I couldn’t help but see some present day parallels with the Old Testament text in my daily lectionary reading for today:
10The slave bosses and the men in charge of the slaves went out and told them, “The king says he will not give you any more straw.11Go and find your own straw wherever you can, but you must still make as many bricks as before.”
12The slaves went all over Egypt, looking for straw.13But the slave bosses were hard on them and kept saying, “Each day you have to make as many bricks as you did when you were given straw.”14The bosses beat the men in charge of the slaves and said, “Why didn’t you force the slaves to make as many bricks yesterday and today as they did before?”
15Finally, the men in charge of the slaves went to the king and said, “Why are you treating us like this?16No one brings us any straw, but we are still ordered to make the same number of bricks. We are beaten with whips, and your own people are to blame.”
17The king replied, “You are lazy—nothing but lazy! That’s why you keep asking me to let you go and sacrifice to your LORD.18 Get back to work! You won’t be given straw, but you must still make the same number of bricks.”
19The men knew they were in deep trouble when they were ordered to make the same number of bricks each day.20After they left the king, they went to see Moses and Aaron, who had been waiting for them.21Then the men said, “We hope the LORD will punish both of you for making the king and his officials hate us. Now they even have an excuse to kill us.”
(Exodus 5:10-21 CEVUK)
This parallels well with the state of many racial minorities in Canada and the United States. It can also parallel well to the state of women, at least in some areas, and of the poor. It’s probably the most obvious when it comes to racially-segregated North America, though, so I’m mostly going to focus on that.
There are a few steps to the system of oppression described here:
- We start out with one group that already has more power over another, typically obtained through force.
- The powerful group puts unrealistic demands on the oppressed group in the form of taking away resources.
- The powerful group can spin that as not really being unfair. After all, it’s the same quotas that they were meeting before!
- The oppressed group points out that it isn’t fair.
- The powerful group calls them lazy and dismisses them.
- The oppressed group blames efforts at liberation from within their own group for making things worse. (There isn’t a good way for me to touch on this one here without being a part of those oppressed groups, but it’s a dynamic still worth noting.)
Sound familiar? How often do we hear in North America that black people or indigenous people are simply too lazy and that’s why they don’t have the comforts that most white people have?
They usually are working a lot harder than we are. They are just doing it as much more of an uphill battle, meaning the results don’t always match. I’ve heard many white suburbanites say that it was always assumed they would go to university. That’s just what you do when you reach a certain age. It doesn’t usually cross their minds that they need resources to do that. University costs a lot of money.
University also requires certain high school grades. Getting those grades in high school requires having enough money for school supplies, for Internet to do homework, and for healthy food that helps you focus. You’re at a severe disadvantage if you also have to work a 30 hour a week job to support yourself and your family while doing 50 hours a week of school. You’re exhausted and your grades will go down. And then there’s extra-curriculars, which make or break university acceptance for many programs (and in moderation are very good for your health). You don’t have time to do those if you’re working and taking school seriously. And can you even afford a car to get to practices and events? Most people with cars underestimate how hard it is to “just get a car.”
That’s a pretty simple example, not even getting in to things like bias in policing tactics, voter suppression, food deserts, or ignoring poisoned water supplies. We strip away the resources of many around us but then demand equal output and/or blame them for not achieving as much without the same resources. If it really was about getting work done rather than asserting our supremacy, we would equalize the resources and then we could all achieve a lot together.
Where do you fall in this scenario? The oppressed group fighting for liberation? Pharaoh dismissing them as lazy while robbing them of their lives? Most of us (middle class white people) are probably the average Egyptian – pretending to be neutral, effectively with Pharaoh by continuing to benefit from oppression even if we aren’t actively encouraging or justifying it.
Or, do we dare to join Jesus at the margins, breaking chains even at the cost of our own comfort and supremacy?