Paganism in Full Color

Paganism in Full Color March 31, 2015

“It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate.” – James Arthur Baldwin.

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The only thing that is truly colorblind is my love.  My love for people has pushed me to explore that I cannot completely understand the experiences of others, but I do understand that others look, feel, think and live differently than I do. Why is this so challenging to understand or for people to extend this courtesy to others?

I often become more disheartened when I see or hear this in society, and then even more confused when I see it in the Wiccan or Pagan community.  For a spiritual path that often has to fight for the rights that others have, why do we find it acceptable to take the one reality perspective to the point of unfairly generalizing, whitewashing or prejudging others?

I ask myself these kinds of questions when I read comments from others that are one sided, jaded and laced with misconception and privileged biases.  I see the world judging everything around it to assess value and importance, and then I sometimes see us replicating this pattern within our own microcosm of the macro-society. I often feel like I am judged on both sides of my life, being a Pagan and then living in the world as a Black woman; these are two marginalized factions within greater society yet one does not really understand the other.

I have noticed a pattern in our community. We would rather ignore our distinct differences as a means to pretend that we are not doing this. We cannot judge if we do not see differences and we assume that all experiences are the same.

I find myself contemplating very important questions about what it takes to have a diverse Pagan community that can co-exist among our own layered intricacies of existence. Is this a possibility? I don’t know, and yet I hope that it is.

The ideal of diversity is not to be in a society that all looks the same.  We sometimes see this conflict when people talk about eradicating racism and think that the way to do this is to remove “labels”.  If we remove labels then everyone goes in a category that looks the same, right? No.

While I feel like this thought initially comes from a good place, I find it to be passively harmful and advocating for a place where my history, ancestry, culture and beliefs have to be null in void in order to be in a society that treats me the same as others.  I equate it to telling a woman that she has to rid herself of the label of woman in order to be treated with the same respect as men.  And just like my gender is not a label, neither is my culture or ethnicity.

This is equivalent to a creeping form of respectability politics…… remove the labels so that we can pretend that there are no differences in society and I do not have to pay attention to the varying levels of inequity that you face. And if we can do that, you can present yourself in a way that is comfortable to me, and we can then find a way to respect one another in our sameness.

There are many things in my upbringing that are directly rooted in the path and history of my ancestors.  My mother would talk about the value of creating family, making those around you a place in your heart.  I grew up this way and I was very comfortable with the idea that my aunts and uncles were not of blood but a kinship family that was just as important as anything else.  I later came to understand that this view was rooted in my culture.  A culture that comes from the depths of slavery, to the lands of the South and through the conditioning of a culture of people who were without family and had to learn how to create it with those you otherwise would not know.  We were a people that were displaced and had to learn to grow where we were planted.  We used resources that were accessible to us, despite the conditions one might be found in.  This cultural ideal that Black people are a family and we can create family with those who share a common struggle was one that helped me to understand myself, my mother, my ancestors and the importance of knowing my own history.  It helps me to know myself.

You see, every moment that we ignore the cultural nuances of one another, or whitewash them into the land of sameness, we are actively designing the culture of our community that will outlast us.

Culture is a living and breathing snapshot of experiences that lead to a way of life and a shared understanding.  It is everything and nothing all at once.  A label is a word, culture is foundation.  We should not ignore that within one another otherwise we are refusing to see what is right in front of us.

6235421713_a6a6d948e5_bWhat I would like to see is a continued conversation about how we can evolve as a community, allowing for a dialog that includes the intersectionality of Paganism, culture, language, relationships and community. A way to discuss the differences within our stories and the beauty that is a natural part of our togetherness. We are not a colorblind people, we are not void of the ability to see one another’s lovely shades of difference. We are not all the same, and we do not experience the same things.

If we are to be a real community, we must work towards an understanding that our individual puzzle pieces are just as important as the piece someone is holding next to me. We must wrap our collective community minds around the understanding of societal and cultural capital, and that we bring those things with us that are valuable within our individual cultures. Together we put our pieces side by side to create the big picture, and each piece holds a different part of what we are creating.

The only thing that is truly colorblind is my love; the rest of me is standing in living color, right in front of you. Please do not erase me so that you can feel more comfortable with who I am, and with who you are.

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