Comparing ourselves to others is something that everyone does. These comparisons can act as motivating factors, pushing people and whole societies forward. Looking up to someone who is better at a specific skill can drive a person to do better, train harder or practice more. However, when we start to compare ourselves to others in a regressive way it can lead to static complacency. It’s like watching an episode of A&E’s Hoarders and thinking “Look at how clean my house is in comparison to that. I guess I don’t have to clean today.” Unfortunately, the same complacency occurs in societies when they are dealing with civil rights or social issues.
Coming from a Canadian perspective I can admit that my country is not free of racial issues. Quite the opposite in fact: a 2015 Maclean’s study reported that, on every single measurable indicator, Aboriginal people in Canada face a higher degree of oppression, hardship and systemic racism than African Americans in the United States. According to the RCMP, there have been thousands of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in the past two decades that, for the most part, go unacknowledged by the media and largely uninvestigated by police. Even the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established to evaluate the impact of residential schools on society and provide a safe space for those impacted to tell their stories, faced push-back and criticism.
However, while racism is clearly an issue in Canada, we still turn on our televisions, see what is happening in the United States and compare our situation to the in-your-face racism and protest riots occurring south of our border. Seeing the stories of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice while simultaneously seeing what occurred in Ferguson, Baltimore and Cleveland, it is easy for Canadians to fall back and say “In comparison to what is happening there we are a peaceful and tolerant country.” This may be why the Canadian government does not address the issues and the Canadian population in general seems hesitant to demand change. In comparison to the violent riots and police brutality in America, Canada’s race problem isn’t as visible. In comparison to the way minorities were treated hundreds of years ago, today they have it pretty good. These same comparisons occur in other countries and for other issues when societies are reluctant to admit they have a problem or put an effort into making positive change.
Take, for example, the feminist movement. I have heard countless times that the battle is won, women can have jobs and can vote, and therefore anyone who speaks about gender inequality in the west is just another angry feminist trying to make something out of nothing. They say that in comparison to women living under theocratic dictatorial regimes, women in the western world have it pretty good. In comparison to the situation a hundred years ago, women today have it pretty good. All of which is true to a certain extent. As a white woman in western society I can go to school, drive a car, apply for jobs and vote. Legally and on paper I am the same as an equally qualified man. However, just because the legal battle is won does not mean that issues such as gender pay gaps, unequal political representation, sexual exploitation and social inequalities between men and women do not exist in western culture. Just because these issues seems less dire than those being faced by other communities or those faced in other times, does that mean that they are not worth dealing with to make our communities better?
When comparisons are made on social issues between countries of varying development, culture and economic ability, it becomes very easy for more developed countries to rest on their laurels and become complacent with the progress that their society has already made. It becomes easy to overlook the social issues in our society when we compare our successes to others’ failures. Dealing with complex social issues such as gender, race or sexuality, or confronting intricate human and civil rights abuses involves evaluating each situation within its own context, not in comparison to others.
Ferro, Laura. “Gender Inequality in the U.S. Today: Part 2.” Trust Women. 27 March 2012. http://www.trustwomenpac.org/2012/03/gender-inequality-in-the-u-s-today-part-2/
Gilmore, Scott. “Canada’s Race Problem? It’s Even Worse Than America’s.” Macleans. 22 January 2015. http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/out-of-sight-out-of-mind-2/
Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “Missing Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview.” The Government of Canada. 2014. http://www.rcmp-grc-gc.ca/pubs/mmaw-faapd-eng.pdf