On redemption and undoing

I've thought about it over and over again - on what it takes to repair damage, and to restore justice, and peace. Especially when damage has been done over a long time, sometimes generations.

What prompted me was Stephen Fry talking about Catholic church in a video I linked last week. This one:



I've listened to it, what, five, six times now - whilst I've been lighting the log burner, whilst I've been standing by the kitchen sink doing dishes, whilst I've been relaxing on a sofa after a long day, crocheting.

What he says intrigues me, in part because what he says relates to me, but in part because what he says in the end of the video... nags me.

"But there is a solution, there is an answer, there is redemption available for all of us and any one of us. /.../ The Pope could decide that all of this power, all of this wealth, this hierarchy of princes and bishops and archbishops and priests and monks and nuns could be sent out in the world with money and art treasures, to put them back in the countries that they once raped and violated, whose original systems of animism and belief in simplicity they told them would take them straight to hell - they could give that money away, and they could concentrate on the apparent essence of their belief. Then I would stand here and say the Catholic Church may well be a force for good in the world, but until that day, it is not."

What Stephen is talking about is turning around what Catholic church stands for at the moment, and not about undoing the damage that has been done over the centuries - he is talking about redemption rather than undoing.

I wonder about it because every morning when I drive to work, Radio New Zealand plays their Maori news on the radio. It differs from day to day, but in a nutshell, it is a story about being at a disadvantage, and about catching up, and about loss. Every day they discuss policies directed at Maori health and children, and financial struggles borne of poor education, and I think to myself, it is such a wide and complex, and yet systematic problem.

The region I grew up in Estonia is known for its problems. It's like Bronx of New York: high in crime, high in infectious diseases, high in unemployment. The legacy of that place is in decades of soviet migration - out of my four grandparents only one was born in Estonia, the other three were "sent in" from Ukraine and Russia. It's the sort of a place that if twenty years ago you stepped into a store and asked for a litre of milk, in Estonian, the lady behind the counter would've probably looked at you, confused, and answered in Russian, "Ja ne ponimaju." I don't understand.

I'm familiar with the concept of disadvantage - not because I was part of it (relatively speaking my family was well off and my teachers at school were dedicated) but because I grew up seeing it, seeing the results of its quiet persistence.

Deb wrote about it a few days ago. She wrote about it from more of a racism point of view than anything else, but what I'm talking about here is essentially the same: that once the dominating group is in charge, "the invisible systems of conferring dominance" will just keep on conferring that advantage to the group that is already in charge.

Think about it: groups/countries/regions that were robbed, raped and burned a long time ago are, although formally exonerated, at a starting point of less income and, as is often the case with less income, poorer schools and education. It doesn't help to say that "they are equally able to pursue employment now" because they are growing up in that environment of lack. It's what they are picking up automatically, invisibly: the people in their family, the food they eat, what their neighbors are like, the stories they hear in school, what their street looks like. I am not saying that it is outright impossible to jump from there to being successful, wealthy and happy, but the effort it takes to do that for youngsters in that environment is way, way more than what is standard in an already wealthy community.

It's like wealthy southeners in the US: their children are already attending schools with better, higher paid teachers, learning among peers who are, on average, better achieving, and having access to healthcare and food their poorer contemporaries can't afford. It's easier.

And I'm not saying that the solution to that problem is in taking from those who have and giving it to those who don't because it isn't that simple either. Systematic disadvantages those groups have make them worse equipped at handling those handouts anyway - they just haven't got education and experience which comes with years and generations of work and schooling.

But what I am saying is that it's fine and dandy to say that "I apologise for the mistakes my forefathers have made over the generations and hope we can make a clean start now" - but it just doesn't work. The groups that are at a disadvantage will keep on being at a disadvantage unless you proactively try and help, and that may mean restructuring.

And then it becomes - and I can clearly understand that - a question of fairness. Why would someone who hasn't done anything wrong in their own lifetime have to pay towards someone else's comfort? I haven't received handouts - why does someone else?

But it makes me sad to know that I am - for my upbringing, for my skin colour, for my citizenship - in that dominating, advantaged group. It is easier for me to pursue my goals because I've grown up among people that speak in intelligent, full sentences and read National Geographic at their leisure. It is simply easier for me to fit in. Easy to migrate - not as easy as it would be if I were, say, British, but easy still. I haven't got war to flee from. I am not sitting in a refugee camp in Middle East somewhere hoping to get a chance at living in a peaceful, settled street where water runs clean from a tap (drink! Drink straight from the tap!) and where I never run hungry. It makes me sad and it makes me angry because at this point of already being at an advantage I at least appreciate it. I'm aware of it.

The simple luck of having been born to parents that were living in an x country, with y heritage, working z jobs, having q neighbors, whatever.

And that whichever way this problem is attempted to be solved, someone's gonna cry unjustice.

Restructuring, redemption and (at least an attempt at) undoing.

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