‘We’ Were Made for This: A White Man’s Colonial History

The following video has been on air for a few months now in anticipation and support of the Winter Olympic games here in Vancouver:

“We Were Made For This” commercial from The Hudson’s Bay Company

At first glance, I had no particular attachment to the above video but having watched it appear on the television multiple times between Olympic events, I began to feel a dull, antipathetic feeling in my stomach. I have had trouble pinpointing what rubbed me the wrong way, mostly because issues of race and White privilege are often subconscious these days, but now I see it is in how Canadians are represented to be a specific, privileged class, race, and heritage.

I am personally at a crossroads with the Olympics: I see where the Olympics have come from (hundreds of millions of dollars spent for corporate interests, the displacement and oppression of Vancouver’s most marginalized people, the non-acknowledgment of BC’s historical occupation of First Nations’ land, absurd amounts of people lining up for ephemeral pleasures) and yet I still enjoy watching athletes compete on the television and holding my hopes high for another gold medal for Canada. But there are always good aspects about bad things.

Here are some reasons why I feel contention with the above commercial:

1. The “we” this Bay ad refers to is not the inclusion of all Canadian people, it is the exclusive group of white, European people who came to Canada and conquered it as their own. I think the greatest danger is in how much this requires a second or third look because this kind of racism is covert and subconscious. It’s clear that Canada, and specifically Vancouver, is multicultural and to market the narrow image of Canadians as simply white people is not a progressive, accurate message.

2. The exoticization of our land as a harsh climate, to be conquered and survived ‘together.’ First, as mentioned above, the advertisement addresses the viewer as being a part of the privileged, white culture whose roots reach from the ‘founding’ explorer’s heritage to the present-day (white) Canadian. Second, this land was being survived and supported by First Nations people long before white settlers came. Though the theme of human vs. nature is not necessarily wrong, I believe it is outdated and it is this perspective we need to CHANGE in order to begin to heal the planet of all the damage we have caused it. Third, the advertisement supports eugenics with the belief that “we” (white people) were born to dominate the land as a result of not only genetics, but also by birthright.

3. This ad is based on the history taught in schools which is mostly written about white men, by white men, for white men. The Hudson’s Bay Company ad mirrors and perpetuates the white privilege held by white men in Canada and is not a step forward in racial politics.

The ‘we’ addressed in the advertisement is clearly not the entire WE. Not all who are Canadian share the portrayed heritage and it’s interesting as citizens WHAT we are expected to adopt – a “love” of the Olympics and  a “love” of ‘OUR’ nation’s history. We will not move forward if we continue to stagnate around these issues.

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4 thoughts on “‘We’ Were Made for This: A White Man’s Colonial History

  1. I completely agree — a horrible (and horribly white) commercial.

    Also, this line jumped out at me as particularly insulting: “We arrived 340 years ago, to a land of ice, rock, and snow.” As you point out, who is this “we”? White people. But almost worse is the supposed emptiness of the place before white people — a total erasure of First Nations people.

    Just horrible. Chilling, and not in a winter-cold way.

  2. Although I do not live on Vancouver Island as of yet, I have a friend who does; and from what I hear Native American peoples are treated with disrespect; I cannot believe or comprehend this even exists, anywhere, especially in Canada!! I will pray for that to change, and seek what my place will be to help this stigma change. It is Un-Canadian to treat people this way, I thought I was proud to be Canadian, and have thought of moving to Vancouver Island; but not if this is how “Canadians” on Vancouver Island treat Native Americans or any other race. I pray and hope I can and “will” make a difference!!! It will be then, I move there!!!

  3. @M, no doubt. Sometimes it feels like the distance we’ve come as Canadians is short of the distance we’ve got to go.

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