I am sitting in my startlingly balmy backyard: breezes ringing the chimes next door, sunlight dappling green (my favorite). It’s the end of my first week of our koine Greek intensive (as opposed to Classical Greek, think Homer), and I’m trying to figure out how to take good care of myself so I can sustain this race for six weeks. Yesterday after class I napped and read a novel; this morning I’m writing a post I’ve been musing about since the middle of October 2018. We’ll see what transpires in other weeks.
I was in Dublin for a week last October with My Sweetie, including a couple of jaunts outside the city. We were visiting B—halfway through her study-abroad term happened to be while I was on mid-semester break.
One afternoon the three of us took an Irish food tour, led by a woman who knew her stuff and just how much of that stuff to display. Part of what she shared was a charmingly condensed version of Irish history, first noting the four sets of folk that invaded Ireland: Celts, Vikings, Normans, British.
It’s that last that has left — is still leaving — unwelcome marks there.
In part (in large part?), it seems, from their policy/practice of erasure.
Invaders came, invaders often stayed, invaders married in and cultures blended.
The colonisers, instead, tried to eliminate what was already there, and where that was unsuccessful, strove to ignore the culture they didn’t bring with them.
The colonised have been bitter ever since.
And when I say “ever since,” I mean that many of the songs we heard on our music-pub tour earlier in the week were laments about the awfulness of the British. I mean that tensions between Scots-Irish and Irish in Northern Ireland (still a territory/colony) have flared within the past few months, despite twenty years of formal and informal peace. I mean that Brexit has been and is front-of-mind across the island even while the government in London seemingly waves its hands in their general direction with a “yes, yes, don’t worry” and little more.
As a member of a coloniser-group twice over (Scots-Irish, assisting with the British colonial work in Ireland, then later Anglo-American), our tour guide’s differentiation struck me, helped me articulate what I’d been on the edge of intuiting for a very long time. I mean, the dynamic troubled me in high school, long before I married someone who grew up in a twice-colonized culture (the Philippines was first colonised by Spain, then the U.S.) — but certainly once I married-in I wanted to know.
I think it lies in the colonisers’ dismissal.
We know what’s best for you.
We’re bringing you better things.
You’re not really there—you’re trees, grass, dirt, rock, instrument/resource for us to use or not-use, but certainly not to converse with or understand or celebrate.
This colonising mindset is still at large in the world. It is, I think, one of the elements bubbling beneath politically-correct-as-perjorative: ‘I don’t want to expend the energy to understand how these words might be hurtful.’ You are instrument, not potential friend. We care whether we hurt our friends.
I consider myself a terrible social-justice person. I don’t visit, or march, or write letters to political/powerful folk (anymore). I believe silence is complicity, and so am complicit.
What I do is observe. And think about the way our words work, how our words, as the ancient Hebrew folk articulated, are active and tangible things in the world.
Invaders are not great. They devastate large swaths of what-was, they terrorise, they remake what the locals likely would have preferred to leave alone. But at some level — or over time — they engage, connect, and share. It’s not completely what-was, but it carries a bridge. I don’t think, culturally speaking, I can avoid being an invader. Not much, anyway… the weight of U.S. culture is far heavier than my slight self. (And I value my own culture!)
Still. But. I don’t want to be a coloniser ever again.