Numinous and Concrete
On Pagans and Privilege: PantheaCon 2013
Cara Schulz of the Minnesota Pagan Newswire Collective reported on that hour. My own impressions are: we laid the groundwork for a conversation we must have, one that includes our stories. We need these initial conversations and then we need help retraining ourselves so we can build a more truly inclusive culture together.
It is easy to assume that because we are in a minority religious group—i.e., without Christian privilege—and because we are overall good, thoughtful, spiritual people, that we all just get along. But issues of privilege still arise, and at our conventions and festivals we hear and say things like:
We all have the same rights, don't we? We all are in the same boat. Why do they need their own space? Can't we live and let live? They shouldn't be allowed exclusive rituals. Why are you bothered because some idiot spouted off? That isn't hate speech, they're just hot headed. We had to fight for our rights. They're trying to take what little privilege we have. They shouldn't be allowed into our rituals. It's just drama. As a Pagan, I'm oppressed.
The theme of PantheaCon this year was "Tolerance, Diversity, and Love" because of pain and contentions that arose during PantheaCon the previous two years. The theme, and these contentions, were why we showed up during our lunch break and sat down together, many crowded on the floor. It is why many of us re-convened for a second hour on a patio and battled freeway noise and cold. It is why still others kept talking long after that group broke apart.
She lives on disability assistance and can't afford to attend the convention, though she desperately wants to.
I'm writing these words on the anniversary of Trayvon Martin's murder. Alan Blueford, Gary King, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, and many others are also dead. Gwen Araujo, Angie Zapata, Matthew Shephard, and Brandy Martell were also murdered. They are dead because of fear and hatred, and they are dead partially because we are blind to our privilege. The cost of maintaining privilege is that it creates systems of fear, distrust, power imbalance, xenophobia, and isolation. Any of these can quickly lead to persecution, harassment, oppression, injustice, and even death.
Why do I mention this in the context of a panel at a convention in a cushy hotel? The cost of privilege doesn't always raise its head in such dramatic and hateful ways, but the two are connected in the culture at large. There are women, men, and children who are excluded from our rituals, gatherings, and conversations not out of malice, but because we just don't notice there isn't a place set for them at the table. We didn't think to look. That not thinking to listen or look is what helps give rise to the more heinous violations of body, mind, and spirit that occur every day. Exclusion—even the unconscious kind—gives rise to xenophobia because "the Other" has been created. Xenophobia, as we know, gives rise to all sorts of harm, small and large.
I was at PantheaCon and literally saw only three other black people both days I was there.*
T. Thorn Coyle is an internationally respected visionary and teacher of the magical and esoteric arts. The author of Make Magic of Your Life, Kissing the Limitless, and Evolutionary Witchcraft, she hosts the Elemental Castings podcast series, writes the blog Know Thyself, and has produced several CDs of sacred music. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook!