On Sunday evening I sat in a multi-racial gathering where my friend Trevor Davies facilitated a conversation on how we grew up in South Africa. The stories that were shared that evening were diverse and covered, on the one side, the tragedies of oppressed people under Apartheid and, on the other side, stories of privilege.
One friend shared how he had to make sense of the disparities between white and black as a small child. He said that he found acceptance that God authored differences and in this regard quoted from “a poem he was taught at school”.This poem was taught under the Bantu Education Act. In the poem he recalled a specific line that stated that,
“The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them, high or lowly, and ordered their estate”.
This settled the differences for him.
One of his friends recalled how he was beat up several times for not knowing this specific poem and then said that he always wondered why the white man in the poem got to live in the castle. All of us laughed because he changed the generic rich person of the poem into a white person, which for him was a representation of his reality growing up in South Africa. [I know that we have poor white people in South Africa, but this is not the point of the post].
This poem [actually a hymn] upset me. Especially that disparities caused by oppression are hereby justified in the name of God. This got me thinking about the role of ideology portrayed in song and poetry in oppressive regimes. The oppressor will always try to subject the oppressed to art forms that justify the status quo. In other words – just accept the fact that you are poor and someone else is rich, God willed it this way.
Two thoughts I had about this are Mary mother of Jesus and Bob Marley. So what do an Israelite girl and a Jamaican Rastafarian have in common? The Art forms of protest. How can one read the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) and sing a song like “Get up, Stand up” and not question the status quo? Mary and Bob, both challenge a story that tries to justify the oppressions around them.