By: Xeres Villanueva
When imperialism, alienation and subjugation crept in as a part of our everyday reality, it also became a struggle for average people to relate to each other in ways that are life-giving, just and mutual. Many modern societies and cultures are structured to reinforce the unjust relationships and community dynamics that often require one to put down others to lift oneself or someone else up. In other words, people are conditioned to take away someone else’s power to themselves be empowered. For example: in the Hayti District in Durham, NC, urban renewal, suburbanization and highway development have fragmented and disempowered the once economically self-sufficient and independent black community. This phenomenon is widespread in urban centers where predominantly middle-class individuals daily commute into urban areas for work. Issues of traffic congestion are often solved by cutting thoroughfares through communities that are predominantly of color. This empowers those middle-class individuals who commute daily into the city to get to and from their places of work with relative ease, but is highly disempowering for the communities that are divided by these developments.
Another unjust dynamic that often creeps in to our ways of relating as individuals and communities is a sense of noblesse oblige. Noblesse oblige can be defined as “the perceived responsibility of privileged people to act with generosity toward those less privileged than themselves,” and it is embodied in some aspects of short mission trip programs where mission trippers end up doing jobs and projects for the recipient communities rather than doing the projects alongside them as partners. This ultimately makes these trips about the service and good works of the participants rather than empowering the local people to make a difference in their own lives. In effect, these mission trips “carve a highway” (so to speak) across the recipient communities which brings power to mission participants (sates their consciouses/makes them feel like good Christians) while disempowering the receiving communities who often lose any sense of independence and self-determination.
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