To Celebrate or Separate in Hate; I Choose the First

Discrimination is not a foreign concept.  It is one that many different types of people have experienced and often times have led to great violence and pain within the world.  It is not a concept that is likely to go away within human behavior and it is a quite complex concept that has become interwoven into the normal operation of society.  It is not ok and yet it is something we all experience and have done to others.

I am writing this in response to many things, not just the events at PantheaCon this year or last year.  I have watched discriminatory actions taken against others, have experienced them myself and have dished out my fair share onto others based on fears, ignorance, privilege and misinformation.  The events of PantheaCon have been a catalyst for me to talk about discrimination within the Pagan community though and not because I am taking a stance on the issues of transgendered inclusion in rituals.

Let me start with a little bit of history within my own family.  It is important and relevant to the position that I take in relation to how we judge one another and allow the masses to influence our ability to relate with the commonalities of the human struggle.

My family is from the South.  My mother migrated to California in her early adult years and so I am a native west coast woman.  My family walked around the land of the South in a time where Black people were not allowed to choose their own path and find acceptance within their greater community.  The lineage of my family showed how we forcibly mixed with the White race and had the hue of skin to show for it.  Due to the 

direct relationship with family members of the George C Wallace family, my Great Grandmother would be paraded on the back of white horses in the town parades.  She was too young to question why.  And while my family still lived the life of a Black family (discrimination and all) they had the status in our community that was given based on their much fairer shade of skin.

This type of concept has brought many different ideas about within the Black community and is often a contributor to the splitting dynamic between the lighter skinned and darker skinned.  It is that same concept of the house slaves and the field slaves; the way you were treated could depend on the closer a person was to looking Caucasian.  This divide and conquer tactic has been very damaging to Black people and continues to be a part of the culture of our race; the internalized hate we turn onto our own.  This has often been an experience I have had within my Black culture; proving that I am Black enough to hang with the others, even with my “high yellow” complexion.

Experiencing discrimination and alienation from your own can be more harmful than experiencing it from those you are already expecting it from.  This form of internalized racism or prejudice is a way to separate those who stand along side of us in our struggle and turning them into the focus.  Every community does it but when will we learn that this divides our power base and renders us less effective in the world?

I see this in the community I work in when kids fight over who is poorer or whose clothes are the dirtiest.  I see this in the Black community when we impose importance on the hue of the skin or the texture of “good” hair because it is less kinky.  In the Pagan community I see it when we attempt to polarize issues that are very complex and attempt to force our fellow spiritual family members into one mold or another.   We look to define ourselves by comparison of ideals that are often unfair to the others, to our community, to the issue or even to ourselves.

It is hard to watch people invalidate one another and use judgement to hurt those who stand along our sides.  We cannot stop discrimination by discriminating, and it does not make it better that the anger, fear, hurt and daggers are turned against ourselves.  It is more devastating in the end when we are looking for the community that we have worked so hard to create and realize that it is in the shambles of drama, hurt feelings and self created pain.

We judge one another in order to define who is Black enough, spiritual enough, Pagan enough or oppressed enough and we miss the mark on the true gift of our community.  The best gift that we can give is to love more, understand more, empathize more , show more, give more, listen more, connect more and even identify more with those who have experienced this here journey called life.

I don’t want to fight those whom I love.  I think it is imperative that we learn the lessons of growing as a community together and stop finding ways to create the divides that separate us from the power that is the Pagan community.  Regardless of where he or she was housed, a slave was still a slave whether cleaning in the home or the field.  Fighting against one another and projecting hate onto the other did not create a movement that ultimately changed the nation and released them.  It was progressive thought, a multitude of revolutionary actions and patience that ultimately supported a shift in culture and thought.

As it relates to Pantheacon directly, I hope we can look at the progress of change as an evolving concept that is not stagnant and predictable.  I want to see us look at the possibilities and believe that extending love and understanding will lead to love and understanding.  And quite the opposite is true as well; extending sharp words, rigid versions of right and wrong or drawing lines between those who are within our community will only lead to the same in return.

I do not know the answers alone but I believe the community can find them together in faith.  I do not want to fight those I worship with.  The real fight is outside of our doors, in a world where we do not have the equality that should be a birthright.  Let us stop dividing ourselves and fighting amongst those who we will later stand beside to brave the world with.

We are all Black enough, Pagan enough, Woman enough, Man enough and Spiritual enough to grow together in love.

  • Bellatrix

    Thank you for your words on this. It is heartbreaking to recall our families struggles and see that in today’s world, much of that still continues. I agree we need to get beyond this as a community and embrace all those who worship as Pagan. We are only as strong as we are united.

  • Kenaz Filan

    Thank you for your words of wisdom: I hope that we can get to a place of healing for everyone involved once the smoke clears.

    Something I noticed when I attended PCon years ago was the … shortage… of people of color.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but every person of color attending PCon could have fit easily into a room party with plenty of room left over for a band and a couple of belly dancers.  (I also remember the experience of one Mexican-American woman who was attending a suite party and was repeatedly mistaken for a maid… ).

    I find it interesting that we’re having a much-needed discussion about gender, but no one seems to have noticed that PCon – and the Pagan community in general  - is still overwhelmingly white and largely unwilling to discuss that whiteness.  Hopefully once we get past this brouhaha we can start working on that particular elephant in the living room.

    • Cara

      Can I hit the like button 5 more times?  What is it about our community o group of religions that, when persons of color take a look, causes them to walk away?

      • Kenaz Filan

        As meganhenrycht put it: 

        So I just am not drawn to any place or people that will treat me poorly.  It isn’t always my job to help them see the light.  We all eventually have to decide for ourselves to walk out from the shadow.

        There are, in my experience, a lot of well-meaning but clueless white people  in our community.  And it gets enervating being an unpaid counselor to folks who Just Don’t Get It.  I recently wrote about my experiences dealing with people who wanted to learn about African Diaspora traditions but were terrified they would actually have to engage with black people to do so in

  • Meganhenrycht

    This is a wonderful article.  I have been searching for black pagans or those who have chosen to fully step outside of all the main stream religions and there are many of us.  I am not surprised that hardly any of our people attend the various pagan conferences…I am not sure that we are really wanted in attendence.  When I search out our people who are practicing various African dieties, I am surprised at the numbes and very surprised at the fantastic practitioners…yogis, herbalists…all very accomplished but practicing in an Afrocentric fashion.  So these black practioners would not attend “white” pagan events, and they may not hear about them within their own very close circles.  And from what I’ve been reading about htem, I don’t think I”d subject myself to all the ignorance…I’ve got more important things to do, for myself and my people.  It seems to me that there is a dark energy that clouds these pagan gatherings and attracts similar energies.  So I just am not drawn to any place or people that will treat me poorly.  It isn’t always my job to help them see the light.  We all eventually have to decide for ourselves to walk out from the shadow.

  • Nici Johnson

    Thank you for speaking your truth, our truth, when others may shy away, or resist airing these issues. I have followed the sceneand news from PCon for years, but never personally gone myself.  After hearing about the exclusion that happened last year, I was disheartened and felt somewhat discouraged from attending this year.  However, after hearing from the many voices within our community that are ready to discuss and explore these issues wihtin our community, (Thorn Coyle, and yourself amongst many others), I feel much more encouraged to attend.  In fact, I think it’s high time more of our voices and faces were heard and seen, and I will make it a priority to go, and take my daughters along with me.  I heartily agree with what you said, “The best gift that we can give is to love more, understand more, empathize more , show more, give more, listen more, connect more and even identify more with those who have experienced this here journey called life.”  Well said and thanks again. 

  • Karinabheart

    Thank you so much for drawing clear connections between race, class and gender.  Pagan community has long discussed gender–and I am happy to see that conversation including all the myriad manifestations of of sexual natures–but topics of class and race are shrouded in silence.  We must discuss all the ways in which we dismiss or remain “blind” to exclusion, be it overt, covert or (worse) unnoticed.  Adding your blog to my feed.  Thank you, again.

    • Ruadhán J McElroy

      > –and I am happy to see that conversation including all the myriad
      > manifestations of of sexual natures–but topics of class and race are
      > shrouded in silence.

      I’ve noticed this, too.  I admit, I don’t bring up race cos I don’t want to look like the presumptuous white boy, but the classism is rampant, and it’s always bothered me.

      • Kenaz Filan

        I generally don’t like bringing up race either, for exactly the reason you mentioned.  But I’ve noticed, sadly, that white Pagans won’t hear comments about race from black people.  Not that they will argue with them, not that they will get defensive about them.  They Just Won’t Hear Them.  I wrote a blog post containing eight comments from Pagans of color describing their experiences – and got several responses from well-meaning white folks that explained why it is that most black people aren’t interested in Paganism. These responses didn’t even address any of the concerns listed by Pagans of color: it was as if those comments had never been made.  (I remember Pythia saying in an earlier blog that there’s a reason a white guy is one of the most famous anti-racism educators to white people.  Now I know that reason firsthand… )

        *sigh* The more I see crap like this, the more I think my decision to take a breather from writing about African Diaspora religions was the right one.

  • Rev. sonya miller

    It is good the discussions and conflicts have arisen at Panthea because this is what help us change things.  While I do not “go out” and seek “fighting” it is a naive “fluff bunny” who does not realize that brandishing the sword is sometimes necessary.  As pagan clergy I see it all the time, where would I be if everyone liked everything?  It takes someone pointing out things that are “outdated” or “biased” for things to change!  It is time for the Goddess movement to reconsider itself the days of bra burning and neo-feminism are not needed in this way anymore we need a NEW feminism and a NEW goddess movement….this is why we were originally called NEO pagans and what our faith is about…growth, creation, movement like life.

    As I read your posts, I love your refreshing honesty!  As  a Wiccan minister of a Church here in the Midsouth (deep bible belt) I have asked (being a northerner) why there are not more raced people in this area that are Pagan I know they are here.  It has taken me almost seven years to meet more than one !  In our temple we finally have a handful that are better representing the races of the world we live in…but I push harder.  Do you realize that even here the it is segregated due to choices?  I have met the African American or Kemetic Highpriestesses, and yes a few Hoodoo or Voodon and they also promote separateness and “hate toward whites”.

    It takes a concentrated patient effort on all fronts to tear these walls down, and extend hands of peace and friendship.  I pray as more openly come out and state their path like you do that this will slowly occur.  I pray more ministers seek out the other groves and covens and find and respect those other priestesses and make friends with them so that they see we are not Racist and they need not be either. 

    Here, where I live it can cause extreme isolation to be African American and not go to a Christian church and is more acceptable to be a drug dealer…and this is sad.  The pagans here are criciticized and have to be careful for if they are not extreme Kemetics or Hoodoo or Voudon then they are not accepted by their own.  Now that is some crap crappy!