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Demonstrations were not confined to the US, and so, here in New Zealand, George Floyd demonstrations were organised in most of our major cities.
They were a chance for people to show solidarity with Americans and protest issues of police brutality.
They also proved to be an opportunity to charge one of our best national agencies with being structurally racist.
"Structural", or "institutional", racism, is a concept that refers to the ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes, for different racial groups. Usage of the term has become commonplace, thanks to the broad application of something called Critical Social Justice Theory.
This system of ideas promotes a critical (more accurately, cynical) perspective for understanding issues of social justice, asserting that inequality is deeply embedded in the very fabric of society (i.e. "structural"). Critical Social Justice is the world view that animates Black Lives Matter, Climate Justice, Intersectional Feminism, and (increasingly) the Maori protest movement.
It is a world view that stresses the value of knowledge, borne out of a person’s, "lived experiences of oppression".
During the late ’80s/early ’90s, I grew up in a small, rural town: the middle child to a Maori father and Pakeha mother.
For my family, the (then current) Maori protest movement, was an aspect of cultural consciousness that needed to be reconciled with the reality of living, day-to-day, in a mostly Pakeha farming community. A new, distinctly postmodern, Te Ao Maori was in the ascendant. The Maori Renaissance had produced zealous academics and activists, who were applying post-colonial theory, adopting critical perspectives, and challenging the "dominant Pakeha narrative".
We had the Puao-te-Ata-tu report, which had deemed "structural discrimination", "the most insidious and destructive form of racism". Mind you, my family didn’t need a report to tell us about racism. Growing up, I watched my father experience it.
I also watched him bear up under the weight of his experiences, teaching me how to do likewise, through the application of his Christian faith. In no small way, a structured institution — the Christian church — helped give my father the leverage to expose and dismantle the power of racism.
He understood that at the heart of the Christian faith, there is a powerful message of reconciliation: the gospel. Ironically, it was at the hands of some Christian peers, I had my most memorable encounter with racism. My father helped me through that time by encouraging me not to repay evil with evil but to forgive as God, in Christ, had forgiven me.
He brought home the reality of that "new commandment" given by Jesus, in John 13:34 and showed me that it was actually possible, as far as it depended on me, to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:17-18).
Reconciling Christianity and Maoritanga can be a difficult task, because you’re dealing with two world views that are, ultimately, incompatible. While hard-won, I have found peace in understanding that the biblical world view is tika: true, just, fair, and righteous. This is a position that places me at odds with much that is bound up in Te Ao Maori.
Nevertheless — Ka mate te kainga tahi, ka ora te kainga rua — "when one house dies, a second lives". And, perhaps, for the best. Over the years, postmodern "Critical Theory" has become entrenched in Te Ao Maori and the effects have been disastrous. Today young Maori inherit a world view that encourages them to embody resentment, continuously pick at the "colonial wound", and adopt a cynical (i.e., critical) attitude towards non-Maori. Moreover, the game is rigged for those of us who choose not to buy the critical narrative. We are told (by well-meaning people) that we are "not Maori enough", have an "internalised colonial mentality", or have yet to find our "brown voice".
Our lived experiences of oppression count for nought, because we reject the theory.
We need to confront (and reject) "Critical Theory", because it’s ruining everything it touches: social justice, environmentalism, feminism, education, culture, and Christianity. Critical Social Justice is trying to pave the road to reconciliation with good intentions and bad ideas. Yet it has, as Dr James Lindsay rightly points out, "stolen social justice from the people who care about it and need it most".
Our social justice projects will be good and true, insofar as they are ministries of reconciliation. "Critical Theory" can’t achieve this but the gospel can. It is the power of God unto salvation, for all people, alike; it is the word of reconciliation.
- Sam Mangai is a member of the Cornerstone International Bible Church in Dunedin.