Facing racism in Argentina

Bishop Nick with fellow bishops Crisanto Rojas and Mateo Alto, members of Argentina’s Wichi and Toba Original Peoples respectively, visiting a Wichi university student

In the face of police brutality, and largely inappropriate responses from elected leaders, people have taken to the streets worldwide to protest the death of George Floyd in police custody. The Rt Rev Nick Drayson, mission partner and Bishop of Northern Argentina, reflects.

Together with many church leaders in the UK (where we are at present, due to lockdown) and around the world, we know we must not just call for justice and name evil for what it is, but we must examine ourselves and our churches with repentance.

We read Philippians 2:5-11 today, commented on in Lectio-365 by Izwe Nkosi, a South African Christian: “a part of the Bible that has much to say about the purpose of power, the future of nations and the way that God himself was oppressed and innocently killed by evil men.”

He goes on to say: “One day, perhaps quite soon, every tribe and tongue will finally bow the knee – not before a flag, but before the Lord Jesus Christ. On that wonderful day, every culture will bring its own unique revelation – its food, its language, its music – as equals at the coronation of an innocent Middle-Eastern man, killed without justice and exalted by God to the highest place.”

I recognise in myself all sorts of deep-seated attitudes, despite having worked cross-culturally for years, and often stood up for minority cultures. Even in something (relatively trivial) like the 60s music that shaped me, I came very late to the black (blues) music that inspired modern rock, and hardly know any of the Motown and Gospel that was so important to black communities in those years.

In Argentina it is commonly supposed that there is no black population (as they are largely invisible on the streets) and that the few African descendants one meets are largely Brazilian or Uruguayan. There is in fact a historical black community which is conveniently hidden.

But it used to be said, as well, there are no “Indians” in Argentina (meaning Amerindians, or Original Peoples as they are now called). A much better job has been done of giving them visibility, and the relatively new constitution reflects their ancient rights and identity. However, this is where Argentina’s racism largely resides, and it is no stranger to the church.

I am grieved to say that, despite several generations of affirming indigenous identity through language and culture, much of our church, and most of the surrounding culture, is in some way racist. It is two way, given centuries of suspicion and hostility.

It has to be said that much has been done to overcome it, but a situation of real equality still feels a long way off.

One example: would it yet be possible to contemplate having a Wichi bishop over Criollo (white) members? There are obviously considerations of ability, training and calling, but for many this is difficult to contemplate.

However, for ‘white’ Argentines, their “Black Lives” are the Original Peoples who, in our church at least, are the vast majority.  May we examine ourselves, repent, and take practical steps, not just because it is now fashionable, but because it is biblical.

Bishop Nick has recently joined with other Anglican bishops and archbishops to speak out on environmental racism.

Published 22 June 2020
Latin America

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