Contains SPOILERS for the Watchmen TV show.
My father was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), or a Mountie, as they’re more commonly called. Growing up, I was quite heavily conditioned towards viewing Mounties in a positive light. Not only is there a general veneration of the RCMP in Canada, but I was also surrounded by my father’s fellow officers. They were an overawing bunch – big, loud, self-assured men who swore a lot and laughed even more.
Whenever I think of them, I’m reminded of something my mother told me from when she and my father were dating. They lived in a small town in northern Manitoba where the RCMP detachment was one of the largest employers. My mother’s mother hated my father. (I never met her, but this alone proves she was a smart woman.) She accused my mother of having ‘scarlet fever,’ a colloquialism for women falling for Mounties ‘swaggering around town in their Red Serge,’ regardless of whatever personality flaws they displayed. Essentially, it was falling in love with the uniform instead of the person.
Remembering my childhood, when I was surrounded by these men, I understand what my grandmother meant. I rarely saw them in the Red Serge, true, and I was too young to have more than a basic idea about attraction. But looking back, I can understand the appeal of their carriage and confidence.
This exposure only served to reinforce the general societal attitude that the both the RCMP as an organization and its members were deserving of automatic respect. I carried this belief with me well into adulthood. For many years, it even served as a bit of a survival tactic. Growing up with my father’s abuse, witnessing his intolerance on a daily basis, I needed to believe that, while I might not experience any of his redeeming qualities, he must surely have some.
His membership in the RCMP became that redeeming quality. He might be generally terrible but, I told myself, nobody who was all bad could get into ‘the force’ – another common and oh-so-telling name for the RCMP. I believed it so hard that, after he died, I asked my mother if I could have his Red Serge, with the intention of framing it one day.
Fortunately, while my mother gave me the Serge, I never followed through on my plan to frame it. I say fortunately because as I got older, I started to study more about Canadian history. Through exposure to sources outside of the white centric version taught to me throughout my school years, I learned the RCMP’s original purpose: the suppression of Indigenous rights.
While some claimed that things had changed in the hundred years since the RCMP was founded, I didn’t believe that for a moment. Because when I thought about it, I remembered that when those swaggering men I’d grown up around laughed, it was usually at the memory of some abuse of power they’d committed against ‘those (insert preferred expletive here) natives,’ back while they were still in the field.
For me, what it boiled down to was that I always told myself that my father got into the RCMP in spite of his racism. But I was wrong. Racism in the RCMP wasn’t a bug. It was a feature.
By that point, there was no way I was ever going to frame my father’s Red Serge. For a while I felt some residual sentimental attachment to it. I’d had it for years, always with the plan of doing something with it, and it took some time to get past that idea. I was torn, perceiving it through a sunk cost lens. I didn’t want it. But after all the emotional energy I’d invested in what it symbolized, I also didn’t not want it, either. And so, it continued to hang in my closet. As the years passed and I came to terms with my father’s and my relationship, I eventually, for the most part, forgot it was even there.
Then last year, in one of life’s strange confluences, thoughts of the Serge were brought roaring back into the forefront of my mind. At the time, the RCMP was being criticized for their (lack of) response to violence against Indigenous lobster harvesters in Nova Scotia. As mobs trapped Indigenous fishers in buildings, and committed acts of theft, vandalism, and arson, the RCMP just stood back and let it happen.
It was one in a long line of injustices, and it didn’t surprise me in the slightest.
At the same time all this was happening, I was watching the Watchmen TV series, a show in which racism – both systemic and otherwise – is a central theme. In one episode Angela/Sister Night (Regina King), who is black, is investigating the murder of police chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson), who is her close friend, and white. During a search of his house, she discovers a Klan robe hidden in a secret compartment in his closet. It’s revealed that it belonged to Judd’s grandfather, who said it’s his heritage, and his right to keep it.
Funny, how an intersection of current events and pop culture can change one’s perceptions in a heartbeat.
Up until that moment, I’d thought of the Serge hanging in my closet as a symbol only on my own terms. It was a piece of my heritage, something that reminded me of my personal journey. But when Angela opened the secret compartment’s door, I could practically see the Serge superimposed over the Klan robe, and I understood its heritage belonged to far more than just me.
True, there are some differences between real life and the TV show. Judd’s Klan robe, for example, while hidden, is hung as if on display. My father’s Serge, meanwhile, is on a wire hanger on the closet rod like any other jacket, and covered in a dry cleaning bag. And a friend pointed out that Judd embraced his heritage and continued with it, while I’m, ” … not looking to join the RCMP anytime soon.”
But regardless of my intentions, it’s a sign of my white privilege that, in my mind, I’ve always been able to comfortably separate what the Serge means to me and what it represents to those who have been vicitimized by the RCMP throughout Canada’s history. And while there’s no sense beating myself up over the past, I do have an obligation to learn from it.
Which is why I’ve contacted the local RCMP detachment to inquire about proper uniform disposal methods.