Friday, February 15, 2008

Williams on racism

"[...] racism is not evil because its victims are good, it is evil because its victims are human. They share a common humanity, complete with its failings as well as its beauties, with their oppressors. If I do not grasp this, I am not really open to the possibility of ordinary human relationship with the victimized group. I 'atone' for my primal sin of oppression by according a superior instead of an inferior place to my victims, placing a moral scourge in their hands to beat me as I once beat them; and this is a travesty of the human reconciliation and restoration: my imagination is still trapped in the illusion that the basic and ultimate form of human relation is between the powerful and the powerless."

- Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel
(Darton, Longman + Todd, 1982), 11.

I thought this quote was particularly relevant this week as Australia faces its own history of government-sanctioned racism. That opposition leader Brendon Nelson thought it necessary to dwell upon the ongoing failings of indigenous people and the noble achievements of previous generations of European Australians as part of an apology displayed the fear that apologizing might simply reverse the previous moral polarity: black becomes white and white, black, so to speak. Some of the outraged reaction to his speech also betrayed a similar lack of imagination.

The good news is that Jesus opens a different way of relating between perpetrator and victim in which the hurt of both can begin to be healed without merely exchanging one kind of abuse for another.