Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dare I say?

I'm not a very good sociologist, I decided.

Yesterday in class I had one of the most intimidating and downright scary experiences I've ever had in my life. I mean, I've said stupid things, but this class just sets you up to face stupidity in the the flesh... via your classmates.

To recap, our course is essentially on "Christian" hospitality and ethics - in accordance with the rubric outlining our senior thesis are questions that begin like this: who are you? where do you come from? where are you going? how does your privilege justify the lack of privilege others have? and so on and so forth. One of the best and toughest self examinations I have ever gone through.
The second part consists of questions about faith, politics, and economics: If those of us who are “advantaged beyond all decent proportions” and so have the power to change U.S. economic policies, do nothing, will we further disadvantage those without privilege? If those who are rich take on ownership of the lives of the poor, will this alleviate poverty? Is this an act of grace as well as an act of hospitality? How are grace and hospitality connected? Yea. A bit harder.
The third section is about "our stranger," the one we have a hard time embracing, the one we actually reject hospitality toward. I haven't even begun the first scribbled note on this section... I'm still wrestling with the first and second parts.

My frustration is currently wrapped up in the processing of my identity. It seems cliche to be asking the question of who am I? After all, I like to think I'm pretty introspective. But in the context of Standpoint theory, I'm not really sure what my stand-point is.
I took a course on the Asian-American Experience last semester. I vainly thought that it would be a simple course because I, by definition, am Asian-American. I even did the final paper on myself and my family. In truth, I learned a great amount about my own heritage; I also learned to pinpoint some inconsistencies in the identity I had constructed for myself. A part of me has always understood that I am "mostly" White. I was raised by a White father, I went to a predominantly White school, and I have certainly acted White (just about everything here applies to me.) The reality is, I am half Filipino and half White and, by default, I cannot belong to either. Sometimes I can pass for White because of, well, to be a little frank, the ignorance and lack of exposure most of the White community exhibits; but in the end, I am exotic, sometimes downright confusing, to that community.

In class, we talked about the American White community's responsibility for the oppression and abuse of the American Black community - even to this day, the numbers and news show Blacks suffering from social injustices based on race. Our professor was trying to facilitate a discussion revolving around what she felt was the necessary apology one community owed to the other.
I must admit, I had a very difficult time with this. An apology in its most sincere sense is very personal and requires repentance. It is a plea for forgiveness that is not expected. I couldn't understand how an entire community could ask for forgiveness - there would ppl who would not believe it necessary, many who simply would not wish to repent, and still others who genuinely had nothing to apologize for. Forgiveness seemed like such a complicated exchange that it could only be interpersonal.
I did a silly thing by citing an example from counseling. I told the class that in learning how to healthily deal with and overcome a bad relationship I had in high school I had to understand and practice forgiveness in a very deeply engaging way. I could not blame the trauma, as result of that relationship, completely on myself (after all, I was a victim) but I also could not blame everything that happened on my ex-boyfriend. This is not to say that I deserved or justified any abusive action he took, but it was important, in order to properly address and forgive myself for what I truly needed forgiveness from - not what I hadn't done. (Without going into details, this ex-boyfriend was coercive and abusive, but I was also curious and wanted desperately look like I was in a stable relationship) Anyway, I felt like I had somehow justified the responsibility girls' have in abusive relationship to get themselves out of it and suddenly my head was swimming with imaginary comments people would be making about how that kind of attitude perpetuates chauvinism and abuse and... well, my point was to illustrate the two-sided nature of most cases requiring forgiveness.
And dare I say that perhaps the Black community has some apologizing to do, too, so that reconciliation might happen. Undoubtedly there has been racism within the community, abuse, and apathy. I could only think of how I, Danica, had been apathetic, insensitive, ignorant, pressured, and racist in some of my actions and thoughts. At best, I could only imagine how such individual reponses, like mine, added up to a great racisism in the society. But how was I, Danica, supposed to apologize on behalf of the White community I came from to the Black community? Who would agree with me? The trouble is, my professor told me, that's not a very sociological position to hold. Sociology suggests that there is an evil in the system, and that the powers that be have the most ability to eradicate it. You have to understand if you are a member of those powers.

A week later, though, I heard a sermon in church where the Pastor recounted an experience a fellow clergy member had while in Kenya. He was there to teach Kenyan pastors about administrating churchwa - he was White. Before he began, he felt compelled to apologize the Kenyan assembly before him for all the misdeeds of the White clergy that had come before him, for the abuse of the Gospel, its use to enslave the nation, for the blasphemy and racism. He did not know what kind of response to expect, but he knew that he had nothing to offer if he did not repent. A very old matriarch amongst some of the elders approached him at the pulpit and simply said, "In all my life I've never heard a White man apologize for anything. I know, for myself, that I forgive you. Now let's get on with what you are here for."
I questioned for days why God had been present in this response. This was all I knew, that the offering the White minister had for the Kenyan assembly could not have been given without his apology. I ask Matt why he would do that? It was clear that he had never participated in enslavement, probably not blasphemy. And I had to wonder... who was he to represent all White ministers? All White men?
Matt said many wise things, I'm sure, but none of which I would here, none of which reconciled my understanding of this man's obedience to a divine hospitality and the pragmatic (and, of course right!) interaction of forgiveness I had in my head. Finally Matt asked me, who is the Church? Us, I said, it is all of us who seek after Christ, and wish to be Christ in this world. And then he pointed out a particularly embarrassing moment when I had succumbed to peer pressure to behave very, unarguably, badly. Were you a member of the Church then? Did you represent Christ in those actions?
And something clicked. Suddenly the weight of my actions bore down in a way that I had never, ever, ever before felt. The pressure of the community was suddenly on my shoulders and I had to admit that those who knew me, knew I was a Christian; those who had seen me behave badly also knew I was a Christian. My actions contributed to the community image - an image the strove for something better and very different than my bad behavior.
The White clergyman's apology was made not so that what he had to offer could be given, but so that whatever he had to give could be received. The color of his skin, his gender, the authority he carried as clergy - his the stand point - allocated him to a group of people that reaped the benefits and also suffered the responsibility for this "bad behavior". His plea for forgiveness was not a relinquishing of his community identity, as my version of forgiveness would allow, it was an acknowledgment; he relinquished the power to oppress that his forefathers had exercised. And he received a forgiveness on behalf of a community that had, up until him, not yet asked for it.

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