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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Response to Jim Perkinson’s talk at the Graduate Theological Union/UC Berkeley, Sept 30, on the topic of “Christianity, Supremacy, and Indigenous Spirituality in the 21st Century: How White Theology Wages Wars of Color.”

Note: This response is posted here per request from a Fil Am student who was at the event and wanted to read this poem again:


Para sa isang Mamang Puti

Sa wakas dumating din ang panahon ng iyong tagulaylay
Ito ba ay paghingi ng paumanhin?
May karapatan ba ako na ibigay ito?

May nalalabi pang hapdi sa aking gunita
Mula sa ilang siglo ng dayuhang pagsakop.
Subalit natuto na rin akong
Magbalik-loob at magpaka-tao

Tayo kaya ay papalaring maglakbay
Ng sabay, magka-daupang palad
Tungo sa pagpapatoo sa kailaliman
Ng Loob at Kapwa?

Harinawa.

Through these untranslated lines, I, a Filipino postcolonial, Christianized and civilized subject, ponder my relationship to whiteness and to white folks who are attempting to unlearn their privileges.

Jim has found his way out of whiteness via immersion in black inner city Detroit where for 20 years he says he was tutored, challenged, nurtured into a way of confronting his white privilege and where he feels redeemed by getting in touch with the dormant, now made alive, indigenous parts of himself. This happened through his immersion in the Black community and he found aesthetic expression through poetry, dance, music, and other forms of communion with black bodies --in other words, all those spaces beyond language and into the unarticulated mysteries of god as mysterium tremendum.

Similarly, in my process of decolonization, which includes learning to de-protestantize my colonial identity, I’ve had to contend with how white theology has disciplined my body via the elegant fiction of civilized manners; how my mind became addicted to cognitive certainty provided by eschatological promises of life after death; how my indigenous soul learned to silence itself and finally in its muteness continued to roil and boil in my subconscious which later would erupt into a category 5 hurricane.

The result was a divorce: divorcing the overwhelming power of whiteness and its symbols in my life.

However, divorce aftermath must go way beyond personal healing. Race is a fiction and yet racism is real because, as Jim illustrates, it is wedded to a theology of whiteness and supremacy.

Filipino scholar Vince Rafael writes of “white love” as the language of colonialism that was benevolently passed on to us as a gift from parent to a child, so that many of us consequently fell in love with our colonizers. That is why even as Jim writes of exorcising whiteness in white folks, colonized subjects like myself also find the need to do the same.

I appreciate Jim’s call for an “otherness that is not answerable to whiteness” and his challenge to white folks to learn to immerse themselves in and be willing to be altered by subjugated knowledges.

But how? How do I retrieve my own memories of indigenous knowledge and indigenous spirituality when colonialism has robbed us of the language with which to speak of the knowledge we still feel in our bodies and in the depths of our Loob? When what we have is the language of the West and the language of a theology that is difficult to translate? When we aim to be understood by transnational and diasporic peoples whose engagement with the world is also determined by discourses not of their own making?

In my own work, I’ve learned to ask questions – it seems it’s the best I can do in questioning the master narratives of modernity in order to strip them of their power to terrorize people like me.

(Read excerpt here from A Book of Her Own) -- "We've Had a 100 years of American tutelage and We Are Still Uncivilized", p. 180.

Jim said that “our spirits have need of nurtures, mythic and symbolic, rooted in the soils and souls of primal cultures” so that we might have an amulet against pathological forgetting forced on us by modernity. I wonder if my own symbolic appropriation of the Babaylan – the indigenous Filipina shaman, healer, priestess, mediator, warrior – counts? I hope so. I pray so.

In the meantime, if theological claims continue to provide cognitive certainty that fills the blank of the need to feel whole (salvation) – where is the space within it for experiencing the terror of divorcing its white parts? These are the questions that I appreciate Jim for – he is asking questions of life and death. For to die to whiteness is to live.

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