I am currently putting time and energy into a hospitality suite for Pagans of Color at Pantheacon. It’s a labor of love and difficulty because of the perceived notions about what that space means and how its effects will reverberate through the general pagan community. Discussion on a post I put up on Facebook (that I have since removed) derailed, HARD. There was an individual who was quite upset with the words white supremacist as a descriptor (and a valid one) for what I call ‘majority society’; white, affluent, male, gendernormative, heterocentric, and cissexist. Pointing out to an individual that while he WASN’T racist, there were those who looked like him that were, was read as an attack that didn’t actually exist. But the kneejerk reaction of needing to be labeled as NON-racist was so strong that I was surprised and a little unsure as to how to proceed. I stopped engaging the person I’m speaking about because he tried to get me into an either/or argument and I refuse to talk in logical fallacies, he decided to take my silence to mean that I agreed with him in his logical fallacy, thereby putting words in my mouth. That conversation was a while back but I find myself going back to it time and again, especially when this post started making the rounds. Keri’s experiences are all her own, but far too often, the question of racism in paganism, along with all the other -isms that exist in society get brushed aside, silenced when mentioned, or are casually dismissed as being ‘not important to the circle and its workings’. So, here’s my list of things I wish white Pagans realized when PoC (Pagans of Color) join the circle, (all of these are written in the first person singular, because these are things I WISH they realized, each PoC’s list will be different by a little or a lot, that is part of the joy of dealing with people NOT as a single voice for their ETHNICITY OR RACE, but as the INDIVIDUALS they ARE):
1. When I talk about marginalization, I want you to imagine an onion, and all the layers an onion has, how thick or thin they are as they get down to the core, that’s what marginalization is like for me. The more intersections I have, the more layers to my onion. I am a genderqueer, queer, kinky, poly, pagan, female-presenting, AFAB, Mexican American, lower socioeconomic status upbringing, working class, person. My onion is nice and thick. When white pagans complain about how demeaned they feel by the majority society and their tendency towards being Abrahamic Christian and the assumption that they are to, that’s a layer on their onion. But, they have the opportunity to be heard because their whiteness grants them that chance to state that they aren’t Abrahamic Christian. If I stand up to say that, it is automatically assumed that I must be a Santera, or some other derivative of that and therefore still have reverence for Catholic saints, etc. because I’m “mexican so that’s what you do, right?”. I have layers to my onion added, because of what people assume about me by seeing me on the street, in the circle, and at pagan gatherings, not REMOVED.
2. When I say that I want a separate space for marginalized groups within paganism, I’m not just talking about PoC (Pagans of Color), I’m also talking about groups that don’t normally get lots of exposure or attention. The second generation, the older women, the young women learning their sexuality, the men who want to explore in safe space the feminine within (dressing, acting, taking up roles traditionally considered female and not allowed or accessible in normative society), the Christo-pagans who have a need for sanctuary to practice their particular faith without getting the side-eye from ‘true Pagans’… All those voices and experiences deserve a space they can carve out and call their own to feel safe, not just from the rest of a ‘con or gathering, but from themselves. It’s not about self-segregating, it’s about self-care. When I am asked if I would be okay with someone making a space in a pagan gathering that was ‘whites only’ and how that would affect me, I honestly didn’t have an answer because, the majority population at a pagan event tends towards white, so why do you need another room when there’s a whole conference/space/gathering area where you can see each other?
3. Using questions like how I feel about any and all forms of racism as a way to goad me into stating that some racism is worse than others is just plain tacky. At worst, it shows that you’re grasping at straws for an argument, at best, it’s a blind statement to how you might think you’re being attacked when someone questions the privilege of your whiteness.
4. Declaring that you are upset by people choosing to have a space that marginalizes you because you’re white, is hard (for me) to take seriously. Do you actually HEAR yourself when you say these words? Do you realize how hard it is to hear this because that’s what it’s like for me and other PoC and marginalized groups for a few moments in a hypothetical situation? Our marginalization happens in our day to day. We are marginalized, othered, and shamed for things we have NO control over, just going about our day. I wish I could feel for you, I really do, and part of me does; but the part of me that does, is sardonic in its response because you have now been afforded a taste of what my life is like, CONSTANTLY.
5. My silence does NOT mean my consent. Silence means NO. My silence and what it means, does NOT get to be defined by you. By deciding for me, what my actions mean, marks me as the one needing to have my mind made up for me, and clearly, you as the white person, know my mind better than I do. No, you do not, therefore you should NOT ever be allowed to do that. It’s just another tactic that has been used in the past to drive home just how marginalized PoC are, and is plain bad manners.
6. One of the things that makes this hard for me is this commonly used phrase in paganism, “in perfect love and perfect trust”. A friend of mine and I were discussing it, I see it as part of the agreement I consent to by doing magic with a circle of people, not just with my deities. And this is the one that suffers the most every time I have to defend the need for space; the more I hear claims that people who are pagan CAN’T be racist, the more I hear that this is self-segregating, separatist, etc. the less I feel I can trust being in sacred space with you. This isn’t just about me saying that this space isn’t open to allies, which it is. It’s more about why did I have so FEW allies at the first PoC Caucus at Pantheacon? Why wasn’t my room overflowing with allies wanting to hear, listen, support, and learn ways to participate in the discussion around this social justice issue?
Paganism isn’t immune to these issues, if it were, there wouldn’t be the need to hear from one Heathen group after another distancing themselves from their more stringent contingents (the ones who claim that only Northern European descendants have the right to worship the Norse deities). We deal in interesting areas of life; we worship g*ds that are from a time that’s not ours, a people we may have no actual genetic connection to, and have experiences that science can’t explain but that feed our souls. Part of the experience within humanity is remembering that we all have walked a path long before we walked this Path together. I read a lot of talk about how each person’s path is different and the destination looks similar even if it’s worlds apart, but part of that is the fact that for some of us, the path has been thornier than just people not understanding the CHOICE to be pagan.
The main thing I wish white Pagans realized: I’m not any more different from you, just because I have a skin color that is darker than yours. The g*ds called us both, even if the way we are called looks vastly different. I ask to join this circle because I want to have that moment of perfect love and perfect trust with you, with the group, with my g*dden. If you can’t have me there because you hold onto some antiquated notion of what being non-white means, then tell me, before I enter into the circle with you. Don’t waste my time with your issues, I have enough of my own.