Tag Archives: Ethnicity

“What’s Your Background:” Cultural Differences Between Canada and the US

Growing up in the Greater Toronto Area, it was fairly common to meet people of different ethnicities and cultures. As a kid, when you’re first meeting someone — at least when I was growing up — one of the first questions (after learning someone’s name) was probably some iteration of: “What’s Your Background?”

Until I moved to mid-Michigan for university after high school, I didn’t realize that asking this question may have been a norm where I grew up and not anywhere else. I still remember when I first asked someone about their “background” when I arrived at university. They looked at me funny and so then I rattled off some possible answers, Irish, Italian, English, etc. The response I received was a stern: “I’m American.” I responded by saying I assumed that, but that I was also curious to know about their cultural heritage. The person reaffirmed that they were American.

And thus was the eye-opening experience for me — ingrained in a Canadian’s identity is that they aren’t necessarily from Canada or that they didn’t necessarily start in Canada. Canadians know that there was something before Canada.

At this point, I should clarify that it’s really not fair to make sweeping generalizations about all Americans or all Canadians. It’s probably not even fair to make generalizations about Americans from mid-Michigan or Canadians from the Greater Toronto Area. While I might hypothesize that something along the lines of what I just said in the above paragraph, my point in sharing this today is to highlight to you that there may be some “blind spots” that you’re unaware of, if you remain nestled in your own culture.

In fact, you may not even have to leave the country to notice your “blind spots.” Simply by taking up a new activity or popping into a different community, you may find that the way you think about something is vastly different from the way someone else thinks about that same thing. You may also find that your group’s “norms” are borderline blasphemous to another group (sidenote: while asking about someone’s background as a kid was normal, I learned that continuing to do this after moving to mid-Michigan was seen as ‘rude.’)

Why Coke’s Super Bowl Ad Was Really Smart

By now, you’ve probably seen some of the coverage of Coke’s “controversial” Super Bowl ad. To be honest, I’m with Coke’s Ad Director on this one, “I don’t see any controversy here.” Don’t get me wrong, I can understand where some of the detractors are coming from, but I tend to side with the Ad Director. In case you haven’t yet seen the ad, take a look:

In a word, I thought the ad was beautiful. Maybe it’s because I was born and raised in Canada and I am used to (and appreciate) multiculturalism a bit more than the average American, who knows. Knowing that the Super Bowl has become an event that transcends the borders of the USA, maybe Coke was, surreptitiously, also trying to reach potential customers beyond its borders. Now, that hypothesis seems kind of silly given that the song that’s being sung in many languages is “America the Beautiful,” so let’s revise it and say that maybe Coke is trying to reach current (or potential) immigrants to the US.

Regardless of it’s initial aim, the controversy has stirred up so much discussion that the ad is being shared across the internet many times over. The last time I checked, the video had been viewed almost 8,000,000 times in 3+ days. I can’t think of many companies that don’t wish they made a video like this that’s been viewed this many times on social media (not to mention all the discussion that’s happened in print, TV, and online).

Then, there’s also the copycat-esque videos that extend (or poke fun) at the ad. I came across this one the other day and couldn’t help, but chuckle:

I haven’t seen anyone from Coke comment on it, but I’m sure that, at least off the record, they’d probably laugh at it, too.

Circling back to the original ad, I wanted to draw attention to the internationalist flavour to it. It’s still a few years off now, but folks are projecting that in the next 25-30 years, the majority of people living in the USA won’t be the same as it is today. Instead, there will be a majority of minorities. Meaning, adding up the population of all the minorities will mean that there are more people who identify as a minority than identify as white.

Tying this to the advertisement by Coke and I can’t help but think about how strategic it was for Coke to try and, if this was their strategy, attract younger immigrants to the brand.

That Which Is You — Is Me

Last month, there was a big hullabaloo when Al Gore sold Current TV to Al Jazeera. A great majority of that outrage (at least from what I could tell) stemmed from the fact that Al Jazeera is an Arabic news network (or to that’s their perception). Note: the criticism of selling to an oil-backed company was far more substantiated. While that might have been how the network started, they report on far more than just Arabic news. There’s obviously more going on here than ethnocentrism and people who don’t want news about the Arabic world, though.

The obvious answer would be that some Americans are still fearful of people who look different from them. Notably, Americans are fearful of the people who look the same as those people who were part of the tragic events of 9/11. Is this reasonable? Is this fair? Is it fair to loop in 23% of the world’s population (that’s almost 2 billion, by the way) because of 19 people? Now, to give people some credit — it’s not all their doing.

To be more specific, people are subjected to these “us-them” perceptions if/when they watch the news. When was the last time you saw a TV program where a Muslim person was the protagonist — where a Muslim person was the hero and not a terrorist. This is unacceptable.

Did you know that there have been more terrorist-related deaths as a result of a white person committing the act of terrorism?

There’s one more thing I want to say on this matter and I hope you give me some leeway on it. As I watch the unfounded vitriol directed at Muslims and people with brown skin, I can’t help but think of Black people and the civil rights movement. Of course, I wasn’t alive during the events that led to the movement, but from what I’ve heard/read about it, it seems to me that some Americans treat brown-skinned people the same way that they treated black people back then. Don’t get me wrong — I know that there were plenty of unspeakable acts committed against black people back then (that aren’t necessarily happening to brown people today).

I’m sure I’m not the first person to draw the connection between what happened back then and what’s happening today. It’s just disappointing to me that this kind of stuff still happens. When will we — as a species — see: ‘that which is you — is me.’