A Tale of Two Wives: Scenes of Systemic Racism in Canada
Updated: Sep 26, 2021
I am a racist. I confess and I am ashamed. I know God’s truth (orthodoxy). I strive to live in his ways (orthopraxy), but my heart is broken (orthopathy). I have embraced an attitude that I am better than Indigenous Peoples and Black Canadians. K. A. Ellis defines racism as elevating one’s people group to a God-like status over other peoples. This is what I have done. My heart has internalized that English-colonialism – with all its preferences and worldview – is the standard: my security and my saviour. White is right. My mind and will urges this not to be true, but my heart is frozen in fear mixed with worship and is unable to break free.
Let me share how my heart was broken with a picture from Pastor Norton Lages: “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.
It 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”.
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.
It takes great self-awareness and courage on the part of the abused. In time, she will convincingly play the part of obedient wife, 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.
Let me add another character to the scene: Indigenous culture is like the previous wife of the husband whom he has confined to the basement. He swooped her off her feet (usually by force); made her sign some imaginary deed to her beautiful home; and redecorated it into his image and culture – while, of course, consulting with her in conversations through the furnace vents.
You would think that the two wives would be friends and support one another. At times they do. Other times, there is jealous competition for the husband’s affection; for more space and say in the home. Even the husband pits the two against each other knowingly or not.
I was born into such a household - a child to the wife upstairs. I instantly admired and loved the husband and I resented the wife upstairs for refusing to worship his brilliance. I hated her language, food; her oddity compared to the pure standard. I hated myself for representing her culture on my skin. I tried hard to be a good son to the husband. Unfortunately, he wasn’t much of a father. Beneath all his power, he was a sick man. The CRCNA’s statement on the Doctrine of Discovery calls it ‘settler’s trauma’. Mark Charles links it to Perpetration Induced Traumatic Stress (PITS): an inter-generational form of PTSD caused by oppressing others.
He was not there for me, because he couldn’t be. I was abandoned; left to my own – a true individual equipped with existentialism, a Happy Meal and adolescent alcoholism.
Thankfully, Jesus saved me through his church. Though guilty of adultery, the church still believed that there is only one head in God’s house. I started to resist my idolatry and shifted my hate onto the husband. But I also loved him. While I felt great resentment toward whiteness, I was powerless to escape its grip on me. It was the eyes by which I viewed the world, God and myself.
It wasn’t until I walked into the basement, that my heart started to heal. I met the other wife. I got a job as a youth worker within a First Nations community and I fell in love with the people and the land. Unlike the rumors, the wife was not scary and ugly. In fact, she was stunning and strong. To my surprise, we had much in common. She taught me about this home God had given her people. I lived with her for months. My affections started to change towards her, towards the wife upstairs, towards myself. I started to believe that God actually loved me apart from the husband.
I learned from her a valuable lesson. Before we (the settler husband and the two wives) can be lovers, we must first become friends. Friendship is a powerful force in transforming our orthopathy.
In friendship, a harsh word is forgiven, a racist comment can be an endearing moment. Seeing the image of God shooting out like laser beams from the other’s eyes locks into our own humanity and ignites the divine spark in us. It allows God, not the husband, to be God.
Through the church, Jesus is saving me again. I am a Pastor of a multi-cultural church. Every sacred moment with friends of different backgrounds, especially our Indigenous and African brothers and sisters, shines healing light into my broken heart.
I am thankful for God’s Spirit who guides me to these moments. While I am a recovering racist, I am strengthened by the Father’s love for all nations.