Reading from blogs this week: an article and a short film. Theme: ancestors.
The article (with lots of typos but otherwise great) about the invention of the ethnic term ‘white’, and how that concept of white, homogenized all European cultures into one ethnic group, wiping out distinctive cultures in the new world.
A concept I had never thought if before, but when presented with it realized how simple it is. I am not ‘white’ anymore than you would call persons from all over Asia ‘yellow’. Unfortunately this is a North American cultural paradigm. We are ‘white’ and ‘black’ and ‘Indian’. Or, more PC, African-American, Native American and … white? Yup still just white.
Well, I’m Scottish on my dad’s side. My great-grandmother grew up there. Her husband’s family was also from Scotland via Normandy (Vikings). On my mum’s side, going way back, Cornish (Celts) and English (Anglo-Saxon), but more recently from Suffolk. They came to the new world via Massachusetts (Salem – Mary Estey is my 9th great-grandmother) in the 1600s and then up to New Brunswick for generations. Only my grandpa was born here on the west coast of Canada.
So – what am I? I think this is a very poignant question for all of us Europeans living in North America. What are we? If our families have been here on this continent for 400 years, do we really have any ties to our ‘homelands’?
It’s common to say we call ourselves just ‘Canadian’ or ‘American’, but as time has gone by more and more people from all over the world have come to these countries, who in most cases have a much greater understanding of their own ethnicity and cultures, and even outnumber Europeans in some places. In my city, there has been an incredible influx of people from Hong Kong and mainland China in the past ten years. So much so that when you sit on public transit here, easily half of the people you see will be Asian. And of course the backlash is racism against Asians, but the reality is that although Europeans are still a majority, Asians are now a close second. People get angry at this, like we of European decent have some kind of claim to the land. I personally don’t feel such a claim.
We Europeans, the original colonizers, destroyed the existing cultures of this continent when we came here. We caused immeasurable damage that will never be undone; a stain of blood on our collective cultural consciousness. My question is, with a legacy of environmental destruction, over-consumption and dissatisfaction, did we also destroy ourselves in the process?
What it must have been like, all those years ago! To jump in a ship, risking death and disease, to come to a new land, rife with unknown dangers and lead lives of extremes – hard work, survival, brand new towns, governments, celebrations. I think if I were to risk life and limb to be half-a-planet away from my homeland, there would have to be very good reasons for me to want to get away. Life back home must be very, very bad. And maybe I wouldn’t have any trouble renouncing my heritage to be in a new life, in a ‘new world’.
But now, generations later, we descendants are left with, what? Christmas? St. Patty’s parades?
4 leaf clovers and a pot ‘o gold at the end of the rainbow? It’s no secret that we are the melting pot of the world. There are things that are distinctly Canadian over American yes – we Canadians are more polite, we like beer and hockey, we are historically a little more socialist (health care), it’s colder here .. and, and… is that the extent of our culture?
I sometimes feel like it is.
I think we North American ‘whites’ could reclaim our cultural heritage. After all, I am not Italian, nor German nor Czech. I’m not Scandinavian nor Dutch nor Russian. I am not ‘white’. I am Canadian, of Scottish and British heritage. Not saying I’m Scottish – I didn’t grow up there, never even been there – though of course I would love to one day. So I’m not saying go out and appropriate the culture of your ancestors either. Don’t be like this guy and piss people off.
And to all of those seekers fixating on (and appropriating) North American indigenous culture, just don’t do it. Ever. They are off-limits period. We have done them enough damage.
No, we are all indigenous to somewhere. Find your own people. Study their ways. In this, I really believe, one could find a feeling of ‘place’ in a history that goes back thousands of years, a landscape where your ancestors studied the mysteries of the universe, had families, fought wars, faced hardships together and created a culture that was unique to them.
I came across this short film, about my own ancestral culture, Scottish folklore, superstition and singing. Oh what amazing singing! Please watch the whole film here.
Those of us with a German or Norse ethnic background have sometimes felt reluctant to look more deeply into our mythologies. In part this is because they are associated with conquest, and in part because the Nazis trashed them in their attempt to regress to the thought patterns of an earlier time. But these, our stories, were never intended for that; and they need reclaiming and dreaming onward for reasons similar to the need for Christians and Muslims to reclaim their spiritual roots from theocrats who wage wars in the name of the Prophet Muhammad or the Prince of Peace. The river of spirit has gotten polluted, but its headwaters remain clear and nourishing.
Very often seekers who abandon Western culture for Eastern or Native American do not realize the depths of what they leave behind. Our stories examine reincarnation, spiritual energy, gift exchange, the vitality of the soul, and the spirit of place. In the old Nordic worldview everything is in flux and begins, balances out from, and ends with polarities akin to yin and yang. Even the gods are subject to this, undergo transformation, and often pay for what they gain with a corresponding loss. Our concept of wyrd directly relates one’s actions and intentions to personal and intergenerational consequences similar to karma. But our way of understanding these things reflects our own cultural framework and traditions. Coming home to them often increases respect for those of other cultures while eliminating the desperate drive to uproot and appropriate.
featured image by Moyan Brenn