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Orange is the New Red and White

It’s the early hours of what promises to be a blistering hot Canada Day. I’m sitting at my laptop, drinking my morning coffee, wearing an orange t-shirt. As you likely know, at least if you live in Canada, the orange t-shirt has come to become a symbol of solidarity with our indigenous neighbours, specifically those who endured residential schools. The idea for the orange t-shirt emerges out of the experience of a young indigenous girl who was given an orange shirt by her grandmother to wear on her first day at a Residential School in British Columbia. The shirt was confiscated, and she never saw it again.

I am not typically prone to embracing visible markers like this. I don’t tend to wave flags or hold up signs or use social media as a megaphone for my political opinions. I suppose I am a bit of a fossil in that I prefer to engage at the level of ideas and one on one conversation than slogans and flags that can so easily (and often) be misinterpreted and/or casually dismissed. I doubt this will come as a surprise to anyone who reads this blog, but I really, really dislike being misinterpreted. I would prefer to be able to explain precisely what I mean, however long it takes. It probably goes without saying at this point, but our cultural moment is not exactly one that is conducive to nuance or patient conversation. The reactive hot take, the sensational (and at times obfuscatory) headline, the rigid moral certainty, the punitive take down, the self-congratulatory banner raised to the sky—these are far more entertaining. And, of course, far more profitable for big media.

I am wearing the orange t-shirt today for a simple reason. My young adult daughter, who is Ojibway, gave it to me. She had posted something online about wearing orange on Canada Day. I said, “I will if you will.” And so, she went out and found an orange t-shirt for me at a thrift store. We had a good talk about it yesterday before she headed off for a few weeks on another summer adventure. Like everyone with a pulse and a soul, her heart is broken by the discovery of unmarked graves at residential schools across Canada in recent weeks. She is angered and grieved by the attempt of the Canadian government, with the aid of the church, to eradicate the language, culture, and identity of her people. The orange shirt serves as a symbol for this grief and rage about a truly shameful chapter in the history of Canada.

But our conversation also veered in a direction I didn’t expect. She talked about her discomfort with being in certain spaces and feeling a pressure—sometimes subtle, sometimes quite overt—to be the mouthpiece for a certain set of grievances that she doesn’t necessarily share, or at least doesn’t feel with quite the same urgency. “I hate it when they just look at me as one of the few brown people in the room and expect me to be angry,” she said. She resists the perceived need to function as little more than an avatar for a set of identity grievances. She knows (and is proud of) the fact that her story is a bit more complicated than that. She knows that she is a beautiful, unique person, with a number of different tributaries feeding the river that is her life. She has told me many times that she is a human being and a child of God first, and any other identity marker second.

She resists, in other words, the identity determinism that much of our cultural discourse demands and rewards. So often these days, it seems that identity trumps ideas. If you are a person of colour or if you inhabit a certain sexual or gender identity, you are expected to dutifully recite your lines. We know where you fit, what you’re supposed to say, how we’re supposed to respond. If you’d just kindly stay in your lane, we can all get on with things. If you happen to have an idea that blurs the boundaries or, worse, contradicts the accepted orthodoxies of the moment in any way, we’d really rather not hear from you. Your identity—or, more accurately, our conception of your identity—is what we’re interested in, not your ideas.

This bothers me. I think we are more glorious creatures than whatever aggregate of identity markers we inhabit or create (I know, what else would you expect from someone with my boring constellation of identities?). I was rather pleased to discover that it bothered my daughter, too. And so, we’re wearing our orange t-shirts today as an expression of the sadness and anger that is appropriate to the legacy of residential schools and all the toxic misery they have spawned. I think we’re also wearing them as an expression of our longing for a more hopeful future for our nation and for us as individuals—a future that is less a warring of inflexible identity markers and more of a shared vision for all.

Image source.

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Linda Swab #

    What a wonderful new perspective from your daughter to ponder! Just as unhealthy to have these expectations of any identifiable group(even us WASPs)

    July 1, 2021
  2. Very thought provoking post, Ryan.
    I applaud your Daughter for not assuming a victim mentality under emotional pressure.

    This post reminds me of a either/or Though-terminating cliche I heard utilized at the height of the BLM movement: “if you are silent you are part of the problem”. Interestingly, Jesus himself used such language in Matt 12:30 .

    “A false dilemma, also referred to as false dichotomy, is an informal fallacy based on a premise that erroneously limits what options are available. The source of the fallacy lies not in an invalid form of inference but in a false premise. This premise has the form of a disjunctive claim: it asserts that one among a number of alternatives must be true. This disjunction is problematic because it oversimplifies the choice by excluding viable alternatives. For example, a false dilemma is committed when it is claimed that, “Stacey spoke out against capitalism; therefore, she must be a communist”. One of the options excluded is that Stacey may be neither communist nor capitalist. False dilemmas often have the form of treating two contraries, which may both be false, as contradictories, of which one is necessarily true. Various inferential schemes are associated with false dilemmas, for example, the constructive dilemma, the destructive dilemma or the disjunctive syllogism. False dilemmas are usually discussed in terms of deductive arguments. But they can also occur as defeasible arguments. Our liability to commit false dilemmas may be due to the tendency to simplify reality by ordering it through either-or-statements, which is to some extent already built into our language. This may also be connected to the tendency to insist on clear distinction while denying the vagueness of many common expressions.”- (Wikipedia)

    July 1, 2021
    • Thanks, Mike. Unfortunately, I think false dilemmas abound in our cultural discourse at present. It’s often hard to know how, when, where to speak into some of them, particularly, as I said in the post, as someone who inhabits all the wrong identity markers.

      July 4, 2021
      • The world desperately needs wisdom, Ryan. Wisdom like yours. If you are confident in your knowledge, please speak. God is with you. Speak with the confidence that faith in truth
        and love, provides. Don’t let authoritarian voices that insist on, “identity markers” over reason, deter you.

        July 5, 2021
      • Thank you.

        July 6, 2021
  3. Miigwetch.

    July 2, 2021
  4. “Like everyone else with a pulse and a soul, she is heartbroken”…how profoundly moving and true. I shall recall this Godly understanding to mind anytime I or another attempts to speak on behalf of the Roman Catholic church.

    May the suffering of the innocent be their glory in heaven. May God have mercy on those who confess their sin.

    “I think we are more glorious creatures”…I am truly bewildered. I’m not sure what it says about either of us but I can only wish (or not) that I shared this sentiment.

    Through what I would explain as the workings of the Holy Spirit, my soul struggles still, to find the “glory” in myself and the glory in others. Whatever “glory” is true to me, if it is true about me, it is HIs, not mine. Apart from him I am anything but, “glorious”.

    As for others, I am learning not to pass judgement but aside from the true beauty and innocence of the very young, I see more brokenness and self interest masquerading as justice, then I see love. My hope and my curse is that I am wrong. That real glory and beauty does exist in us and is bountiful but I am too blind to see.

    Christ have mercy….and may that mercy pour over me such that I see the hidden beauty and potentials of all Your children.

    All my brothers and sisters.

    July 3, 2021
    • “I think we are more glorious creatures”…I am truly bewildered. I’m not sure what it says about either of us but I can only wish (or not) that I shared this sentiment.

      All I mean by this statement is that I believe that we bear the very image of God and that our essence cannot be reduced to the smaller and often more self-serving identity markers that we gravitate toward for meaning and purpose in the world.

      I, too, “see more brokenness and self interest masquerading as justice than I see love.” Christ have mercy indeed.

      July 4, 2021
  5. Elizabeth #

    This post speaks volumes to me. As an Indigenous woman and a Christian – I find that I am struggling to realize who I truly am.

    July 5, 2021
    • So glad to hear that you connected with the post, Elizabeth. I hope and pray that you will increasingly come to inhabit your identity(ies) with pride and joy, as an Indigenous woman and as a child of God.

      July 6, 2021
  6. I know these are intensely personal questions and by all means decline to answer if you so choose, but I can’t help but wonder how your personal family dynamic is impacted (so far) by the latest tragic revelations regarding the residential school system.
    Are there challenges emerging among you? Within your community? What do you see as the long term trajectory for yourself, your family and our country?

    For transparency sake I must admit to having a vested interest. Within this past year I have been blessed with a new relationship with a lovely indigenous woman.

    Nurturing our love won’t be easy. As well as navigating through the brokenness of our own personal histories we will also have to come to terms with our different visions and experiences of what it was and means to be Canadian. As well, my partner has a large family. 4 siblings, 10 nieces and nephews, 3 kids and 11 grandchildren. I have more than just one person to account to.

    Any advice and/or insight you have to offer would be greatly appreciated….

    It is a big ask.

    July 8, 2021
    • It is an interesting question you ask, and one that I will of course only say so much about publicly.

      What I would say first is that our family is just that. Our family. It is the four people of varying ethnic makeups and dispositions and whatever else whom God has brought together and called to love each other. Are there challenges? Sure. All families have challenges, obviously, but there are certainly unique ones that come along with, say, being a white Christian dad with indigenous kids. It is looked at suspiciously by many, as you can well imagine. We have always tried to be open and honest with our kids about their identity with all its complexity, and about Christianity’s dark chapters. We have tried to model curiosity, openness, and a willingness to ask hard questions. I hope we have done it well.

      I would say that in general, my kids are not as interested in some of the issues dominating the headlines these days as many would like them to be or in the way many would like them to be. That’s not to say they aren’t on their radar. They are. But it has not provoked an identity crisis or anything like that. They seem to feel quite free to say, “Yeah, I get it, it sucks” without feeling the need to go to war over it online or wherever else. We have always tried to ground our kids’ identity as we ground our own. Child of God first. Ojibway, Mennonite, Japanese Canadian, etc second (or third or fourth…). I hope and pray that this is the trajectory that they and we stay on.

      I do not have this same hope for our nation. I fear that we will grind along idolizing and fetishizing identity markers in the vacuum of meaning that has been created by our abandonment of other larger meta-narratives. At some point, I suspect this narrative will run out of steam or collapse into incoherence. I hope sooner than later. But I am not confident that whatever ends up replacing it will be any better. We humans have always been determined and inventive idolaters.

      I am so happy to hear of your new relationship! I pray that this will be a source of deep joy and fulfillment for you and your partner in years to come. I pray that this will be one of God’s many means to grow you both in Christ-like love.

      July 9, 2021
      • “Child of God first.”

        “God has brought us together and called us to love each other.”

        “God’s many means to grow you both (us all) in Christ like love.”…

        Thank you for sharing, Ryan. How blessed you are to have the family you do.

        “My soul rejoices”, as the saying goes, over your kind and considerate prayers. They are deeply appreciated. I have offered a Divine Mercy Chaplet for you and your family. May God bless you all with the wisdom, strength and courage to withstand the times that lay before us.

        They may take everything else but they cannot take our faith in God and our love for one another.

        July 10, 2021

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