Skip to comments.Why Americans are more tolerant [than Canadians]
Posted on 09/25/2008 6:10:34 AM PDT by GratianGasparri
Why Americans are more tolerant
Canadians often consider themselves to be more tolerant than their "backwards" neighbours to the south. But is this simply a myth?
- Pete Vere
America taught me the hard way to value freedom of speech. Even speech that is hateful and abhorrent, provided it does not incite violence, should be allowed in free and open democracy.
Like every other Canadian who grew up during the 1980's and 90's, my concept of freedom of expression was vague. It was something contained in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yet I was taught to subject this freedom to tolerance and multi-culturalism. After all, the latter were Canadian values that distinguished us from Americans and their free-speech absolutism.
Thus my wife and I brought Canadian values to Florida shortly after 9-11. This was no fall vacation, as I had accepted a job down there with the Catholic Church. Bill, our new next-door neighbor, welcomed us to the Deep South. His daughter Sarah was about a year older than Alexandria, my oldest child. The two girls became inseparable.
Inseparable, that is, until an incident a year later involving racist speech. It was from this incident that I learned to appreciate American absolutism in protecting free speech. Since that incident, I have similarly concluded that Americans are also more tolerant and more multicultural.
The incident began with an African-American family moving into our semi-rural, previously all-white cul-de-sac. Their daughter Nadine was about the same age as Alexandria. My wife and I introduced ourselves to Mike, the patriarch of the family, and with the same southern hospitality we had been shown, invited Nadine to spend the afternoon with Alexandria while Mike and his wife unpacked.
After sending Nadine home for supper, we heard a banging at our door.
If you let your kids play with niggers, then youre niggers too. Bill stood at my doorstep, angry, shielding his daughter.
I returned the glare. Shuffling Alexandria back indoors, I said: Dont use the n word in front of my children.
Fine. Sarahs not allowed to play with Alexandria if youre letting her play with...
I wont permit racism on my property, I interrupted. Im Catholic. I dont care what color someones skin is. Theyre human like you and me.
Sarah and Alexandria were bawling. Each knew where her father stood; Bill and I had expressed ourselves freely. This was not Canada where the fear of giving offence forces one to invent excuses when withdrawing from social contact. Canadas human rights adjudicators may think of themselves as the robed masters of the universe, but their jurisdiction does not extend below the 49th parallel. Thus I couldnt lodge a human rights complaint.
But suppose there was no First Amendment protection in the U.S. Over six years later, a Canadian-style human rights commission would still be investigating this incident. And Bill would feel even more justified in his racism. After all, those nasty African-Americans (for any human rights investigator reading this, Im using a literary device called sarcasm) dragged him through countless hours of procedural harassment and bankrupted him under a mountain of legal bills.
Bill might be more reluctant to express his views, but he would remain a racist. And there would be no opportunity for me to challenge his racial prejudices. The moment I expressed the least bit of sympathy for the civil rights movement, he would withdraw from all social contact with the exception of the occasional hi and goodbye. When youre feeling persecuted, you tend to stick to your own kind.
Fortunately, our confrontation happened in the United States (or from Bills perspective, the Confederacy currently occupied by those damn Yankees). The impasse ended three days later. No government agency or program required.
I pulled into my driveway after work, glanced over to Bills front yard, and saw Alexandria, Sarah and Nadine splashing in a kids pool. Having cracked open a couple of cold ones, Mike and Bill were commiserating about their common nemesis as civil rights activists and unreconstructed southerners - those bloody Republicans. As a low-level contributor to Bushs Catholic strategy during the 2000 presidential election, I was now the odd man out.
Freedom of speech had won. It won because it allowed Bill and Mike to voice their worst fears about the other. (In those intervening days, Mike told me how all white men put down the black man - an experience in racism against Caucasians just as shocking to my Canadian naivety.) When the other failed to meet those worst expectations, each felt a little sheepish and conscience took over. So they put it behind them, shook hands, and found something else to gripe about. The government can seal a persons lips, but it cannot change a persons heart.
Freedom of speech also won me over. I realized I was accountable for my anti-racist viewpoint, just as Bill and Mike were accountable for their racist viewpoint. Truth be told, I had never given racism much thought prior to this incident. Theres no need for ordinary citizens to confront racism in Canada - thats the governments job.
So whenever I encountered racism while growing up, I ignored it as none of my business. Or I found some excuse to convince myself it wasnt really racism. Truth be told, had Bill not expressed himself within earshot of my daughter, I probably would have done the Canadian thing: Ignore his rant while he was on my doorstep, gripe to my wife how superior we Canadians are afterward, and find some excuse afterward to avoid future social contact.
Moreover, I probably would have used these same excuses with Alexandria. Dont want her telling the neighbors why were avoiding them. Its almost as discomforting as racism. Better not to trouble the young girl with reality.
However, this option was no longer open to me. By speaking up I was forced to explain my principles not only to my neighbors, but to my children. Thus freedom of speech forces one to understand, defend and correct ones viewpoint.
Which brings me to the second reason the American concept of freedom of speech won me over. With free speech comes responsibility. This is not a leftist cliche, although its often misapplied by leftists. What this really means is that freedom of speech is every citizens responsibility. Thats you and me. If your neighbor says something hateful or abhorrent, speak up about it!
Americans feel more secure speaking up. This is what makes them more tolerant than Canadians. Ingrained in their psychology is the belief that every individual is equal under the law, and rights and freedoms are every individuals responsibility. Thus they might gripe about minorities, but in the end Americans accept them.
Look no further than our parallel elections. With the exception of Elizabeth May, leader of Canadas fifth party, every major party leader north of the border is a middle-aged, middle-class, mild-mannered white male. And when gender is excluded, Ms. May fits the stereotype perfectly. Yet even then she is not projected to win any seats.
In contrast, the U.S. election has produced two strong female candidates - one of whom is married to a snowmobile-racing champion from a First Nations community. One of the presidential candidates is an African-American born of a Muslim father. The other a tough-talking former Navy pilot and senior citizen who often bucks his own party. Only Joe Biden fits the Canadian stereotype of national leader.
We talk about tolerance in Canada. More often than not, as our electoral choices show, Canadian tolerance is just an excuse to avoid discussing our differences. Thus Canadians stick to whats comfortable, whats least likely to offend the most people. We dont want our differences to cause division and disrupt the social peace.
Americans, on the other hand, relish their differences. Tolerance is created by confronting their differences, then discovering that they share many of the same values and concerns. Americans understand, rightly, that tolerance is a product of free speech. The First Amendment allows them to get past their differences, correct misconceptions, and move on to more pressing issues.
As an aside, I recently spoke with a former neighbor who was even more segregationist than Bill. Yet hes voting for Obama. I wont repeat what he said about the Democratic nominee, but at least he aint a Republican. I dont have to visit the White House while hes president.
On the other hand, the folly of subjecting free speech to tolerance and multiculturalism was demonstrated to me during my undergraduate years at a small university in Northern Ontario. During multiculturalism and tolerance week, the university brought in a human rights expert from Toronto. She worked for the government, if I recall correctly. She had come to address lingering and systematic discrimination among the student body.
Her two prime examples? Two jewels of our Northeastern Ontario geography. Lake Nipissing contained the word nip in it, this white woman said, which was a derogatory term for Asians. Obviously whoever named this lake was insensitive to the local Asian community. The other example was Manitoulin Island, which she cited as a misogynous reference to the first white males to settle the island.
Wrong on both counts, something she would have discovered had she brushed up on her local history before pontificating to us rubes living outside of the Greater Toronto Area. But as is so often the case, history and local culture are ignored by government bureaucrats seeking to impose by fiat their enlightened ideology.
In reality, both words are First Nations in origin. Nipissing is the Algonquin word for big water and Manitoulin is the Ojibwe word for spirit island. In retrospect, its unfortunate our local First Nations communities did not lodge a human rights complaint over this. This is one complaint I would have supported.
The weeks following this incident were typical of Canadian tolerance and multiculturalism: Everybody avoided everyone different, for fear of giving offense. The Asians, who often visited the lake and who took no offense to the name, felt awkward around the First Nations students. The First Nations students felt persecuted by white people who had once again failed to understand their culture. And feminists and Caucasians didnt disagree. The latter were horrified that this so-called expert was one of them. But how to maneuver these tricky waters without further provoking the First Nations students or causing additional embarrassment to Asian students?
Everyone knew what the problem was. Yet nobody wanted to address it, less they be misinterpreted as intolerant. As for our human rights expert, she returned to Toronto, blissfully unaware of the division she had sowed among the student body.
Finally, two American students - both black, and both female - said what everyone else was thinking. This is bullshit, and the only way to end it is to speak freely.
**************** Pete Vere, a writer and journalist, is the co-author, with Kathy Shaidle, of The Tyranny of Nice.
"Americans, on the other hand, relish their differences. Tolerance is created by confronting their differences, then discovering that they share many of the same values and concerns. Americans understand, rightly, that tolerance is a product of free speech. The First Amendment allows them to get past their differences, correct misconceptions, and move on to more pressing issues."
Well said! Suppression of free speech is similar to covering an infected wound. The infection only festers when it could have been aired out and cleansed at the beginning.
I can’t put my finger on it precisely, but this essay feels contrived. Maybe it’s just the awkward number of stereotypes portrayed in it. ‘Unreconstructed’ southerner meets civil rights activist and their common enemy is Republicans? Yeah right. If the author is going to use stereotypes so much in his logic then he should at least bring them up to date. The south is filled with red states, mostly Republican country these days. The days of the Dixiecrats are long gone.
The author also incorrectly assigns the concept of personal responsibility in regards to freedom of speech as a leftist ideal, he couldn’t have gotten it more wrong. The left is the one who is concerned with political correctness, it is Republicans who fight for ‘personal repsonsibility’ on all fronts.
We won’t be so tolerant for long is the Party of Tolerance gets its way.
We won’t be so tolerant for long if the Party of Tolerance gets its way.
Yeah, and American "human rights experts" want to get all the Colleges with Indian names, like my Central Michigan Chippewas, to change their names. The Saginaw-Chippewa Indian Tribe donated the land to Central Michigan University and have permanent slots for Chippewa kids to go to school at CMU. Last year was the first time a Chippewa student started on the football team and he said he was so proud to play for the Chippewas, named for his tribe. The Leaders of the Saginaw-Chippewas have personally told the NAACP to cut the cr*p, the Chippewas support the Chippewas of CMU.
What would the "human rights experts" say about changing all the names in America from the original Indian language names? Wouldn't that be seen as trying the erase Indians from American history? But changing college mascot names is not erasing Indian influence?
These people are insane.
“The south is filled with red states, mostly Republican country these days. The days of the Dixiecrats are long gone.”
Perhaps, but most Republicans aren’t racist. Look no further than Clarence Thomas, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, Bobby Jindal, Todd Palin, etc...
I agree with the one guy who said that the article feels a bit contrived. I too felt that it was to stereotypical. Fiction to prove a point? We have a Canadian portraying southern Americans as radically racist, although nice guys deep down inside. It was too contrived to believe. Journalists, regardless of political agenda, have been using this technique for ages, from Janet Cooke to Jayson Blair. But having said that, I agree with the writer’s premise. There was a Dutch writer who said that Europeans are not tolerant, they are just indifferent. I feel that Canadians are also indifferent. Unlike in the USA where government has historically played a minor role in life, in other parts of the world the government is central to everyday life. Canadians, like Europeans, are not more tolerant than Americans (as empirical evidence provesâwe hardly needed Obama to prove this), they are simply more defeatist than Americans.