I can’t even begin to state how great it is to get a better idea of this term that I’ve been using since my baby-pagan days.
Big thanks to Del for laying down some of the history and providing your perspective!
Trigger warning: If you are/have been affected by assault, violence against women, battery, blood, or any of the things connected with that, and CANNOT stomach reading about it, do NOT read any further.
It’s been suggested to me to start with how I’m feeling right now. How I’m feeling is shell-shocked and definitely with some stress cracks and fractures on the surface that go deep, but I don’t know how far down.
My reality is that I am a Pagan nonentity, despite some small notoriety with friends and compatriots in certain areas; kink, paganism, interfaith stuff, etc. I’m still what you’d call small potatoes. That means that I am also a working Pagan. I have a mundane job that kinda sorta pays my bills; but not enough. I say this because it’s background for why I was where I was when I was. If that makes sense.
I was at San Leandro BART station, waiting for a connecting bus to an office nearby for an employment exam. In this economy, we’re all of us; pagan or not, struggling for work wherever we can get it. I was there early enough that my bus was going to be a while. As with most things where I’m in a (self-imposed or not) spotlight, I get nervous with waiting. So I started walking around and working off some of the nerves. Cracking my knuckles, popping my joints, talking myself down from that. I walked towards the entryway to the platforms where Clipper cards are read and passes are inserted to get through. From behind me came the shouts. “Hey! Stop! Get away from her!” I had already started turning and had a visual of the scene before me, a man had bum-rushed a female from behind (a dirty play in ANY book) and knocked her to the ground. Her bags went flying, the crowd surged as he bounced off of her and started kicking and screaming obscenities at her. The crowd separated them but he cut through them as she dazedly tried to stand up. She got to some sort of a half crouch before he was on her again. At this point, I’m now a part of the crowd actively trying to fight him off her. He’s a dog with a bone and there’s no way he’s letting go ever, is what it feels like. Like pushing against the current. But this one was one filled with rage, hate, incoherent, but direct. Anyone who stands in his way is a direct target. I can still feel his hand around my forearm when I got between them as he tried to get to her through me and the crowd. At that point, a larger gentleman (with from what I could deduce some mental incapacities) sacked him. Low and to the midsection, if he’d been in college or professional ball it would’ve been hailed as quasi-perfection. At this point, the woman has run off towards the same entryway I was at moments (was it really just MOMENTS ago?) ago, and the police have shown up and are trying to figure out the situation. I join my voice with others trying to explain to the officer that the person they should be asking questions to is the man on the floor and not the ones huffing and puffing trying to get their breath back. The woman comes stumbling back over, dazed, bleeding, and going into shock. I walk over to her and the officer follows my lead and joins me in talking to her. I can see the goose-egg on the side of her face, lacerations and bleeding on the top of her head and blood in her mouth. She walks over to a column and calls for her belongings. I start to administer first aid, asking her name, checking her eye responses; you know, the things you’re taught to do. My voice is calm, detached. Professional. She steps away from the column and I’m lucky enough to get a hand on her as she starts to go down in a faint. I drop my knee straight onto the concrete and guide her fall. In my head, I thank whomever’s listening that she stays conscious and ask for first aid materials, anything really. She’s in hysterics this entire time. It’s only when I feel the ice in my veins and the breath in my lungs so cold that I nearly want to start coughing that I realize that my first job is to get her to calm down. I make her look into my eyes (are they really mine right now? I wonder…) and breathe for me. My hand (mine?) is placed right at her heart and her eyes widen and she takes those much needed breaths. A few more women join me and offer words or ice packs as I call out for them. I start to work on keeping her with me, to keep the panic from creeping into her voice again.
Then she starts apologizing.
With all the raging love pouring out of me at that moment. I took her chin in my hand, looked her square in the eye and told her she had NOTHING to apologize for. NOT ONE DAMNED THING.
At this point, I have to stop writing. I feel physically drained from everything already written and I need to recharge. I may continue this, I may not. I’m unsure if I can or want to, to be honest, until I’ve processed and worked out some more of the things this loosened up inside me.
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.
I want to take a moment to thank the amazing group of people in Sacramento (and the three women of Fresno!) who showed up and attended my presentation/performance piece/experiential magical working… I’m not even sure what to call it anymore!
I enjoyed traveling by rail and see it as an effective way to travel, the feel of the train moving with me and the calm rush of one vista after another was a soothing way to get where I needed to be. I definitely want to do that again!
The space was amazing, the fire was perfect, and as the night progressed and the words tumbled from my mouth, I felt that moment where the audience and I are on the same trip, we reach the same milestones, the same moments, the same realization; that something has changed in the way we view those around us, and those outside of this moment, and maybe it only lasts a day or two, or maybe it lasts for the rest of our lives, but we had it. We tasted it and found it to be pleasing. That was what I’d hoped for, and getting that was worth all the travel and time.
Afterward, as we were sitting around and talking and just enjoying the company, I got a chance to interact and get to know in a closer level these people who’d let me traipse into their community and into their mindset and play around with whatever I might find there. I found landmines, beartraps, pitfalls, stones in the path, and yet beauty in dancing around wondering if the next step would sheer a leg off or not. And I did, I can’t say that I wasn’t affected by you all, because that would be lying. What I can say, is that I enjoyed it, every moment of it, down to the winds that would rise up unexpectedly. Because they fed those moments just as much as when the winds were silent and all we could hear was the crackle of the fire, and my words.
Thank you for sharing those moments with me, it was a pleasure to do so!
If you need to reach me, for a reading, to talk/process or if you have a question, please don’t hesitate: here.
Thank you, all of you, for sharing these moments with me. You left more than just money on my nightstand, you fed my soul.
I am still recouperating from Open SF and all the amazing moments I had, witnessed, and luxuriated in. It is a true testament to a growing community that even with all the hard topics raised we were able to look at them, and ourselves with a critical but compassionate eye.
If you attended my presentation, The Intimacy of Sacred Kink, and wish to talk further, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I try to check that on a regular basis. I look forward to continuing the conversation and expect to see a lot of posts in the next couple of days about questions that the presentation brought up for me. Which I will admit is one of the most amazing things that happens whenever I stand up to talk to people about what I do; it always ends up bringing up and showing me new avenues to explore and ponder and try, so thank you for giving me the opportunity to walk my path, together. You all inspire me.
With deepest and sincerest gratitude to Pepper, the staff, volunteers, and all attached to Open SF, and to you, the attendees. Without you, I would’ve just been talking to myself. I do that enough as it is.
I was walking to the grocery store, catty-corner to me and about to meet me on the same corner I’m headed to, is a man who is shuffling along mumbling to himself.
He holds conversations with anything his eyes light upon. First it was the bicyclist going downhill in one direction, “There goes Lance Armstrong and his seven yellow jerseys.” The bicyclist is wearing yellow accents and riding a bright yellow bike.
We’re walking down the hill in the other direction and he passes the flowers, “Linda.” I perk my ears up, my body’s gait changes, I straighten the shoulders because from behind me, I feel a wall of something that’s about to make itself known.
“Gorgeous flowers. Greg get out of the sidewalk. There’s no Greg. Greg’s gone.” Here is where the sob hits his voice, and the pain lashes into my heart, and BURNS all the way through me. “All my people are gone.”
In my heart, all I can hear is the chorus of voices reassuring him that, no. No, his people are NOT gone. I turn back to say this to him, but then, something stills my vocal cords. It’s the voices in my own head, my OWN people, who are quietly looking at me, having joined this man’s people, to tell me to hold still.
It was enough to have heard him, and us. So, I just kept walking, hearing his anguish, living with him.
Where was the ordeal in this, you might ask? No one made you bleed, or cut you, or hit you til you shut down all the parts of you that make and connect and do that spiritual thing that you do, so why is this ordeal?
I ask myself that all the time. I live a life with so much uncertainty- will today be a pain-free day (bad weather and inefficient sleep leave my joints all messed up)? Will there be another problem with my current job situation that I need to overcome (besides the usual, not having one that’s full time)? I breathe in the new day, and I relax myself into it, I try to maintain a fairly regular routine about it, but sometimes, it’s just the day itself that hurts. At night, I’m left holding the tattered remains of my day and wondering how it got so botched.
On those days, the ordeal was in getting through it. And rejoicing in watching the sun dip down below the horizon, watching the clouds drift in across the Bay, the way the room instantly cools and yet brightens, as the sun sets.
The ordeal is in living, the ordeal is in being present and witnessing that living while it happens.