Jesus, privilege, racism and sexism

It occurs to me that Jesus lived in a societal system not unlike today’s “modern” societal system because during his time in Israel, he was living in a monetary-based economic system that was dominated by racist and patriarchal mindsets.

For example, the rich and powerful enjoyed class or economic privilege, the Jews had more privilege than the Gentiles, and the men were also considered more privileged than the women.

Fast forward to the present day America or Singapore, where black and brown people were systemically oppressed or discriminated in varying degrees because of their skin colours by those who are racially discriminatory or racially unaware or ignorant, whether they are doing so consciously or unconsciously.

For example, the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) is raising awareness in America and around the world about how black and brown people – including African Americans and native Americans – are being discriminated for their skin colours, as evidenced in the recent cases of the white police brutality against unarmed people of colour. In Singapore, racial discrimination and micro-aggressions against darker skinned people such as Malays and Indians are less overt and more subtle, which often get ignored or unaddressed because many people in Singapore are not consciously aware or vocal about it, unlike in the United States.

I have learnt that Jesus came to destroy the works of the demonic forces of the oppressive system.

“And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

(Acts 10:38, New Living Translation)

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,”

(Luke 4:18, New International Version)

“He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.”

(1 John 3:8, King James Version)

I am thinking … “how did Jesus manage to deal with the systemic oppression as a privileged male Jew while standing up for the rights and equality of the oppressed people, especially the Gentile women (including Samaritan and Syro-Phoenician women), who were looked down upon by the privileged Jews in Israel, where Jews formed the majority of the population?”

If I can understand how Jesus dealt with this systemic issue in Israel, in spite of his privileged position in society, then I will be able to understand how I can also deal with the systemic issue of racial discrimination as a privileged male Chinese and stand up for the rights and equality of the oppressed people, who are mainly non-Chinese, darker skinned people, in spite of the privileged status accorded to me in Singapore, where Chinese form the majority of the population.

I am particularly interested in knowing how Jesus set an example of standing in solidarity with the oppressed because given the fact that he is born as a male Jew, he was considered privileged and therefore his mere existence as a Jewish man was supporting the system that oppressed non-Jewish people, especially Gentile women, and on the other hand, he himself was oppressed by the Roman empire as well as the wealthy and powerful religious Jewish leaders. In other words, Jesus may be seen both as the “oppressor” and as the “oppressed”. He knew first-hand what it was like to be on the side of the oppressor (without intending to oppress anyone) and he also knew what it was like to be on the side of the poor, downtrodden and oppressed (having experienced oppression himself).

Similarly, being born as a male Chinese, I am considered privileged in a Chinese-majority patriarchal society and therefore my mere existence as a Chinese man is supporting the system that oppresses non-Chinese people, especially the darker-skinned people, no thanks to the systemic colourism that pervades people’s mindsets. On the other hand, I myself am oppressed by the capitalistic hierarchical power structure that favours the rich, powerful and influential people, and I have also been discriminated for my brown skin colour as well, especially when I was in Europe. Thus, I may be seen both as the “oppressor” and the “oppressed”. I know first-hand what it is like to be on the side of the oppressor (without intending to oppress anyone) and I also know what it is like to be on the side of the oppressed and marginalised (having experienced the systemic oppression myself).

The challenge for me is: how do I deal with the systemic discrimination and oppression as a human being who happens to be born as a man having Chinese privilege and living in a patriarchal Chinese-majority society (which I didn’t ask for but was automatically assigned to me by the discriminatory system) and stand up for the rights and equality of my non-Chinese brothers and sisters who are discriminated or oppressed by the same system?

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