It’s been a very sad, heavy and wearying week, hasn’t it? As much as I want to come onto this blog and start chatting about clothing and personal style and my latest sewing project…fashion just isn’t what I’ve been thinking about. My mind has been occupied elsewhere this past week, as I think we all have been- and rightly so.
For the past few days I have been delving into the issue of discrimination and wrestling through my thoughts on all the sides and aspects of such a complicated topic. I have wanted to run away from this issue. I have wanted to avoid the turmoil and stay wrapped up in my cozy little home. I have been afraid to post in case I say the wrong thing.
But I have not been called to hide, and change must come from each of us. I may not have all the words to say, but I don’t think that I can ignore the issue and post pretty photos of lilacs and dresses either, so I thought that I would write this out, just to get it out on paper, and share it here in case it can be of any help to you too.
I don’t talk about it a lot because it doesn’t come up very often, but I am Native American. I don’t look like it, but my dad’s side of the family is from northern BC & Yukon, and I am in fact a member of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. It’s not a very big part of my life, because I didn’t grow up in the Yukon, I didn’t grow up on a reserve, and for the most part have lived a very “white” life.
Oh, that and the fact that I don’t look Native.
I live in Western Canada, in Alberta, and I have not seen a lot of racism towards black people in person (the issue that is specifically tearing the world apart right now), so I cannot speak to that, and it would be hypocritical for me to do so. However, I have seen discrimination against native people, where I live in Canada. My own family members have experienced discrimination because of how “Indian” they look. (Bullying while growing up, getting beaten up, mockery in the workplace, not even to mention the historical oppression of Native Americans…)
I have seen this racism, but I have never experienced it firsthand because I don’t look “Indian”. This just goes to show how ridiculous this kind of discrimination is; I am genetically Native American (with some immigrant heritage thrown in), but because I don’t look like it…I am somehow exempt.
When it comes right down to it, scientifically our skin colour is only a very small fraction of the layers of our skin, and skin colour is a direct result of how that layer reacts to the sun. According to The Body by Bill Bryson, that layer is only about 1 mm thick (so thin that it is translucent). That is a very small amount of cells to divide people so radically.
After thinking about this issue for several days, and wrestling through my thoughts on all the sides and aspects of such a complicated topic, I have come to the conclusion that these problems we are seeing across the world are not rooted in racism.
What is racism really? We are all members of the human race. Whether you are black, white, red, or whatever colour you identify as; we are all human. Biologically there is no such thing as race. Our bodies do not have any defining characteristics to divide between people.
Even though it seems that the root cause of racism may be unique to one people group- looking at someone and discriminating against them because they have a different skin colour than you- that isn’t really the issue. After all, a white person can discriminate against a black person. A black person can discriminate against a native person. A native person can discriminate against an asian person….
I do not give these examples to distract from the very real and scary problems that people of colour are facing every day, but to show that discrimination can come from anywhere, by anyone and it all comes down to the same root problem: a desire to puff ourselves up and selfishly put ourselves first.
The real problem is in looking at someone else, picking out what is different about them, seeing them as somehow “less” than you, and discriminating against them because you don’t value their humanity.
By removing someone of their humanity, suddenly no evil action is beyond the scope of imagination.
Why were Native Americans wiped of their culture, taken from their families, put in residential schools, and made the subject of systemic abuse and stereotypes that exist to this day? Because their humanity was erased.
Why were people with physical and mental disabilities exterminated by the Nazis in the 1930’s and 40’s to sounds of celebration? Because their humanity was erased.
Why were Africans enslaved for hundreds of years in North America (and Europe) and still face real danger and prejudices to this day? Because their humanity was erased.
Why are people of colour being killed unjustly all over the world, no matter which culture or country they live in, still today? Because their humanity is still being erased.
This root of this problem is not racism.
This root of this problem is not oppression and power.
The root of this problem is the arrogance of looking at someone else, separating yourself from them, elevating yourself above them, and refusing to see them as a human made in the image of our Creator God.
The root of this problem is Sin.
When it comes right down to it, our actions towards others are determined by what we believe about others. Why is life valuable? What is it that makes us human? What is it that makes each of us worthy of life, dignity and respect? Before anything can change, we need to recognize the inherent value that each person has because they are a human made by God. We need to believe what God himself has said:
‘Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ Genesis 1:26-27
So, what is the solution to the problem? It can’t be fixed with human ideas.
The solution to the problem is not overthrowing those who are oppressing us. There will always be someone new to trample upon someone else.
The solution is not in educating everyone and making them see things from our perspective, though activism can be a great tool.
The solution is not in creating distinctions between people or even in trying to celebrate our differences.
The only real solution that can be found is to humble ourselves, take the focus off of ourselves, and follow the example of Christ:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! ” Philippians 2: 3- 10
I do not give these examples today to point fingers at others. I have done some of my own self reflection this past week and have taken a look at my own ideas. I have wanted to run away from the issue and not think about it; I did not want to stare my own prejudices in the face and see where I have acted wrongfully towards others. I have had to repent of some of those actions and attitudes.
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.” Romans 12: 10
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends upon you, live at peace with everyone….Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12: 17, 18, 21
I may not have been as eloquent as I hoped to be, and may not have said everything as it should have been said, but I hope and pray that these words, dear friend, will have entered into the chaos and turmoil that is spreading all over the globe, and that they will have given you a pause and a peace to reflect upon. My prayer is that in the midst of all of the pain of the past few days and weeks, we will not find peace and fulfilment in anything on this earth, but will instead turn to the only One who can truly heal.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30