Editorial – Us and Them

It really is great, being one of Us. I wouldn’t want to be one of Them. It’s comforting, this ability to create a wall between Us and Them. I’ll cluster together with Us, and together we’ll keep Them at bay. It affords a sense of safety, of stability, in an unpredictable world. Or at least, it would if only the walls would stop shifting.

Think of your own Us. Who do you include in the image you’ve formulated about who is acceptable, who is one of Us? Is the line drawn between rich and poor, male and female? Does being Canadian make the Americans Them? Or are the boundaries broader, encompassing everything (and everyone) that fits the image of your familiar North American (or European or South Asian or Middle Eastern) experience?

And do those groups–the groups we consider ourselves part of–shift depending on what’s happening on any given day?

A recent incident got me wondering about this. In June, a group of families was busy cooking, decorating, and getting their community centre ready for a summer celebration. The day of the party, they woke up to find their efforts trashed. Picnic tables and tents were destroyed, and black spray paint covered the walls of the building.

Picture, for a moment, your own family waking up to this–their picnic or reunion or Christmas dinner destroyed by bigotry and hatred. Imagine, if you can, the fear, the anger, that you might feel as you stepped through the wreckage: picked up the pieces of the decorations your kids had made; gathered up the ripped remnants of the tent in your backyard.

The families that saw their hard work and community celebration destroyed are part of the Anishinabeg Algonquin First Nations in Maniwaki, Quebec. The words in black spray paint on the building read ?White Power.? Swastikas–a symbol that has come to represent self-righteous brutality–were an added flourish.

Your first question is probably ?Why?? The answer goes right back to the basics, to the source of wars and prejudice and hate–Us and Them.

It’s something that humans have always been particularly good at. We form ourselves into groups based on invented constructions: he’s a Liberal, She’s a Conservative; You’re a garbage collector, I’m a millionaire; the Jones’s son went to the right school, the Smiths? daughter went to the wrong one. they’re not one of Us.

The examples go on all day. We don’t accept people as individuals. We categorize, separate, herd together; fight wars based on labels: colour, religion, money, heritage.

But the fact that these boundaries shift so easily points to how false they are. Take this futuristic scenario: if a drought-stricken U.S. decided to invade Canada for its water, would the same men and women whose narrow-minded hatred caused them to trash the community centre suddenly shift their prejudices? Would the Aboriginals become part of the vandals? collective Canadian Us, fighting the invading American Them?

The groups we create are false, without substance, a creation purely of human imagination, yet modern humans cling to them as fiercely as any historic civilization. How far we’ve come indeed.

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