Racism Cannot Be Tolerated

Some things simply cannot be tolerated. Some behaviors are so harmful to individuals and to society as a whole that they cannot be permitted. We have an on-going debate about just what is and isn’t on this list, but the universal condemnation of murder (to give what I hope is a ridiculous example) clearly shows that such a list exists.

Likewise, some ideologies are so harmful to individuals and to our communities that they cannot be tolerated. Racism is at the top of that list. The many ways it has been and remains harmful are too long to list, but they include genocide, slavery, and the systematic abuse and impoverishment of whole groups of people based on the fact that they Aren’t Like Us. Whether you define race by genetics or culture or both, the idea that some races are better than others or that some races shouldn’t mix with others is harmful to our society and to individual people.

Separation and superiority are two sides of the same coin. Pick which ever one you like – you’ll end up with the other one too.

We cannot tolerate racism, but we can talk about it. We need to talk about it, study it, and understand it, so we can do a more effective job dismantling it. But we cannot advocate for it, nor can we tolerate those who do.

Heathenry has a problem with racism. I know plenty of good Heathens and I’ve read a fair amount of Heathen material. I do not believe Heathenry or any of the Northern traditions are inherently racist. But many racists have found a home in Heathenry. Some of them are obvious about it, while others are more subtle. Racism has no place in a virtuous and healthy religion. Most Heathens understand this (or at least, the vast majority of those I know and know of understand it) and are working to eliminate it, to various degrees.

Some, though, prefer to ignore it. Perhaps it isn’t very important to them. Perhaps they sympathize with racist views. Perhaps they simply don’t want to rock the boat and risk losing the support of racists in their communities.

Steven T. Abell is the Steersman of the Troth, a Heathen organization, and an occasional contributor to the Agora blog here on Patheos. He had not posted anything in almost four months, but yesterday he wrote this piece attacking Ryan Smith of Heathens United Against Racism. He called Smith’s anti-racist efforts “witch hunts, show trials, and guilt-by-association.” He went into mocking detail to describe all the ways Smith and HUAR are – in Abell’s opinion – harmful to the future of Heathenry.

Yet when it came to Stephen A. McNallen of the Asatru Folk Assembly, who recently longed for the days when paramilitary Nazi vigilantes kept so-called undesirables under control, Abell simply said “Steve McNallen and I disagree firmly on certain topics.” There wasn’t even a hint as to what those topics might be – for all I know they firmly disagree on the proper serving temperature for ale vs. lager.

Let’s be clear about McNallen. He’s not your kindly old grandfather who just doesn’t get why he can’t tell racist jokes any more. He’s not a victim of corporate greed who’s been fooled into blaming it on immigrants, Muslims, and liberals. Stephen A. McNallen a very intelligent, very well-educated, very articulate person who has the ability to take vile ideologies like racism, remove the visible hatred while leaving the xenophobic core, and present them to unsuspecting beginners who just want to explore their Norse and Germanic heritage or who feel the call of the Aesir and Vanir and are looking for a community. McNallen doesn’t look or sound like a klansman, which only makes him that much more insidious.

Let me be really clear about something else: “folkishness” is just racism dressed up in nice clothes. It’s the idea that certain spiritualities are transmitted from generation to generation not through culture (which is obviously true) but through “blood and soil.” It claims that only people with the “proper” racial makeup can worship certain Gods (the fact that Gods occasionally call people from other races seems completely lost on them). It encourages its followers not just to have pride in their heritage (which is a good thing) but to favor their own race over all others and to work to maintain its purity (which never ends well).

I’m proud of my Southern heritage, even with all the baggage that comes with it. I’ve called for Pagans and others to start building a deep relationship with the land and the spirits of the land where they are. But for anyone in North America who isn’t a member of a Native American tribe to espouse “blood and soil” is lunacy. We haven’t been here long enough, we’ve moved around too much, and we’ve intermingled too much. We’re not purebloods and that’s a good thing.

No one is calling for Stephen McNallen to be executed or imprisoned for promoting racist ideology. No one is calling for him to be deprived of employment, denied housing, or refused service in public accommodations. He’s free to be a racist. But his ideology is harmful to individuals, to Heathenry, and to the entire Pagan movement(1) – it cannot be tolerated.

It can’t be eliminated (not immediately, anyway) but it can be identified and quarantined like the virus it is.

So, when Steven T. Abell attacks anti-racist efforts in Heathenry but says “Steve [McNallen] and I talk now and then. It angers some to learn that these talks are not acrimonious” he makes his position very clear: he’s perfectly willing to tolerate racism.

And I can’t tolerate that.

It annoys me when people say “Patheos shouldn’t have published this.” Patheos didn’t publish this essay. Patheos hosts blogs and the content of blogs are the responsibility of the blog writers. Unless material is libelous or in violation of copyright laws, neither the Pagan Channel editor nor Patheos management ever edits for content. As a blogger who wants to say exactly what I want to say, I support this arrangement.

During my three years here I’ve found myself defending unpopular bloggers and blog posts from those who want them shut down. I’ve defended bloggers’ rights even as I’ve written scathing rebuttals to offensive posts. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (1856 – 1941), the remedy for offensive speech is more speech. I do not call for Stephen McNallen or Steven Abell to be forcibly silenced.

But the ideologies they are promoting are harmful to individuals, to Heathenry, to the Pagan movement, and to society at large, and they are at odds with the goals of Patheos. I believe neither Patheos senior management nor the overwhelming majority of Patheos bloggers want to give a platform to racist ideologies or their apologists – nor do I.

Therefore, for the first time I am calling for a blogger to be removed from Patheos. Let Abell post his attacks on those trying to clean up Heathenry somewhere else.

Racism is toxic to our religions and to our wider society. It cannot be tolerated.

Desert - Big Bend National Park - 2010 - 2

(1) Many Heathens do not consider themselves to be Pagans. For the purposes of this discussion, what matters most is that newcomers frequently don’t know the difference. Heathens may not be Pagans, but what happens in Heathenry has an effect on the entire Pagan movement.

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