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Privilege Bridges, South Africa and Identity Politics

Karl Marx wrote of a struggle between those who have and those who don’t.

The struggle was framed in economic terms, pitting the working class against the wealthy. It was money; ownership of things that made the difference, according to Marx.

The great problem with society, he believed, lies somewhere in the fact that those who own things use their economic power to oppress those who do not. And they have that power because they have taken from the underprivileged.

Elements of Marxism still appeal to many today who see it as a political ideology that emphasises the problems faced by the underprivileged and invokes compassion.

The truth is that, wherever Marxism took hold, it did not breed compassion. Among other things it bred hatred. Hatred for the successful.

The victim versus oppressor narrative always has that effect.

When people believe they are victims, they can’t do anything about it, and it’s someone else’s fault, they first resent then ultimately hate the “someone else.”

You may have heard the terms “Political Correctness” or “Cultural Marxism.” These things are dangerous for the same reasons old-fashioned Marxism was.

No longer are the evangelists for these ideas parroting lines about rich and poor. The lines of oppression are now divided between many more categories.

Women and men, trans* and cis, gay and straight, black and white, poor and rich…

Or perhaps more accurately, women against men, trans* against cis, gay against straight, poor against rich…

Female victims at war with male oppressors. Trans* victims at war with cis oppressors. Gay victims at war with straight oppressors. Poor victims at war with rich oppressors…

You get the idea.

But you and I know there are many more categories besides these. The narrative of power and victimhood is starting to permeate everything, including religion.

The ABC recently produced a children’s song called “The Privilege Bridge.” The video shows two women dancing to a story about “Ross” and “Stevie” who both want to cross a river.

Fortunately for Ross, he is a man, he’s white, he’s straight, he’s wealthy… So he gets to use teleportation to cross the river. Handy!

Sadly for Stevie, she is a woman, she’s not white, she’s a refugee, she’s not well off, she’s marginalised. So Stevie has to swim. That’s unfair.

The song concludes with a quick lesson, telling children that Ross got a “free ride” because of “privilege.” That is, some people get a free ride “just because of how they were born.”

Aren’t they just teaching kids to think more compassionately?

The simple answer is no. Children who grow up believing that life is all about power imbalances between victims and oppressors grow up with a quiet sense of resentment towards certain groups of people.

It breeds tribalism and anger.

We see it in the changes taking place in social life.

This is why debate in Australia is becoming less civil and more polarised. People are getting angrier and more resentful. This is why activists are shutting down opposing voices. They are waging war with oppressors.

Every week a new story seems to emerge that brings these ideas to light.

Yesterday we heard that New South Wales hospitals will now be required to have segregated “Culturally Appropriate Spaces” for indigenous patients to use as waiting rooms.

Again… compassion? Or fuelling a narrative of victimhood? Apparently going to a “culturally inappropriate” hospital waiting room is a form of oppression.

As I wrote last week, the narrative is made worse by the fact that, according to these ideologies, none of these groups can resolve their differences through dialogue. Dialogue is just a ruse of the powerful to keep on oppressing.

Small wonder then that the societies who go all the way down this road descend into a pit of conflict, oppression, war and terror. Some humans become more equal than others. Speech and dialogue are suppressed by the state. Anger, resentment and arrogance are the order of the day.

South Africa should be a grave warning to all who would engage in identity politics.

Not only for its history of apartheid, but also due to emerging tensions between white and black communities.

White farmers are having their properties broken into, robbed and their families brutalised and beaten. They are targeted because they are white.

The Australian carried a story last week of a white South African woman who had her feet drilled through with a power tool, chunks of flesh cut from her skin, and her property stolen.

It told the story of a man who was beaten and bound whilst his wife was raped in front of their three children.

People told of their security precautions – regular perimeter checks, concealed firearms, sophisticated security systems.

The end of all this is very serious.

Jesus warns us in the Sermon on the Mount that the escalation from resentment, to hatred, to murderous intent and murder is one that we shouldn’t dismiss lightly. These are all species of the same state of heart and they are all related to the sin of murder itself.

If we have come to a point where we teach our children, through animation and song, that there are categories of people in our community to be resented and brought down from their pedestals of power, we are asking for terrible trouble.

It stands in stark contrast to Christ’s message that what really matters is not privilege, tribe or birth. What really matters is the condition of one’s heart before God, and in that  is great blessing.

We must teach our children what Christ teaches us: blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

But we have taught them instead that privilege is what matters and we have divided them against each other in tribal battles.

In one generation we have seen reasonable public debate and principles of tolerance begin to collapse spectacularly.

Where will we be in another generation? Will it take that long?

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