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.