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.