My Place in the Empire

Last night, I read a well-crafted article by my friend Kaitlin, who frequently writes for Sojourners. Her article, an important read for any person of privilege wanting to learn how to be an ally to indigenous people and people of color, walks a delicate line between listening to our historically (and presently) oppressed sisters and brothers, sitting with them in the sackcloth and ashes of their exile; and retraumatizing them by asking questions and seeking insight that we could (and maybe should) be seeking out for ourselves. The article can be found here:

After reading it, I decided to do a search of Native American theologians to read. If I have questions for Kaitlin after I’ve educated myself and immersed myself in learning the ways in which oppression against indigenous peoples is perpetuated to this day, I’ll invite her to share with me on her terms; the operative word in this process being AFTER.

Following that search for Native American Theologians, which yielded one name, Randy Woodley, I told Andrew about a blog project I wanted to do – reading Native theologians and sharing my gleanings on my blog. He gave me one other name, George E. Tinker.

My google search “list of Native American Theologians,” yielded a Wikipedia page on American Theologians, a list of Native Americans in the United States, a list of Native American tribes, and 7th on the list, a book recommendation for A Native American Theology from Indian Country Books.

As a mini social experiment, I then googled “list of white theologians” and the first hit on the list was “list of Christian theologians.”

Does that bother you? It bothered me. 

Thus, I began thinking about my place in the empire. My first reaction, since I was still on the phone with Andrew was to say “I need to start amplifying the voices of my oppressed friends! This is not ok.”

Well, yeah. But also not ok is that knee-jerk, white savior reaction of “its my job to do this for them.”

Is it?

I don’t think so.

I think indigenous people and people of color have had their jobs taken away from them for so many years and in so many ways that the assumption is that they need things to be done for them – which slippery slopes into harmful stereotypes and false narratives about welfare riders and such, painting minorities who lack the privilege and status to climb social ladders meant to keep them down as “lazy” or “ungrateful.”

So if my place in the empire is not to come in and save the day, what is it?

Primarily, it is a place of privilege. There are things in my life and social circles and economic circle that I can do with ease because of the color of my skin and the education I’ve received without many barriers. My first job in finding my place in the empire is to recognize that I’m the bad guy. No, I don’t spew hate speech about people who are different than me, and I don’t call for policies that oppress – but I benefit daily from a society that bends toward the white, and that makes me more empire than exile; not out of malice, just out of how the chips fell where they did.

Acknowledging that primes me for a continued exploration of my place in dismantling the empire we’ve created – how to amplify minority voices  without “saving,” how to elevate stories without retraumatizing the storytellers, how to listen and step aside.

I think my place in the empire is behind the oppressed – to undergird and support. Let them walk in the light of my place of privilege and be heard, seen, known, appreciated, valued, welcomed, and equal.




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