My American citizenship branded me an ‘other’ at Queen’s

Even as a white American woman, I was viewed as different by my peers

Madeleine reflects on her American heritage at Queen’s.

On my first day at Queen’s, I drove to Kingston with my parents in a U-Haul, unloaded my things on my floor in Gordon Brockington Hall, and understood what it meant to be an outsider in Canada.

Sitting on dingy common room couches, my floormates, residence don, and I were playing Cards Against Humanity. I was dealt a card with the name Terry Fox on it. I desperately looked up, not knowing a single person in the room—or in the country—and asked, “Who’s this?”

Fatal mistake.

Uproariously, everyone in the room turned on me and exclaimed how ignorant and uneducated I must be not to know Canada’s beloved hero and legend. I used the only defense mechanism I could: “Oh, sorry, but I’m not actually Canadian.” Another mistake.

Telling people I was American apparently explained everything they needed to know about me—that I was ignorant and probably voted for Trump. While this couldn’t be further from the truth, my little first-year heart was broken.

Within hours of being on campus, I was already labeled ‘different’: American. I thought that I had blown any chance of fitting in, of being liked or even respected by my floormates.

In my experience, Americans view Canadians as kind-hearted, welcoming, and safe. I naively assumed my citizenshipstatus wouldn’t matter, let alone negatively brand me, especially in a country that I understood to be welcoming to different perspectives.   

While the majority of Canadians I’ve met are lovely, welcoming, and open-minded, that day, I learned an important lesson about what it means to be an outsider in Canada: you can bring your own perspectives and cultures if they don’t disrupt the status quo and stereotypical Canadian culture.

It’s impossible to accept and be tolerant of other people while maintaining conditionalities for them.

Even as a white, American woman, an identity that I understand is riddled with privilege, I’ve been at the receiving end of hurtful and negative stereotypes and assumptions.

If this is how I have been treated on Queen’s campus, accepted but labeled as a distinct ‘other,’ how are racialized immigrants being treated? All students should be granted the freedom to express their individuality without fearing retribution for not being seen as ‘Canadian enough.’

While those comments from my floormates don’t encompass the sentiments of all Canadians towards outsiders, I have noticed a superiority complex that creates an unwelcoming environment for different opinions and cultures.

More than once during my time at Queen’s, I’ve heard professors discuss examples of discriminatory and xenophobic actions taken by the Canadian government in the past, followed by the statement, “It’s terrible, but at least we’re not America.”

At first, I was deeply offended and hurt by these expressions of superiority and bigotry in the classroom. However, I began to understand that if these anti-American sentiments were proliferated throughout the school system, of course Canadian teenagers would internalize them. The professors probably picked them up from their parents and teachers.

The notion that even the worst actions committed by the Canadian government can be somewhat excused in the shadow of America disturbs me. When we first heard of Justin Trudeau’s disturbing history of wearing blackface, I heard many people justifying his actions by claiming they weren’t even close to how terrible Trump was.

While this may be true, shouldn’t any act of racism, especially one from the leaderof Canada, be condemned instead of justified? In my opinion, Canada’s fascination with being inherently better and more ‘civilized’ than America is counterproductive. To move toward a more equitable and welcoming Canada, we need to stop justifying mistakes through comparison.

The sentiment that Canadians can do no wrong in comparison to Americans is especially troubling because we’re teaching people that the negative actions of others can excuse your own. More importantly, this superiority complex, for lack of a better expression, has a clearly xenophobic underpinning.

Similar to the idea that Trudeau’s actions don’t reflect the sentiment of every Canadian, the disappointing political climate in America doesn’t reflect the values and morality of all its citizens.

Because the American political landscape has dramatically shifted since the 2020 presidential election, I’ve felt more tolerance and less anti-American sentiment from my peers and teachers.

The day that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election was the first day I felt truly safe to express the pride I felt in my country, because most of my Canadian peers approved.

I feel lucky now to live and learn in Canada, and some of those peers on my floor are close friends to this day. However, the slight recoil I experience when I tell people I’m American hasn’t fully gone away.

This isn’t to say that Canadians are intolerant people because I know firsthand that’s the furthest thing from the truth. However, I believe there can be no true multiculturalism if there’s ever an undercurrent of discomfort and wariness towards different people.

The idea of the cookie-cutter Canadian mold isn’t what makes Canada special. It’s the interplay and dialogue between different cultures and people. I think this is often said but not as frequently internalized and institutionalized.

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