My personal history regarding colonialism involves 1) visiting Colonial Williamsburg, 2) liking Southern U.S. colonial-style architecture, and 3) being called “the colonist” by my co-workers when I was a social worker in the U.K. after college.
I’ve spent most of my life as a sheltered innocent. It’s one of the privileges of growing up as a Daughter of the American Revolution (my side – the colonists -won) as opposed to growing up in an Indian colony in Nevada (“settlers” took our land) or in The Belgian Congo in the early 20th Century.
The word “colonial” has always been a happy word for me. It meant four poster beds and Chippendale chairs. It meant Paul Revere of Boston and John Turk Edmiston of Staunton, VA (my fourth great-grandfather who arrived in Philadelphia from Ulster in 1740.)
But I shuddered a bit when I saw the name of the Hilton in Nassau last week: The British Colonial Hilton. It felt different from the feeling I have when I see the words “Colonial Williamsburg” on a tourism brochure. And here’s why: when Columbus met the native Bahamians in the 15th Century – the Lucayan people – he took them as slaves and eventually they were freed but banished from their own islands. Many years and countless colonizations later, the Bahamas became a British colony finally gaining their independence in 1973. Colonization was not necessarily horrible throughout all Bahamian history. But we who appreciate freedom need to recall that part of our beloved history includes settling in and colonizing places that belonged to someone else, as if we could simply arrive and claim ownership.
Sometimes we claimed to own the people as well as their land. God have mercy upon our souls.
Oh, how I innocently have loved Chippendale chairs and all things “colonial.” Part of growing up and – I believe – growing more mature in our faith is acknowledging corporate sin. The world “colonial” might mean heartwarming comfort for me but the word might mean cruelty for someone else.
Yesterday I head a S.C. woman rue the taking down of the Confederate flag. “It means ‘history’ to me,” she said, “And I understand that it means bigotry to others. But it means ‘history’ to me.”
The apostle Paul often wrote about this sort of thing, including here and here. We are called to consider what hurts our neighbors or makes them fall. It’s not about political correctness. It’s about loving our neighbor as ourselves.
And so when I suggest that we must be sensitive to those for whom colonialism has been part of their history, I don’t mean to be that person who always dredges up the ugly side of everything. Rather – we are called to be those people who confess before God and each other that many of our ancestors were part of the ugliness.
God redeems even what is ugly. And we are a part of this redemption.