Having just arrived from Brazil in December 2019, my experience has been mostly related to minimum wage jobs and customer service. Isolated from friends, my face-to-face interactions involve employers, managers, co-workers and fellow essential workers.
If anything, a lesson has been learned after working for ten years at universities and art schools – something I now consider some kind of dysfunctional utopic bubble in the middle of a world that is set to turn people into buyers & payers, not thinkers. This ethical crisis is just as scary as the COVID pandemic.
Last week, back in a pub, a friend asked what I thought of this city so far.
When we, the immigrants, arrive in Canada, after months or maybe years of bureaucratic and emotional processes, we tend to believe the slogans: Canadian politeness, respect for diversity, very little violence, political engagement, slow living, equality. I can’t anymore.
I answered, yes, BC is safer than most communities I know. People are polite (kind of). Diversity is respected (in most cases and for certain intersectionalities, at least). People try to be politically engaged (mostly online, but that also counts). There is a sense of slow living (that seems more like a lifestyle rather than a political practice, but still). There is some equality (not racial, nor gender or salary, but people are polite so they for sure try). But we are still oh-so-colonial.
My friend was confused. He believed Vancouver had reached a political, social and cultural standard that set it apart from the rest. He kept asking: “What do you mean?”
Well, I said, take the COVID-clapping for example. People seemed really proud to clap from their balconies, confident they are putting effort into maintaining the health workers’ mojo. But why were we only clapping for the medical teams? My friend was shocked.
Did we really not notice that while people were praising doctors (a white coat helps to establish respect as a priority), other essential workers were being put at risk so couples could buy high protein gourmet kibble, French vanilla bean latte and booze (because it takes a lot of booze not to lose it)?
There is another side to every story – and what I have lived and heard is an upsetting scenario: the politest city in the world treated their essentials very badly. Spoiled, moody children, I believe is the term I most often use. Instead of equality, neglect. I asked: have we become so blind that we really think this is a polite community? Polite to whom? He choked.
Everywhere there are abusive power structures that represent the way our world is told and lived. Yes, this is a beautiful city – but a colonial-capitalist one. Beautiful and safe for some, diverse in bubbles. Yet the same colonized version of land, income and rights distribution makes it so similar to any other city. My “meh” attitude confronted his tendency to settle.
Believing the monuments of a heteropatriarchal, colonial and neo-nationalist vision of the world is simply not acceptable (or doable) anymore. Later, I remembered a quote by the French philosopher and psychoanalyst Félix Guattari: “Breathing has become as difficult as conspiring.”
If, as a truly multicultural society, we burn the bridges that divide our privileges, maybe then we will start creating new political ways of living. If our respect for diversity and mission of tolerance resides in accepting underpaid communities solely to have open stores, we won’t be doing anything different than any other city that tells the white, wealthy, heterosexual and anti-democratic story that has been told since old times. This is an invitation to radical equality.
Decolonizing has become more necessary than ever in a world that is always on the brink of collapse. We won’t all wake up to a new ethical revolution at the same time. Who’s awake already? My friend wasn’t – and he lives in Vancouver.