It’s wintertime; I left work at 4:30 and the sun was already beginning to set. The darkness approaching was ambiguously covered by blue-grey clouds because it’s been snowing on and off for quite a while. The notorious wind that blows across our landscape to make the dry cold even dryer and colder was whirling around the freshly fallen powder. It wasn’t comfortable but my walk home these days is less than ten minutes, so I hummed along to Winter Wonderland playing in my head with the comfort of knowing I was blocks away from an available blanket.
Winter Wonderland is one of those carols that the War on Christmas fanatics should be decrying as blasphemy. It’s about the weather, not Jesus or even Santa. It’s about Christmastime, but for whom? Even most of the United States doesn’t get to experience a real Winter Wonderland every year. White Christmas isn’t like the ones most people used to know or have ever known. But in my ever-mocked yet picturesque part of the northern landscape I get to Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow.
These carols wouldn’t be sung south of the equator*. It’s summer there now, including in South Africa where today one of the most internationally influential people of colour died. Nelson Mandela was 95, which is very impressive for South Africa, let alone someone malnourished in solitary confinement for decades. The world is mourning over him, mourning that a trailblazing hero has passed, that we no longer have him.
Token people will say token things about the ideals he stood for and his accomplishments in overthrowing oppressive systemic institutions in the name of dignity and equality for all…but will fail to mention that the inequality is still entrenched in South Africa, and is still entrenched around the world in all places colonizers decided to steal.
That is what South Africa has in common with Canada. The basis for these countries was white people deciding they wanted it, and assuming authority for defining “it” in a way that best benefited them. They even have competing groups of white people vying for the land, with the initial colonial settlers (French Quebecois in Canada; Dutch Boers in South Africa) being overpowered by the British. They have oppressive histories of the people who lived here before them. Obliterating languages (even Afrikaans is a Dutch spinoff and not very African at all), destroying local customs and beliefs, and creating the very basis of a country on white supremacy are shared and shameful parts of our past. South Africa’s is more visible, more known, and more recent than Canada’s. That the oppressed ethnic African populations vastly outnumber the white population in South Africa makes the inequality more stark. In Canada enough indigenous people were killed off through Old World diseases first to make them easier to outnumber. We can hide our oppression better with politeness and a multicultural label.
I’ve never been to South Africa. I’ve met white South Africans who spoke little of black South Africans. My best friend went to South Africa and with what she did see from the bubble of an academic conference was blatant inequality and separate realities for white and black**. What my best friend and I can see here – and we are outnumbered among the white Canadian population on this – is systemic colonial inequality and white supremacy. We both get to benefit from it as well.
The comments that prominent politicians from around the world are going to make in the coming days must be viewed through a critical lens. Even Barack Obama, who will no doubt speak passionately about the inspiration Mandela provided in overcoming racial barriers in whitely dominated worlds, will whitewash the continuing colonial atrocities that keep racial inequalities going in the United States of America. David Cameron won’t acknowledge that the United Kingdom he leads is responsible for the suffering of millions of Mandela’s peers. Stephen Harper has hardly said anything of use or meaning in his life, so there is little chance of him taking this opportunity to acknowledge that our nation is built on the same principles that put and kept Nelson Mandela in prison.
Climates vary throughout the globe, but we must acknowledge both in the north – Canada, the US, the UK – and south – South Africa, Australia, New Zealand – the powers that be blind the privileged in a snow globe. Walking in a winter wonderland.
*although since penguins almost exclusively live there, they have that Christmas symbol to embrace
**she also saw a giant elephant dong on a safari, but that is merely a distraction from the human atrocity