When all you have is postcolonial theory everything is about the white man

Recently I read a piece, Confronting White Supremacy in Christianity as a Christian South Asian, which is interesting from an anthropological perspective. After all, I don’t know what it’s like to be a progressive South Asian Christian, which is the perspective of this author. But as I read the piece I felt that it elided and conflated so much. A much deeper and richer story was being erased so as to serve up another illustration of the primacy of white supremacy.

If you read From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East you know that how white American Christians treat non-white Christians can be rather ridiculous. One of the stories I recall is of an Arab Christian waiter in Jerusalem who wore a cross, and was very irritated with white Americans with strong Southern accents would inquire when he had converted to Christ. This person of course privately scoffed, and reflected that when his ancestors had been Christians for centuries his customer’s ancestors were still worshipping pagan gods.

Here is a passage from the above piece which I think really confuses:

Christianity in India highlights a violent history of white supremacy through colonization and mass conversion by Europeans including, the Portuguese, Irish, Dutch, Italian, French, and English many of whom hold cultural influence that has remained to this day in places like Kerala, Pondicherry, and Goa. Similarly, there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference in the diaspora. For instance, my family converted to Christianity while living under the Apartheid regime in South Africa, an entire system of white supremacy supported by ‘Christian’ values.

The writer is a young Canadian woman whose family is from South Africa of Indian heritage. Additionally, though she never is explicit about it, her family seems to be evangelical Protestant. This is an interesting perspective, but it is a totally different one from that of South Asian Christianity.

Bracketing Kerala with Pondicherry and Goa is simply misleading. Christians are nearly 20% of the population of Kerala, and most are St. Thomas Christians, whose origins predate European contact with India by many centuries. Originally part of the territory of the Persian Church of the East, modern St. Thomas Christians have splintered into numerous groups with varied affiliations, in part due to the trauma of contact with Portuguese Catholicism. But through it all they maintain an indigenous Christian identity which is distinct from any colonial imprint.

Second, large numbers of India’s Christians are converts from Dalit populations, or, tribal peoples in the Northeast who are racially and culturally distinct from other South Asians. The framing in the piece is that South Asian Christianity has to bear the cross of colonialism, but a good argument can be made that for Dalit converts and tribal groups in the Northeast Christianity is the vehicle for resistance to oppression, assimilation, and colonialism on the part of the dominant South Asian cultural matrix.

This is not to say that the piece does not speak to a real dynamic. North American white evangelical Protestantism is inordinately freighted with racialized baggage. And it is easy to reduce into the Manichaean framework of postcolonial theory, where whites are the sole agents of action in the world. But to the generality, Indian Christianity has many disparate threads, and this sort of reduction is misleading.

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11 thoughts on “When all you have is postcolonial theory everything is about the white man”

  1. I know you did not mean that Dalits AND NE tribals are ethnically and culturally distinct from Hindu India. . But I suspect many (woke?) readers may conflate Dalits and NE tribals, which would be inaccurate. Just sayin..

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  2. // tribal peoples in the Northeast who are racially and culturally distinct from other South Asians //

    The tribals of the NE were converted to Christianity by European (and American) missionaries during colonial rule. They obviously weren’t Hindus before they converted, but to imply that colonialism has nothing to do with their conversion would be mistaken – if, indeed, that is what you’re implying.

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  3. The tribals of the NE were converted to Christianity by European (and American) missionaries during colonial rule. They obviously weren’t Hindus before they converted, but to imply that colonialism has nothing to do with their conversion would be mistaken – if, indeed, that is what you’re implying.

    across many parts of asia ethnic minorities or subjugated people converted to christianity as a way of maintaining their identity in the face of majority rule/ assimilation. this is clearly what is happening in part in the NE, without european intervention many of these groups would have been absorbed into the mainstream indian culture, which is itself a form of colonization (the mostly hinduized tripura are an example of the tribe which is somewhat integrated, but in the modern period there has been a backlash, in part due to bengali hindu domination of their lands).

    similarly, if the kafir kalash had not been under british protection, they almost certainly would have been forcibly converted to islam like their nuristani relatives.

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    1. There is a difference with pagans (i.e. Hindus, Animists etc.). A tamil Hindu will always say that he is more of a Hindu than a north Indian. A north Indian Hindu has a lot of complaint about south Indian Hindus and he may not even recognise the south Indian as a Hindu. With semantic religions there is no scope for that. An Arab is always a superior Muslim than a non-Arab. A European is always more of a Christian than any other, even a Lebanese one!

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        1. Monotheism ie mosaic distinction ultimately leads to genetic replacement।।

          That’s how you see all these middle eastern areas call themselves ‘arab’ & all christian populations give women to white men।।

          You having a fragmented mind won’t piece these things together anyway

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    2. // subjugated people converted to christianity as a way of maintaining their identity in the face of majority rule/ assimilation //

      Interesting. So you are saying that colonial missionaries sold Christianity to NE tribals and similar subjugated people in the Empire as, if not entirely but at least partially, a means to maintain their ethno-linguistic identity?

      The fact that the ethnologue (https://www.ethnologue.com/), the world’s largest and most authoritative classification system of languages, started off as a missionary project to see which languages the Bible was translated in lends some credence to this view.

      But how general is your claim? Was this true of the Spaniards & Portuguese too, say, in Latin and Meso America and SE Asia? Or of the Dutch in Africa? Or the French in Asia or N Africa?

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  4. I was talking to a historian friend of mine about his daughter who was writing her thesis about the history of the Anglican church in Africa. I pointed out that as the Anglican church in the US was being amalgamated into the liberal borg, rebellious parishes in the US and England were reaching out to African bishops who held fast to the old faith

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  5. But how general is your claim? Was this true of the Spaniards & Portuguese too, say, in Latin and Meso America and SE Asia? Or of the Dutch in Africa? Or the French in Asia or N Africa?

    first, it wasn’t explicit. they just want to convert people.

    but yes, it’s general. in guatemala protestantism is attractive to mayans because it is a way to protest/separate from the domination of the spanish/mestizo catholic dominated church.

    karens in burma. mizos in india. montagnards in vietnam. koreans in south korea (v dutch). the ambonese in indonesia. the dayaks in borneo. conversion of coastal ppl in west africa (vs. islam and instead to christianity).

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  6. Just saw this amazing article on post modernism. To be honest I don’t even understand this post colonial perspective. The reason many people become or are Christians has to do with religious experience. This is connected to neuroscience and conscious use of parts of the unconscious brain and nervous system that I hope to eventually write about.

    Post modernists often lack meditative mystical moment to moment living experience. Perhaps this explains why they misunderstand faith, religion, music, culture, civilization so much.

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