In 2016, everyone’s favorite refrain suddenly became that they were definitely going to move to Canada. After election night, the Canadian Citizenship and Immigration website crashed from high traffic. With each new political scandal and a possible second term for President Donald Trump looming ominously, more and more self-declared progressives insist that they are really, truly going to move to Canada.
On the surface, it’s an understandable sentiment. After all, racial tensions in America have exploded to the forefront of the public consciousness, mass shootings fill our timelines faster than we can respond to them, and every day women and minority groups witness their rights being meticulously chipped away by an administration hell-bent on making America “great again.” Who wouldn’t want to move to some sort of Western utopia — like America, but better!
But what do we reveal about ourselves when this — packing up and moving to Canada — is our solution? Well, first of all, it reveals a degree of privilege and ignorance regarding our position in the world. Immigration is one of the most contentious issues in our country. Every day, we learn more about the heartbreaking and sometimes deadly family separations and detentions on the U.S.-Mexico border. The idea that someone could just pack up and move to another country on a whim while people die trying to immigrate to the United States reflects a profound state of cognitive dissonance.
But let’s say someone actually makes the big move to Canada or whatever promised land. What then? Have they arrived in a progressive utopia? Well, no. Certainly, Canada has more progressive policies in areas like healthcare, but there is no utopian country free of strife, conflict and historical baggage. Even now, as Canada shines like the perfect older sister up north with a Disney prince for a prime minister, it continues to have its own struggles, from forced sterilizations of Indigenous women to harmful environmental policies. Pretending otherwise displays ignorance, avoids accountability and erases the genuine struggles other citizens face.
It may seem harmless, but this grandstanding further promotes the destructive narrative that issues like racism are purely a Trump phenomenon. White supremacy is unfortunately as American as apple pie and baseball. People of color have been aware of the continued prominence of white supremacy in this country since long before Trump moved into the White House. Presupposing that the current racial tension will magically dissipate if someone else becomes president reveals the privileged perspective of someone who has primarily experienced a world without this racial tension that so many others have known long before Trump arrived.
So where does this leave us? If someone truly wants to leave the U.S., especially if they fear for their safety and their rights, they can. But be aware that immigration is a long, expensive, confusing and sometimes fruitless endeavor. On the other hand, people who have no real plans to move to Canada and only threaten it to express their frustration should perhaps rethink this particular refrain because it reflects a sense of privilege and ignorance and ultimately amounts to nothing.
Here’s what to do instead: Acknowledge your privilege and confront the power embedded within the rhetoric we engage with every day. Encourage friends and family to be more thoughtful with their words because they truly shape the way we see the world. Encourage them to be active and engaged rather than shun our current problems for a utopia that never has and never will exist. And when all else fails? Vote! Vote in every election — local, state and federal. While there is no perfect oasis of free healthcare and multicultural cooperation out there, each of us has some power to make this country better for each other by voting and making our voices heard.
Ellen Murray is a senior writing about being a millennial. Her column, “’90s Kid Unleashed,” runs every other Monday.