Being a Privileged Pagan

This is a difficult post to write.  For one thing, I have the feeling like I’m about to stick my foot in my mouth.  It comes with the territory … because I’m privileged.  And privileged people are always sticking our feet in our mouths.  That’s because we are generally unconscious of the ways we are privileged, and so we take a lot for granted.  As a result we end up excluding others, mostly (I hope) unintentionally.  But I’m going to plow ahead anyway (in characteristically privileged fashion).

Privilege has been a hot topic in the Pagan community the last few years.  There’s been talk about heterosexual and cisgender privilegewhite privilege, able-bodied privilegethin privilege, Christian privilege.  The highlight was probably the “Pagans and Privilege” panel at Pantheacon this past February, which T. Thorn Coyle hosted, and which had everyone buzzing.  I always feel awkward in these discussions because I am privileged in just about every way one can identify.  One blogger recently wrote:

“It’s easily argued that, in Anglophonic society, those who are ‘most privileged’ tend to have the following traits in common: white / Caucasian in skin colour, male, heterosexual, cisgender, masculine-presenting, able-bodied, about 20-35 years old, middle-income and bourgeois-aspiring, Christian, taller than “average” in height (US-born men average about 5’8″, UK-born men tend to average about 5’9″ –sorry Jon Stewart, you ARE NOT “short”), speaks English as a first language, is fairly attractive, and is in physical condition comparable to that of a minor league baseball player.”

I felt like this blogger was describing me.  With the exception of “Christian”, the description above fits me pretty well.  I’m male, white, heterosexual, masculine-presenting, able-bodied, 38, above-median household income, sometimes-bourgeois-aspiring, 5′ 9″, fair-skinned and blond, speak English as a first language, thin, and healthy.  In any other context, this would sound like an application for a dating service.  Here, it sounds like a confession.  Why is that?

The only category which clearly does not apply to me is “Christian”, and that’s by choice.  (Although I do have some Christo-Pagan tendencies.)  And the one insular minority status I used to be able to claim — Mormon — I voluntarily surrendered.  And that’s not to mention all the privileges which just come along with living in a first world country: clean drinking water, having enough to eat, sanitation, respect for rule of law, and being largely insulated from the devastating human impact on the environment.  (Of course, all of these are a matter of degree.)

And then recently I came across a new “privilege”: “Wiccanate privilege”.  This privilege manifests itself as the assumption that Neo-Wiccan ritual forms and theology are representative of all of Paganism.  Though I don’t identify as Wiccan, my Neo-Paganism definitely has its roots in Wicca.  So even within Paganism, I am among the privileged.

I’ve written before about being embarrassed of other people’s Paganism, a feeling that a surprising number of people admitted they sympathized with.  Now, I’m feeling the flip side of this: other Pagans’ embarrassment of me.  In various small ways, I have gotten the impression over the years at Pagan gatherings that I don’t really fit in with most other Pagans.  In spite of celebrating the Wheel of the Year and being politically liberal (two of the most obvious indicia of being Neo-Pagan), I have often felt at Pagan gatherings that I am too square to be Pagan: too clean-cut, too middle-class, too conventional, too straight, too male.  Kind of like Buzz Lightyear coming to the Island of Misfit Toys.  On the internet, the feeling is less subtle, approaching real animosity.  I feel it most acutely when I disclose to other Pagans that I am a lawyer.  Something about my being a lawyer just sets some Pagans off.  Maybe “lawyer” just screams “establishment”, or “sell out”, … or “privilege”.  Honestly, I don’t know if I am imagining this.  It could just be my own self-consciousness.  But just it case it’s not …

I’m not about to tell you that white males are the new “minority” or that this tiny amount of discomfort that I have felt is even in the same universe as what various minorities suffer on a daily basis.  And I am not asking anyone to feel sorry for me because I’m privileged.  And perhaps it is only right that I, multiply-privileged as I am, should feel just a little bit of what it’s like to be judged for who you are.

But it does sometime seem like some of the Pagan rhetoric about privilege is unnecessarily condemnatory of the privileged.  It is one thing to condemn the ignorance and injustice that privilege breeds, and another to condemn the privileged themselves.  Some privileges are the product of choice, and some of those choices are unethical.  This is something that has been highlighted recently by the Occupy movement.  But not all privilege is the product of unethical conduct.  Most privilege — like being white, male, and heterosexual — is an accident of birth.  As T. Thorn Coyle wrote after Pantheacon: “Having privilege doesn’t make us bad people, or bad Pagans. It just means we have access to things that others don’t.”  What we choose to do with the privilege is what makes us ethical or not.

There is something ironic about some Pagans condemning someone for being white, male, straight, etc.  This kind of othering is antithetical to the spirit of Paganism as I understand it.  Alison Leigh Lilly (a not-infrequent critic of my own unconscious chauvinism) articulately this much more cogently that I could:

“I find myself disturbed by the frequency of arguments that declare: “We as Pagans should care about this cause because we, like the GLBT community [or other minority group], are also a minority and so what happens to them could happen to us.” Such an argument recognizes, sure enough, the themes of intolerance and hatred in the mainstream that unite us as a religious minority with other marginalized communities [...] Yet such reasoning encourages us to continue to care for and sympathize only with others “like us” — even if they are like us primarily in their socially-defined otherness. It implies that our responsibility to concern ourselves with the problems of the marginalized lasts only as long as we ourselves feel the threat of that marginalization. The ethic of privilege remains unchallenged; we’ve merely succeeded in exchanging one privileged group (the mainstream or majority, conceived as the Western (Christian) white male) for another.

“The real challenge, I believe, is to continue to engage in social movements that reject and dismantle the hierarchical, patriarchal and hegemonic systems that give rise to intolerance and hatred towards “the Other,” while at the same time bringing this challenge home to ourselves in a very personal way. It is not enough to identify and care for those groups whom society has ignored, dismissed or overlooked. As individuals, we also have a responsibility to examine our own social and interpersonal relationships, in order to discover those communities and individuals that we ourselves are inclined to dismiss or marginalize.”

Some of us have sought out Paganism without having suffered so many of the “slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune” as our fellow Pagans.  Should we be denied beloved community then?  Does not the fact that we have come mean something?  Is that not what binds us together as a community?  Not that we have all suffered exclusion, but that we have all sought out this place, this place we call Paganism?  And do we, the privileged, not have something to offer this community?  Christine Hoff Kraemer recently asked this question in the comments to a post on another blog which was, in part, about the place of the “radical” in Paganism:

This is to say, perhaps, that we ought to value our (apparently) straight male white and other privileged-looking Pagans and do our best to communicate well with them, because they are a bridge between the most radical of us and a wider culture that is incapable of taking a perceived radical seriously.

Maybe you don’t want a bridge to the “wider culture”.  Maybe it is refuge that you most need right now, shelter from all those slings and arrows.  And perhaps my presence — white, male, heterosexual, middle class etc. — feels like an invasion of your sanctuary.  After all, I can go anywhere.  I can blend in.  Why do I have to come here, to Paganism, and spoil its pristine nonconformity?

I don’t know that I have an answer, except to say that this feel like home to me.  And part of what makes it feel like home is you being here.

Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber

I’m reminded of a story that radical Christian pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, told on NPR about what happened when conventional types started coming to her church, the House for All Sinners and Saints:

[...] when my church was mostly young adults, and it was sort of, you know, hip, urban young adults. And then I preached at Red Rocks Easter Sunrise services — 10,000 people. And The Denver Post ran a front-page, full-page picture and story about me on preaching at Easter, and about my church and whatnot. And we only had about 40, 45 people every week at this point. And the next week, we doubled in size like overnight.

And we were excited because we were really struggling to grow, but what happened was it was like the wrong kind of people. I mean, it was the wrong kind of different for us, right? Like some churches might freak out if the drag queens show up, but these were like bankers wearing Dockers, right? And we were like …

(laughter)

[...] I freaked out. This actually isn’t a joke. I freaked out. And I kind of went on this little rampage about, like wait a minute. They could show up to any mainline Protestant church in the city and see a room full of people that looked just like them, right? And like, why are they coming — it was almost like, oh, well, this just so neat! Oh, this church is neat! They’re so creative! You know, and I just thought you’re ruining our thing, man; you are like messing it up.

[...] So we moved and then that was the first service with all the new people, right? And it was like this stately, historic neighborhood instead of the like grungy hipster neighborhood we came from. And I turned to this woman who’s like my deacon, and I was like, “We got to get the hell out of this neighborhood because it’s attracting the wrong element.”

(laughter)

[...] and I would call my friends and I’d rant about it and what am I going to do, and I called one of my friends who has a similar type of church in St. Paul, Minnesota, called House of Mercy. And I called up Russell, and I was like, “Dude, have you ever had normal people take over your church?”

And so I go on this — I tell him the whole story expecting him to be like, man, that sucks, and instead he goes, because our community holds this value of welcoming the stranger, and he goes, “Yeah, you guys are really good at welcoming the stranger when its a young transgender kid, but sometimes the stranger looks like your mom and dad.”

[...]

And we had the meeting and I told that story and the people who were new told us who they were and why they were there so that the people who’ve been there from the beginning could hear what the church is about. And then everyone went around in a circle and Asher said, “Look, as the young transgender kid who was welcomed into this community, I just want to go on the record as saying I’m glad there’s people who look like my mom and dad here, because they love me in a way my mom and dad can’t.”

I think perhaps we Pagans might take take a page from the Christians’ book in this instance:

“While the Goddess was having cakes and ale at Pagan Spirit Gathering, many lawyers and middle-class soccer dads were eating with her and her circle, for there were many who followed her. When the transexual devotional polytheist saw her eating with the lawyers and the soccer dads, they asked the Pagans: ‘Why does she eat with lawyers and soccer dads?’ On hearing this, the Goddess said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” (my version of Mark 2:15-17).

  • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

    This is an important thing you’ve written. It’s struck me, but I’m not fully sure (yet) how or why. I wrote a somewhat lengthier comment about an hour ago, scrapped it, and I’ve returned here again moved to share my thoughts regardless of whether or not they’re fully formed or cogent.

    I was pretty much the antithesis of masculine in high school. More interested in computers, music, and theater than in football, parties, and sex, I was the outsider even though the people around me were very similar racially and economically. In other words, it was my choices that resulted in my othering — either as attention seeking behavior on my part or simply because what I was interested in wasn’t deemed “normal” by my peers.

    Over the last calendar year, I’ve had similar feelings of being othered within the Pagan community. I think your thoughts here, John, are a part of that othering but I also thing we’ve put up a lot of walls based on what sort of polytheist a person is or how Wiccan your practices are. for example. I’m struggling, at this point, to put emotion into words, so I think I’m going to stop, but if others have thoughts on this, please share. I think I’ve gone about as far in my own thinking as I can without some conversation with others.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Thanks. I was thinking about my own high school experience as I wrote this, but I was not sure how it fit in. I was definitely on the social outside. Introvered. Skinny. Nerdy. No interest in sports. *Breakfast Club* material. Preppy to a point outside acceptable definitions of masculinity. And I was interested in things that few others were. That may be why I unconsciously chased after such a conventional lifestyle as an adult. But that always felt phony. Which is why I hoped/hope to find true community in Paganism.

  • Mikal

    “There is something ironic about some Pagans condemning someone for being white, male, straight, etc.”

    This, right there. From people that have never set foot outside the US, let alone in some 3rd world hell hole that will kill you in a heartbeat if you even hint you might be slightly different in any way.

    • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

      Um? The fact that you even use the words “3d world hell hole” suggests you maybe have no idea what privilege actually means. As much as I disagree with John on many things, he’s a good man, and I sincerely doubt he supports such a statement.

      If he does…well, oh dear.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

        I can’t comment because I’m not quite sure what Mikal meant.

      • Mikal

        Let me make some sense out of my previous ramble:
        I meant to say that I find it tiresome that sometimes it seems like I should be ashamed simply because I was born a certain way, regardless of the person I am. Spending some time in other countries that kill anyone over very minor differences, lacking pretty much any of the basic needs to survive puts things in a different perspective for me. And yes, I harbor ill will towards said places, as I’ve lost friends and family there.

        • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

          Shame has never been what people are going for in these discussions. You should never feel ashamed for how you were born, only aware of what you start out with that others might not.

          And yes, there are difficult places in the world where you’ll be beaten or killed for being different. The United States is a great example of these sorts of places; getting beaten or killed for being black, or trans* or gay or Muslim, or in frightening frequency, mentally-ill or homeless. If there is a First World, America ain’t it.

          • Mikal

            Shame has been a somewhat infrequent topic a few times actually in these parts. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Your second paragraph is sadly all too true (all of it), and it pisses me off to no end. America has issues, no argument there, but when’s the last time we had to worry about militias yanking people out of their houses and executing anyone?
            That’s kind of the point I was trying to get at (and evidently failing to, I’m no wordsmith), that we should be past such petty issues such as skin color, religious beliefs or gender differences, and we still aren’t.

            • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

              You’re certainly right, we all should have gotten past those issues centuries ago it seems! It’s probably gonna take an absurd amount of work to get that to that point, unfortunately. : (

              And yes, you’re right– we don’t have public executions by armed factions. Sorta hoping we never do. It’s good to remember many people fear for their lives daily (which is yet another privilege I have that others don’t).

            • Libra_Lady

              Um, as a Black person, I have to worry about what neighborhood I’m in, and I don’t mean “the ‘hood.” Any White person can choose to “stand their ground” against me simply for being Black and in their line of sight, and blow me to kingdom come and not even get a slap on the wrist for it. I can’t even count on help after a car crash. I may just end up with a bullet to the face for my trouble.

              Those “petty issues” to you are literally life and death for the rest of us.

  • Ken

    This may sound silly, but I am glad to be entering Paganism at this time.
    As a “privileged” pagan I think there may be an additional aspect of privilege not mentioned here: ignorance. I have been in a situation where I thought an expression was perfectly mundane, but was told I was wrong(the phrase being cotton pickin’ as Bugs Bunny may use it in refernece to tediousness.) While my example is a bit trivial (the accuser knew I meant no insult by the expression) it underscored the fact that I could accidentally offend someone.
    I think if we can overcome ignorance (I believe we are in starting phase of this process now) we can fix these issues. Perhaps if we can champion prominent nonprivileged Pagans, and read and heed their thoughts, we could better grow as a community.
    I think this is an important post, one that hopefully opens eyes. I would like to think
    this post as well as the posts it brings together will throw down this veil of ignorance between those of privilege and those without.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Thanks Ken.

  • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

    Hi John,

    This is a good essay. I think there’s something forgotten here or missed, which is not so much the actual existence of one having privilege, but what is unacknowledged and brought-with in discussion, which is an assumption that one’s experience is normative.

    Consider–the first time I recognised that I was using skin color as a identifier was when a friend of mine pointed out someone in a group and said “the one with the blue shirt.” He was the only person with a blue shirt, but from my privileged whiteness (despite having grown up in the foothills of Appalachia in abject poverty, I still carry privilege), the first thing that stood out to me was that he was also the only non-white. That experience taught me more about my privilege than anything else, that I’d assumed skin color was a useful and practical identification, not a socially-constructed power relationship.

    It’s not that straight white bourgeois men have nothing to offer, it’s mostly that their privilege is visible to everyone else but themselves. Though they start out from a privileged place, they have to do more work to embrace community than others without inadvertently destroying groups. What benefits them in the capitalist hegemony (liberal or conservative) is precisely what prevents them from experiencing the world outside that construct. That is, you’re at an advantage in a suburb, but at a disadvantage in a ritual involving a queer god like Dionysus or Antinous, or in a First Nations ritual, etc..

    At some point, those of us with privilege have to decide what is more important to us: maintaining our privilege or co-creating communities in which that privilege means nothing.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Rhyd, I agree with your characterization of straight, white, bourgeois men (including myself). At the same time, it’s a stereotype. And I wonder if it is a stereotype that is serving or hurting the Pagan community.

  • Crystal Blanton

    I think there are some important points in this blog and yet I found myself a little confused by which position you were taking. Could be my own walls in this topic, which is quite possible too.

    I think that it is hard for me to grasp White males as the people who are the “othered” in the Pagan community. While I can see that there is definately much less within our community, the othering factor brings into context the opposite of privilege…. oppression. And regardless of momentary feelings of being a minority within the Pagan community as a white male, it is only a moment…. because in society that cultural capital is still rooted in privilege. We don’t lose privilege just because in one setting it matters a little less.

    I do think there is some privilege within the community over Wiccan perspective, and I think it is going to be a long time coming before we have dissected privilege enough in this context to filter out society’s ills from our community traps. We have just begun.

    Thanks for being brave and writing on this topic. It is not an easy one for any of us, and it it is one of the foot in the mouth feeling topics. The more we look at it… the more we are able to figure pieces of it out.

    Oh… and the Pagans and Privilege panel is back on this year. A little bit of a different line up and it is on the main schedule. :)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Thanks Crystal. That’s a valid point. It gives me something to think about.

    • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

      > I think that it is hard for me to grasp White males as the people who are the “othered” in the Pagan community.

      I think it’s a little bit paradoxical — on the one hand, the Pagan community still reflects the wider society insofar as there are still a ton of white men who are recognized leaders, writers, ritualists, etc. (though admittedly a lot of them are non-heterosexual). I haven’t done any statistics, but we’re hardly lacking for them, and I think we still have some subtle and not-so-subtle obstacles to success for people who don’t fit that profile.

      On the other hand, it’s also true that a straight white man coming into some Pagan groups may feel awkward because for the first time, he’s the only straight white man there. I don’t think we need to do anything about that per se, for all the reasons Crystal points out — but there’s an opportunity there for connecting over the experience of being the odd one out, of feeling a lack of belonging or even a lack of control in the situation… because I think I’d be hard pressed to find a Pagan who never felt that way. It would be great if we recognized those moments when newcomers entered our groups and used them to build community.

      This also reminds me of the state of affairs in many female-dominated professions. For example, I trained as a professional massage therapist. In that profession, the vast majority of practitioners are women, and many of the few men practicing are not heterosexual. It was pretty common, in massage school, for there to be the token straight guy in a whole classful of women (plus a couple of gay men). But here’s the catch — the vast majority of massage instructors and school founders are straight white men. Those who have the most power in the group have very different demographics from practitioners as a whole.

      I think the Pagan community is rather like that — the only position in which a straight white man gets the chance to feel othered in a Pagan group is when he’s new and not in a position of power. If he sticks around, it’s likely our wider social patterns of privileging the straight white guy will start to operate again, regardless of our stated values. And that’s no doubt why some Pagans find the presence of a new straight white guy a little threatening — because they’re afraid he’ll end up in charge.

      I love your parable about the Goddess at the end. In the original, though, the prostitutes and tax collectors had to cease being prostitutes and tax collectors in order to truly follow Jesus. Will the soccer dads and lawyers find it in their hearts to choose another way of life?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

        Very good points. And since I am in the position of privilege, I think perhaps the onus is on me to defuse that perceived threat, rather than waiting for others to make me feel welcome.

      • Brian Michael Shea

        “Will the soccer dads and lawyers find it in their hearts to choose another way of life?”

        Should they? Not everyone should be a lefty boho. After all someones got to interpret the law and stand for the accused, etc. And someone has to drive the kids to soccer practice…

        • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

          Depends on if you agree with the original gist of the story!

    • Ken

      I wrote like 5 different responses agreeing and disagreeing with parts your second paragraph. In the end, I came to the conclusion that I agree with you, but as a WASP(agan) it’s uncomfortable to oppose that privilege.
      Uncomfortable, but entirely necessary if we want all members to feel welcome.

  • http://www.celestinetarot.com/ Celestine Angel

    “But it does sometime seem like some of the Pagan rhetoric about privilege is unnecessarily condemnatory of the privileged. It is one thing to condemn the ignorance and injustice that privilege breeds, and another to condemn the privileged themselves. [...] ut not all privilege is the product of unethical conduct. Most privilege — like being white, male, and heterosexual — is an accident of birth.”

    I have a feeling you won’t hear this much on this post, so I want to say: Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      I have that feeling too. So, thank YOU!

  • 12StepWitch

    I’d lovingly submit that people pointing out your privilege, and even being harsh about it, is not the same as “denying beloved community”. Not even close.

    Being part of a community is not being part of a group where all your meets get met in full and at once. A community is a place where you have to compromise and sometimes make sure others get taken care of before you get taken care of in service of the greater good.

    Those of us with privilege (I count myself as one, being cis-gendered, heterosexual, white, upper middle class, able-bodied, possessing a college degree, etc) need to grow a thicker skin and not start crying the Pagan equivalent of “white woman’s tears” when these conversations start happening.

    Is it hard not to sometimes take the conversations about privilege personally? To feel like someone pointing out your privilege is an attack on your integrity? Sure. But the LEAST USEFUL thing we can do is start talking about how the deck is stacked against privileged people. Might there be prejudices inherent in the community against people with privilege? Sure. But if this is a community comprised mostly of people without privilege surely we can agree this is the least urgent matter to attend to.

    http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ899418.pdf

    Now, if we are talking about the less “heavy” matter of is there a bias in this community against “square” people…yes I see it. And it is stupid and annoying. The totally square witch wearing mom jeans and white sneakers probably has just as much to say as the polyamorous lesbian bellydancer…but guess who everyone ignores and guess who everyone flocks to. But on the other hand, how much can you blame people for being attracted to someone charismatic? It is just human nature. People like flash, and sizzle. I don’t even think it has so much to do with your LIFE CIRCUMSTANCES as it has to do with STYLE.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Your comments are received in the loving spirit in which they are offered. I agree that, in comparison this post and the issue it raises are a mere footnote to the larger issues of privilege in the Pagan community.

      (Man, I gotta get me some Pagan style!)

    • Libra_Lady

      Thank you for this. I rolled my eyes when I read this. All it did was confirm my habit to avoid White pagans because they stay pulling this Oppression Olympics ish (while exercising their aversive racism, “Have you thought of practicing an ATR instead of Wicca?”) while ignoring that there are pagans of color, queer pagans, trans pagans, non-able-bodied and aneuraltypical pagans who often get treated like outcasts WITHIN the pagan community. And that is ON TOP of the ish we have to go through EVERY DAMN DAY in this society.

      All I got to say about this boo-hooing over “privileged pagans” is boy, BYE!

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

        I don’t disagree with your premise. As I said above:

        “I’m not about to tell you that white males are the new “minority” or that this tiny amount of discomfort that I have felt is even in the same universe as what various minorities suffer on a daily basis. And I am not asking anyone to feel sorry for me because I’m privileged. And perhaps it is only right that I, multiply-privileged as I am, should feel just a little bit of what it’s like to be judged for who you are.”

        Having said that, I clicked on your name and it is interesting that nearly every comment you have made for months is expressing anger at white people or calling someone an idiot.

        • Libra_Lady

          *sigh* AND? Did you bother reading any of the CONTEXT of my replies or are you just mad that an uppity darkie gal is talking back to White folks online?

          I don’t have time for yet MORE White folks who want to engage me with their utterly non-nuanced, ninth-grade, sentimentalist, solipsistic, one dimensional critique of race and racism with “colorblindness,” “we all bleed red” or “there’s only one race-the human race” cliched, empty sloganeering. Do you at least have something DIFFERENT to hit me with? And please don’t let it be the tired, Black woman-hating, “Angry, Black bitch” label.

        • Libra_Lady

          If you’re actually serious. But careful, it’s written by a BLACK WOMAN!

          http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2014/02/4-ways-push-back-privilege/#null

  • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

    I appreciate you addressing the topic of privilege, as I’m categorically much like you, and I feel privilege should be addressed and acknowledged.

    Yet I worry when you allude to “some Pagans condemning someone for being white, male, straight, etc.” You generally cite your sources and link to relevant sources all over the place, yet there’s no citations or links for this.

    You seem to want to address “Pagan rhetoric about privilege [that is] unnecessarily condemnatory of the privileged” but you don’t point us to any example of this.

    Perhaps this is by design. Perhaps you don’t want to link to others because it would be like pointing a finger, picking a fight. I can respect that.

    However, it is problematic, because I’m left wondering if you are reacting to a straw man constructed by your own imagination, or if this is something real. Are you truly “othered” for your privilege, or are you just being oversensitive? Are you truly “denied beloved community” or is your “tiny amount of discomfort” simply chafing you disproportionately? In other words, is this just another artifact of your privilege showing through?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Yes, you’re right, I do generally link to the blogs I am talking about. I’m taking a page of Rhyd Wildermuth this time and not giving the links. I don’t want to start another flame war. But I think there are plenty of examples of this in the comments to previous posts on this blog and other blogs that I have commented on.

      But you raise a fair point. It is entirely possible that this is mostly in my imagination and another “artifact of privilege” (good phrase).

    • 12StepWitch

      I can back him up here—he was very recently named as an example of a Pagan with privilege in at least one example I can think of.

      On the other hand, as you can see from my comment below, I do think that those of us with privilege need to get used to the discomfort that having our privilege pointed out can cause.

      • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

        Aha. Well in that case, I have no doubt that John’s privilege has been noted; that’s a sign that he’s achieved a certain prominence with his writing, and he’s acknowledged this privilege himself, so that’s all good.

        I guess what I really meant to question, however clumsily, was whether the discomfort felt stemmed from actual ill-will or if it was simply a result of having that privilege pointed out.

        I think a real-life example might help, and plenty of Pagans should be able to relate to this. I’ve found that sometimes Christians have reacted to my non-Christianity as an affront, and insult, an attack on their religiosity. I’m pretty mild-mannered and polite, as a rule, but when I’ve called myself an atheist some Christians have expressed horror and wondered why I’m being belligerent and hostile. I believe that’s an artifact of privilege. They are so used to the idea of Christianity as a default value, an unqualified good, that anything which calls this into question offends their sensibilities.

        Another example is the ardent carnivore who experiences the unassuming vegan as a rebuke to his or her lifestyle. OK, there are some militant vegans out there, but in my experience even the non-militant get characterized as militant by the over-sensitive meat-eater. Call it carnivorous privilege.

        Privilege is generally invisible to those who have it, but that is changing. More and more of us are recognizing our privilege, and that’s a good thing. I applaud John in that regard. I think recognizing our privilege may help inoculate us against some of the undesirable effects of privilege such as the oversensitivity I’m talking about. But that doesn’t happen automatically and instantaneously. So I’m just urging John to attend his reactions carefully and be on guard against oversensitivity.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

          >”So I’m just urging John to attend his reactions carefully and be on guard against oversensitivity.”

          Excellent advice!

  • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

    This post is sparking a really constructive conversation in the comments. Kudos, John.

  • Rayna Noire

    Have you thought by simply you that you allow a more full vision of what being Pagan is. Hey, people need more than the Fox News representation. A gay friend once told me they always look for the drag queen with pink hair to interview about marriage unity so the “average” people can be horrified. It’s okay to have pink hair, but they chose to spotlight differences as opposed to similarities.

  • Kenneth Apple

    As societal privilege is stripped away from people like John and myself it becomes uncomfortable. It’s important to acknowledge this, it’s real. At the same time we have to keep in mind that this discomfort is not in any way equal to the actual discrimination and violence perpetrated against many groups. As Margaret Atwood said,
    “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
    A great post on this subject is:
    http://weeklysift.com/2012/09/10/the-distress-of-the-privileged/

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

      Loved it!


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