle over me. We thought we were raising the enlightened child of the 21st century. We thought we were doing our part in setting the history record straight. Yet, in doing so, it seems we have robbed our oldest child of something primal to psychological health, something elemental to her well-being as a human being: cultural roots.
I don’t know what to say.
I consider the you-are-Canadian spiel: “part of a new society made up of the vibrancy of many cultures, etc.” Yet, “Canadian” is precisely the problem. What is Canadian? Her best friend is Canadian and Mexican. Her cousin, Canadian and Bengali. Even our Indigenous neighbours have a First Nation before they have Canada. To play the Canadian card will further neuter her culturally when what she’s looking for are deep roots that ground her to a people and place.
Seized by maternal panic I go in search of our oversized National Geographic Atlas and hoist it up onto the breakfast table. Abigail sits up and she leans in. “It was almost 200 years ago that your people came to Canada from this island.”
Abigail’s face brightens at that word: island. I know what she’s thinking. Islands are places of primal innocence and cultural distinctiveness, such as Haida Gwaii or Never Never Land.
But then when I speak the name of her island, Abigail’s full-body slump returns.
“Great Britain?!” she pouts accusingly. “Aren’t they the bad ones?”
Note, not all five-year-olds being quoted on the Internet by their loving parents necessarily said exactly whatever their parents later claim they said.
So, mom comes up with an idea:
I explain that this is high tea, “one of the grand traditions of your people.” She stands in stunned silence.
The plan is working.
I explain that high tea must be served right at 4 o’clock, not a minute sooner, and that sandwiches are to be cut twice on the diagonal with crusts removed in their entirety.
“Why?” she asks to all of the above.
“It’s just our culture.”
This answer pleases her.
Rules involving sandwich-slicing are deeply interesting to five-year-olds.
Later in the week, Abigail replicates the high-tea ritual for her teddies and dolls, and then in a crowning act of glory for her Mexican playmate next door. “It’s from my culture,” I overhear her explaining to Sofia. Sofia seems enchanted.
This succeeds grandly. But what happens if this family somehow could afford to have a second child in Vancouver, a boy, and dad mentions to his son all the sports Their People invented: ice hockey, soccer, basketball, baseball, football, tennis, golf, etc. etc.?
And what if he spilled the beans at school? The teacher would probably demand a Conference with the parents to find out who is spreading Hatefacts?