Pagan Issues and Racial Issues

This is mostly addressing the white majority in the pagan communities. I have been sitting on this a bit, ever since news regarding Ferguson and subsequent events broke out. Racial/ethnic issues have been one that has been close to my heart for as long as I can remember, ever since childhood when I discovered a fascination and love for different cultures and delved into my studies in history. Over the last couple of years it has become a more personal issue too, which I admit probably does give me some bias, involving the birth of my biracial infant and my engagement to her father who happens to be African American. As a Caucasian woman I know I live in a bubble of security and privilege, something that my fiancée has reminded me by his own stories and experiences. The fact that it doesn’t even occur to me to carry my ID when I am not driving, whereas he NEVER leaves home without his and was actually asked for his ID by a police officer while waiting for his work place to open and the start of his shift has perhaps driven this home better than anything else. I take for granted that if I do nothing wrong that I will left alone, and yet I know that this is not so for everyone….and if things don’t change my baby will likely also grow up in an environment of discrimination.

What saddens and disappoints me though, as much as events have pissed me off, is the apparent apathy I see among pagans towards these events. As much as the so called pagan community gets roiled up regarding matters of rights in LGBT issues, in religious rights issues (which is understandably close to home), feminism etc, why is there so much silence in support of the rights of the African American segment of our population? Do we not realize that we have fellow worshipers among us who face these prejudices every day, who are personally touched by them? Racial issues are a part of Pagan and Polytheistic issues whether people want to acknowledge them or not. And we are not exempt! How many communities among pagans and polytheists are not in fact racist, spewing forth about ethnic purities. I have even seen someone once suggest support for separation of racial groups in the Hellenic religion based off an Orphic hymn to Apollon in which the translation on hand by Thomas Taylor suggested that Apollon separated the races, in which it was suggested that the gods themselves did not desire for the races to mingle. It disgusts me every time I think about it to be quite honest that a co-religionist could have that view! But these things exist among us as much as homophobia and misogyny and it deserves our attention and rallying for the welfare of our fellows, that all my enjoy equal freedoms and liberties.

And by that  do not support ideologies of being “colorblind”. This is fiction. Even small children notice ethnic differences. This was abundantly clear when I moved to Arkansas for a period and my daughter, who was 6 at the time, asked where all the black people were. There is no such thing as being color blind, and the sooner we get over this idealized personal myth that one ought to strive to be color blind, we are doing more harm than good. we are ignoring the problem, and also doing a disservice to the minorities in our communities (religious and local).

Honestly at times it seems that there are a number of pagans who think that the pagan community is beyond race issues, that pagans are above it….a delusion I fear. To suggest racism often invites defensive dialogue. How many pagans out there have white washed ethnic traditions? Gods of African diaspora traditions are almost as frequently found in  imagery to be Caucasian as they are in African form as far as I could tell from googling. And don’t get me started on all the white people who claim to be native American tradition shamans. I happen to think that this is part of the “every one is the same”/ colorblind mentality. t brings a presumption that by everyone being the same that we have equal rights and ownership to ethnic cultures and traditions, eventually making the original ethnic character disappear. The original ethnic face becomes replaced. We see this in the arts with music, fashion and so forth in general society, and we see this religiously among pagans and polytheists where one apparently can not  love something of a different ethnic origin from our birth without seeking to change it and make it look like us.

I am not saying that is intentional or that pagans are in general  racists, but rather that Caucasian privilege, including the privilege of being “colorblind”, is active within the religious communities which makes it a pertinent issue within pagan and polytheistic discussion. We should not be striving for a colorless sameness, some fictional  cohesive oneness, for this is part of the problem and is what is adding to people ignoring the issues, hoping that they go away. Assuming that they are not part of the pagan and polytheistic world typically and that  the community just needs to lead by example. What a poor example we are as we are living in a fantasy. The fracturing between polytheists and pagans  earlier this year should have demonstrated that there is no such thing as a blanket oneness, no cohesive sameness. And that is just small potatoes compared to the race issues within the pagan community.

Just as with the world at large, we need to recognize, acknowledge, respect and appreciate the black people within our various religious and local communities. Recognize that there are differences but these differences  does negate that all are deserving of the same equality and privileges.That the differences enrich our world and are deserving of support and nurturing. Acknowledge the crimes of the past, the deeds of our ancestors and Caucasians in general. By doing so we are able to make the first steps in trying to make a difference and fulfill our obligation to change the world for the better that non has to suffer with such harm and indignities again. Respect the autonomy of black people.  Trying to change the conversation to ones about reverse racism, apologist arguments or lump summation of what “they” do that is potentially deserving of ill treatment is NOT respectful. And also appreciate black people as fellow human beings who bring something unique and diversity. How welcome do you make a African American fellow worshipper feel in your worship community? How do you treat them? How do you treat an African American boss, co-worker, employee or neighbor? IS it any different that you would treat a white person

Because, ya know, black people matter too, and black lives matter. Pagans and polytheists should be giving our support and having dialogue on these issues that rocking the world. Be a voice against oppression and hate, be the change.

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12 thoughts on “Pagan Issues and Racial Issues

  1. I have even seen someone once suggest support for separation of racial groups in the Hellenic religion based off an Orphic hymn to Apollon in which the translation on hand by Thomas Taylor suggested that Apollon separated the races, in which it was suggested that the gods themselves did not desire for the races to mingle.

    Oh, for fuck’s sake. That’s something I would have been happy not ever knowing about. Bad enough the racist assholes in Heathenry, but I cannot stand when people want to project our limitations and our being assholes onto the gods. Cuz, like Odin, Apollon is not known at ALL for mingling within different groups of people . . . .

    I understand the colorblind idea that a lot of white people seem to have, that it would be the best ideal, because it is what they know, because it is a privilege they’ve been allowed to have. I understand the bafflement and confusion that a lot of people experience when they realize that the world isn’t quite that way. But, I’m with you: having a colorblind society/world is not the solution, because it’s never, ever going to happen, and talking about striving for that is just an excuse to not deal with what is right in front of us. Which would be going a lot easier if we didn’t have to convince so many people that they do, indeed, have privilege, and that the world in which we we live is built to honor that, and the whole fucking thing needs to be addressed.

    Er. So. Uh. Yeah. this.

  2. Reblogged this on Loki's Bruid and commented:
    “Acknowledge the crimes of the past, the deeds of our ancestors and Caucasians in general. By doing so we are able to make the first steps in trying to make a difference and fulfill our obligation to change the world for the better that non has to suffer with such harm and indignities again. Respect the autonomy of black people. Trying to change the conversation to ones about reverse racism, apologist arguments or lump summation of what “they” do that is potentially deserving of ill treatment is NOT respectful.”

    THIS.

    And also, I really want to reiterate that acknowledgement of harm is a thing that the US has not done at large, and while I’m not black and I don’t think I can truly imagine what it’s like – I do know that when men have acknowledged the horror of rape, that as a rape survivor, I appreciate and respect those men more than the ones who try to distance themselves from the subject out of discomfort. Collectively, we have tried to distance ourselves from the harm that our ancestors did, and it’s wrong. I have both abolitionists and plantation owners in my bloodline. One does not negate the other. I can’t undo what’s been done, but I will not dishonor the people who live with the consequences by pretending that nothing happened and that inequality doesn’t exist.

  3. Out of curiosity, how many people commenting on this post or for that matter any post of racial/ethnic inequality are actual African American or of the targeted race? Its wonderful for those on the outside to be supportive, but honestly, many of you hav’nt the slightest clue of how uncompfortable it is to live it first hand. To carefully select where your family vacations to avoid exposing your children to racist attention, to be followed or worst, avoided in certain public places because of stereotypes. For it to be so bad that even people from your own race judge and treat you differently, because they feel they’re superior for having been ‘accepted’ by the privileged fiew. Most others rant about purity and if they mingle it is written off as adding diversity to their children, whereas some AA people mingle to add social status, in attempt to improve their children’s lives, sometimes advising them to deny their AAmerican heritage all together. I am African American, but my Grandfather is white, in his youth he had a large inheritance and a drinking problem, which his own friends and family exploited to coax him into signing away his inheritance so ‘we’ wouldn’t taint it. Imagine hearing that from your dad as my mother and her siblings did, despite her appearance, she always denied sharing any caucasian heritage and forebade my siblings and I from doing so either, until the day she died. And in spite of all of this, the one place you would think to be safe, religion (the pagan community) has spit in your face by demonstrating the same racial stereotyping.

    • Salif, no I am not African American (which I think I was quite clear in my own post). That said, my fiancée is, and we are fortunate to live in an area where biracial relationships are not a heated issue and are rather common. That said, regardless of being second-hand witness, I have heard things that my fiancée has told me about what he has experienced, and as a mother of a biracial child I do worry. And yes there are places I have written off as places I won’t visit or live because it would not be a good place for my family. My daughter as a biracial Caucasian and African American child is my first priority. And yes, her birth and my engagement to my fiancée who I am marrying this summer (and receiving three stepchildren from) has probably made me slightly more aware and sensitive to minority issues than I was before, because where I was always sympathetic and empathetic towards these issues, having these issues brought to home in my family does change some things. So while I do not have first hand perspective on this issues as a minority (something which I do readily acknowledge), I do consider these issues close to home as it were. But I do not think that should be a requirement for anyone to say that they think racist attitudes, especially within religion, is wrong.

      • My apologies, my question wasn’t directed at you, I should have clarified. I agree, it is not a requirement and honestly my point was that it will never be quite the same (mother’s and empaths aside) to experience these issues secondhand, and sadly there seems to be an inadequit number of the targeted minorities getting together and addressing the right issues, within their own ranks firstly.
        Disintergration from within hinders the ability
        to project a more positive truth outward.
        If my tone comes off as negative, it is/was not, I just get a little passionate at times.

      • No not at all, as I thought your question was addressed me as well I was just trying to answer to the best of my ability. And I do think you have an excellent point that sympathy and empathy aside, one who does not experience it can really never know it. I will never really know it as something directed against myself that I have to experience, regardless of my husband or child, chances are that it most likely won’t be something I would ever experience more than second hand.

        That said, the most important thing is for a strong voice of minorities in this as you have pointed out. Caucasian folks, we can be support but we can’t be the voice.

  4. Pingback: Australian Pagan perspective on the US Race issues | The Gargarean

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