I’ve been saving up this article about British slave owners for a couple of weeks. Slavery, as an institution, dates back many centuries, long before Britain had a civilisation let alone an empire. I say that merely because we have finally found a cruel and dehumanising oppression that we didn’t invent. Since the abolition of the slave trade and of slavery in (amongst others) 300BC, 206BC, 960, 1214, 1368, 1537, 1775, 1805, 1838, and again in 2007, we have considered it to be a solved problem that we needn’t worry about any more. We’re too civilised for that sort of thing.
Since the decriminalisation of homosexuality (in England and Wales) in 1967, this, too, has been something of a solved problem. In particular now, with the implementation of same-sex marriage in the whole UK and the US too, this has to be all fixed and happy.
Women have been able to vote since 1920 or 1928 (or others) and own their own property and manage their own money and open bank accounts and get credit and so on for a long time now. In fact, women have achieved so much equality that feminism is seen as a dirty word and is feared by some as a way to oppress men, some of whom have decided that they are the underprivileged few and they have to turn back the tide before they are overwhelmed.
It’s not quite that simple, of course, as I allude in the title of this post. History is casting a long shadow.
I have spoken about the oppression of black people in the US quite recently, and of how this oppression carries on even today. When black people were enslaved in the New World, they had nothing of their own. When slavery came to an end, they still had nothing of their own. They were free, but all around them, the land, the houses, the horses, the power was all held by white people, who begat more white people, and bequeathed to them the power and riches. Ten generations on, this begetting and bequeathing is still preventing people from achieving equality. Not only have possessions been bequeathed, so have attitudes. In 1800, you were a slave; in 1850, you were the child of slaves; in 1900, you were descended from slaves, which meant that you had no worth as a human. Right up to today (remember the Black is ugly line from last month?), parents are passing on to their children the notion that some people are worth more than others because of the colour of the outer few millimetres of dead skin cells at the boundary of their body.
At least racism is starting to fall out of favour, though, as clearly based on nothing beyond oppression dressed up as oppression.
Homophobia lives on and has weekly parties in every town of the country. I’ll sidestep much of the usual rubbish here and relay a theory I have and its inevitable, in my opinion, conclusion. Some centuries, the church decided that gayness was the same thing as wrongness and chose to Frown upon it. Indeed, the frown got so deep and the oppression so energetic that gay people went underground. In the sixties, the sexual revolution did not pass gay people by, but the laws keeping them underground remained, so a culture of casual, anonymous sex grew amongst (mostly) gay men in the cities of the world. I have heard stories that ten or more different partners in a single night was not unusual. This, in turn, led to a bad reputation for gay men and led people to believe that to be gay meant to shag everything that moves, several times, then move on to anything else moving. This, in its turn, led to the church being able to stand up on its soapbox and proclaim that gayness was just as bad as it had been claiming all along: see all of these guys cheapening human sexuality and chewing through the whole football team at a single party.
The way forward, here, is for the church to stand up start speaking some truths. Like “it was we who pushed gay people into their closets; it was we who denied them their sexuality; it was we who sowed the seeds of this culture of depraved promiscuity, so it must be we who roll up our sleeves and start to pick up our mess. We have been the oppressors, we must stand tall and lift you up with us, in contrition. We must bandage your wounds and present you to God as the beautiful creations he made you and it is we who must beg the forgiveness of the Almighty and of the people for our sins.” The church could (should) have come out as a huge counter-cultural voice, way back when. It was the church that should have extended her protection to these people who needed it most. The rewards could have been great and, naturally, have been missed and squandered.
And on to women. In the year of our Lord 2015, there is still a gender pay-gap in every society. The country with the most gender-balanced parliament is Rwanda. Not the US. Not the UK. No, it is famous-for-genocide Rwanda that is getting it. The British Army have had to launch a poster campaign to educate its (men) soldiers that they need to obtain actual consent prior to forcing themselves onto a colleague. Gamergate exists. The Everyday Sexism project exists. Beach body ready is a thing.
Again, the church could follow Jesus’ lead in taking a radical stand against oppression in this area too.
Not going to happen though. Not any time soon. There is too much power in the hands of people who do not wish to relinquish just enough to acknowledge that others are people too.