Walking the line

During the 1950s and 60s in my hometown of Guelph, Ont., you made your own fun. There were no touring orchestras or theatrical groups, just the local light opera company doing The Gondoliers or the little theatre presenting The Importance of Being Earnest. The boffo offering was always the annual minstrel show by the Kiwanis Club with a row of ten men called names like Rastus and Bones who sat on the high school auditorium stage telling cornball jokes and singing. The highlight was “Old Man River” crooned by the owner of Kelly’s Music store. They all wore white gloves and blackface until the civil rights movement was launched in the U.S. and then one year the show was quietly discontinued.

Guelph was also a welcoming place for multitudes of immigrants from many lands. I attended school or played sports at the YMCA with Italians, Greeks, Dutch and Estonians along with earlier arrivals from England, Ireland and Scotland. In all, I’d like to think I grew up knowing the importance of embracing diversity and doing the right thing for every member of society.

These days, I must admit I’m having a hard time keeping up with the ever-changing rules. One day, “chief” is to be scrubbed from job titles. What happens in such a world to police chief or fire chief? Then I see a pop-up opioid site with a sign that has more words about the Indigenous people who once lived on those very grounds than what drug services are offered. Next comes an advisory that children shouldn’t dress as cowboys or indians on Halloween for fear of offending those groups.

I wonder, what I should do about Halloween? Do I ladle out candy only to those who appear appropriately apparelled? And what about the pith helmet I always wear to the door as my “costume?” Does that headgear bespeak colonial imperialism? Maybe I’ll just put out my bowlful of candy, go to bed, and pull the sheets over my puzzled face. Where, oh where, to turn for guidance about these suddenly momentous matters?


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