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A Tale of Two Wives: Scenes of Systemic Racism and The First Wife

At a church planting conference, I heard this metaphor which really described my own experience with systemic racism. Pastor Norton Lages argued “Canadian culture treats other cultures like an abusive husband who sends his wife to counselling expecting her to change.” If you have even been part of such a situation, you know how messy and hopeless it can be. 

Remedying the situation takes great self-awareness and humility on the part of the abuser. The husband could be nice. However, when she makes grammatically errors, he says, “how silly she is”. When dinner is late, he says, “pity, one day she will learn.” When it’s time to make big decisions, he retorts, “I know what is best for us.” All these are 'nice' forms of abuse.

We often ate unCanadian meat such as goat.

The abuse is not just in individual acts. They are embedded into the structure of the home – even benign acts get swallowed into the acrid atmosphere of the family dynamic (system). In this system, a kind word can become a nail and spear into her hand and side.

My father (Tata) moved us from the city to carve a small piece of Eastern Europe on an acreage in rural Alberta. It felt like an exotic zoo and I loved it growing up. We often ate unCanadian meat such as goat. Instead of Canada entering into a fine dialogue on the differing kinds of colourful appetites across the world, the general response to our lifestyle was, “how silly. This is Canada.” Our little piece of paradise become known as the “dirty farm.” Convinced that God created goats to be pets, neighbours called the SPCA on my Tata. 

The principal’s counsel advised my mother (Nanay) to stop teaching me anything but the accepted language. 

My Tata, simply channeling the Balkan spirit of expressive dialogue, got into a disagreement with a SPCA officer. Instead of exploring differing cultural norms of physical space and emotional expression, the officer charged by dad with assault. The next day a convoy of police cars arrested my Tata and took his animals away – an all-expenses paid counselling session. After reminding him to play nice with the neighbours, my Tata was eventually freed with no charges. 

As a child, I was able to speak five languages between my two parents. Instead of nurturing a virtue of true multiculturalism, the response was, “he will grow up to be like us yet.” The principal’s counsel advised my mother (Nanay) to stop teaching me anything but the accepted language. 

The responses I have italicized above were not made by individuals. In fact, some individuals stood up for us and tried to empathize with our view of the world. These responses, rather, reflect the general worldview of Canada at the time which seeps into structures, hearts and minds. They are the direct result of an elevated view of whiteness. In this view, people should treat animals a certain way and people should to speak the language handed to them by the winners of history.  

These responses, rather, reflect the general worldview of Canada

I too absorbed the supremacy of whiteness. In school I was given the message that my parents were stupid because of their accents and limited English vocabulary. In the media, I was given the gospel that whiteness was supreme good and beauty. In all the soaps, news and detective shows the heroes and those magnified for beauty were of European decent with no accent.

I remember believing in my heart that my Nanay and those of her complexion (including myself) were ugly. The only people I would ever consider dating were those embodying divine whiteness. Unfortunately, since I didn’t hit the mark either, my own eligibility was in question.

Canada was nice to us; however, the abuse was real and it cut deep.   

In these types of abusive situations, survival takes great self-awareness and courage on the part of the abused. The wife, in this metaphor will convincingly play the part of the obedient spouse, all the while taking her life into her own hands. She will keep money aside, secretly sell trinkets at the market, create a hidden network of other women. My Nanay picked up jobs no one else would do. My Tata used his farm as a business to connect with people who too were victims of Canadian abuse. 

Survival takes great self-awareness and courage on the part of the abused.

Thankfully the little church we grew up in was a safe haven from the abuse. Unfortunately, it was a perpetuator as well. I remember getting a piggy-back ride from the owner of the local Chinese restaurant during Sunday School. But I also remember looking at a picture of a white Jesus and thinking how ugly and unacceptable I must be to God. 

The church should be a witness and embodiment of the racial reconciliation found in the Kingdom of Jesus. In order to do this, we must be humble and aware of when we protect the wife and when we perpetuate her abuse. O Spirit of God help us.

Continue reading Part 2 here.

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

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