christianity culture politics

imaginary dialogue on colonisation & other related issues

Q: What the heck is going on with all the talk about colonisation and racism and white privilege and CRT, etc.?

A: Well, thankfully, people are feeling more and more impowered to speak out and call out various forms of oppression and harm. It may be unsettling, but it’s a good thing.

But wasn’t colonisation a good thing, for the most part, for the countries that were colonised?

That seems to be something someone says when they (knowingly or not) benefit from the arrangement. Consider the perspective of those who lost their ancestral lands, had their people effectively wiped out, and experienced other horrors such as rape, broken promises and more – it amounts to a soul-destroying loss of dignity that affects people for generations. Whatever ‘good’ things that happened along the way have to be understood within this larger destructive trajectory.

That’s a very negative portrayal of colonisation, isn’t it?

Not really. Even if you take one of the ‘best’ examples, the story of colonisation in Aotearoa – New Zealand, where (to summarize a great amount of detail) the missionaries established enough relationship and respect to see the creation and signing of a Treaty with the indigenous peoples, that didn’t stop economic interests (i.e. The New Zealand Company – literally a company that sold New Zealand to settlers) and governmental power from completely breaking the treaty and acquiring a huge majority of the land, and oppressing Māori in many ways.

OK, but even if colonisation was a mixed bag and lots of harm was done, that’s getting further and further in the past, right? Don’t we need to move on and work together?

No. It’s not a simple matter of ‘moving on’. The past is still hanging around and influencing the present. The loss of dignity isn’t simply repaired by the passing of time. The loss of land was followed up with the suppression of culture and language – and therefore dignity. It takes a lot of work, surrender and giving back of power to even begin to get to a place where the phrase ‘working together’ even begins to make sense.

What do you mean by giving back power?

Well, for one thing it means not holding on to power for yourself.

Give me a specific example.

Well, let’s talk about language, for starters. In New Zealand, again one of best of the bad stories, the indigenous language, Te Reo Māori, was banned. The impact of this cannot easily be overstated. Even now, when the use of the language is becoming widespread and showing up in mainstream culture, some people get annoyed when they hear it. This annoyance is about the disruption of power. The power of understanding what someone is saying, and the power of my language (English in this case) being the language everyone else needs to speak. When that power is disturbed it makes people annoyed – or even angry at times!

The great irony is that the Māori people (after many of them having responded by English by learning it rather than opposing it!) saw Te Reo suppressed and banned while English became the dominant language.

OK, OK. Look, I don’t have a problem with indigenous language or people existing and doing well. I do have a problem with people saying that I as a white person have ‘privilege’, or the indication that I am a racist.

I can understand that being uncomfortable. Who wouldn’t? But the reality is, I am privileged, and I’m quite sure I do have various kinds of racism – some I may not even be aware of. I’m privileged, because white people have not been enslaved, forced off their lands, had their language and culture suppressed, and be effectively pushed away and pushed down in all areas of life. Being privileged doesn’t mean my family and I haven’t worked hard or faced difficult times. It just means that we didn’t have all the historical oppression weighing down on us in addition to the struggles we faced.

As for racism, I’m quite sure that – even at the level of my basic brain function – I respond to people who are ‘different’ to me with some kind of automatic suspicion. Most of us have for a while learned to suppress and manage that kind of racism, but more subtle forms still rage. Even when I ‘admire’ people of another race for doing well, does that assume that there’s something unnatural about someone of that race doing well? Or when I want to ‘include’ someone of another race in a conversation – that assumes that the conversation is mine to decide who to include or not.

Look, putting it like that is one thing, but there’s a wider agenda out there taking power. Look at all this Critical Race Theory stuff. It’s really worrying, because it’s from a Marxist framework. You’re a Christian after all! They don’t mix!

Should I be worried about the framework of… say… the Internet?

What do you even mean? I use the internet in a responsible way. Sure it’s got some junk on it, but I use it for good things, finding information, connecting with people, you know…

Exactly. Marxism, like any framework, will have pros and cons. Christianity can usually find at least some aspects of any philosophy that it can bless. Who would not bless the idea that humans are equal?

Oh, sure it may be find to be super nice about things and always look for the positive, but these people pushing CRT are making everything about race. It’s actually making things worse.

Look. From what I understand there’s not even one single definition of CRT. But I find it best to take a patient listening posture rather than a defensive rejection posture. It’s our ability to listen to other ideas that is really getting worse.

Yeah, yeah, I’ll admit listening is always better than shouting my own opinion. But why are these kinds of people so angry all the time? That just doesn’t help things when they are so angry. Why don’t you tell them to listen more?

I used to agree with you! But then a friend reminded me of how biblical anger can be. Sure, Scripture also has cautions to give about anger, but anger in and of itself is not the problem.

Nobody is going to talk about these issues perfectly. Passionate declarations of injustice are going to feel ‘too much’ for some people. Honest questions and clarifications are always going to look like self-protecting deflections to some. Hot anger will feel over the top. Responding to anger with ‘calm down’ will feel like tone-policing… Listening is costly. It’s easy to listen to ideas I agree with, or things said in ways that I am most comfortable with. But I’m truly listening when I can hear things that are disruptive to my own ideas, and in ways that make me a bit uncomfortable.

Would it be nice if everyone listened like this? Of course. But I have to be the change I want to see in the world, right?