Sometimes, especially lately, I have felt like I am talking about being Black all the damn time. On a normal day, I don’t wake up in the morning, reference my Black experience, talk about systemic or historical oppression. Instead I get up, and am in the rush of being a mother, wife, social worker, staff on school site, Master’s level college student, and human being; If I am lucky, I even get to eat and sleep.
Yet I realize, more than some, that when I wake up every morning, I am a Black woman navigating the society around me and I don’t forget that fact, even if others do. And that is a part of the experience of being a Witch of color within Paganism. African American Pagans are spread pretty thin and so I might be the only one in that moment to give a reflection of the ethnic experience from a authentic place of self. And so I find myself speaking out more about my ethnic culture in Pagan forums because there isn’t many others to share that load. Finding Pagans of color who are out of the broom closet, willing to engage in the misconceptions and ignorance on the internet, or interested in this level of community is not as easy to do, mostly because there are just less of us in the grand scheme of things.
And so I find that I am often Black first in my community interactions, even if that is not my normal approach to life. I have met people who knew me online first and assumed I was a Black militant, which is far from truth.
Which leads me to think about where that line is. When do people of color get to just be people who have a distinct culture and still thrive in society? Thriving in society can often mean ignoring the ignorance, racism, symbolic oppression and biases happening around us. I don’t want to do that either.
There is an unspoken understanding within many communities, the Pagan community is no different, that we should be blind to our differences and only open about our sameness. It is one of the reasons that rampant quoting of being “color blind” finds it’s way into circles, thinking it is a supportive gesture to not see the ethnicity in others. That topic is a can of worms to be opened in another article, but it is important to reflect here that everyone should be able to have their ethnic culture, still be included as community, not be confined by others limited understanding of ethnic cultures and not be judged by it either.
So the balance I find myself teetering between is being the person who ignores the culturally un-empathetic things happening around me, or I speak up and become the one that always talks about my Blackness. I once had a coven member accuse me of always pushing in their face that I am Black, and she said, “I can see”. She said it like I was being a victim, and yet I do not feel like a victim at all. And while I thought about it later, I could never seem to understand what the problem was that she (or others) saw me as Black, because I am. I shouldn’t have to “push” my ethnic culture into someone’s face in order for them to notice who I am. I don’t know why me being Black, or her being aware that I was Black made her uncomfortable, but nonetheless…. I am what I am.
There is this concept of knowing how to interact with our surroundings that has always been a part of the conditioning of a child. It reminds me of a part in the movie The Matrix, you know the one with the spoon?
Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.
You see, the fluidity of life, of nature, of the human spirit depends on our ability to weave and curve around the changes in the environment. The “spoon” doesn’t bend, but the more we are in line with our individual and collective higher mission, the more we are able to accommodate the elements that we are confronted with. That is what I am trying to remember in my life.
Like the curls of my hair, I have always had to perfect the art of twisting and turning to work within the reality in that very moment, it is the way of my people to have that skill as a part of our culture. We call it code switching in these parts, and what it really has been is a means of survival and adaptation.
And so I am learning to accept that there is no line, just like there is no spoon. The line moves, my life will look different in different moments, the needs of my environment will change, and I too will change. The idea that I am free to be who I am, where I am is refreshing. I can be mom at home, I can be coven mate in circle, and I can be the activist in community. All are welcome in the process of actualization, and I am free to be who I am, even if it is “in someone’s face”. My Blackness will always be in someone’s face if their eyes are open to look.