A Dollop of Analysis: Further Observations on Racism and White Fragility

A Dollop of Analysis: Further Observations on Racism and White Fragility July 15, 2019

Hello, beautiful creatures.

For the past couple of posts, I’ve ended by promising that I’d revert to my usual firebreathing, anger-inducing ways, and utterly failed to do so. Today, I’m making good on that promise. (You’re welcome…?)

A little while back, I wrote a post titled “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Pagan,” which is a play on the title of Milan Kundera’s 1984 novel, and is what passes for cleverness around these parts. Like any good post-academia writer, I even gave it a fancy-sounding subtitle, “Some Observations on White Fragility in Esoteric Spiritual Movements,” which sums up the gist of the post pretty adequately. Basically, I suggested that modern Western esoteric traditions as practiced in the U.S. are suffering from a white Protestant Christian hangover which results in them being pretty dang racist. I knew that, in writing this piece, I was saying some things that white Pagans, polytheists, and occultists might have some difficulty hearing—after all, white people have a really, really hard time talking about racism, or even in letting other people talk about it—but I honestly didn’t think what I’d written was that incendiary.

Hoo, boy, was I ever wrong.

It’s not often I can be accused of naïveté, but dear reader, never has the abyssal depth of my Pollyanna-ish disposition been as thoroughly demonstrated as in the days following the publication of that piece. While plenty of folks responded positively, even enthusiastically, to what I’d written, there was a significant and loud contingent of white folks from all around the Internet who came a’rushing to my combox, my inbox, my Facebook page, and every single social media share of that piece to register their displeasure with what I’d written.

What I found curious about those displeased responses wasn’t their content, most of which was the usual sort of rancid mayonnaise one gets from people who think “I’m not racist, I just think that…” is the beginning to any sort of valid argument.

And, I mean, I normally love me some mayonnaise, but… ick. (Photo by Sara Cervera on Unsplash.)
They were curious because they so clearly demonstrated the kind of poor critical thinking skills at work in certain sectors of the p-word community. Some people accused me of hating white people, which is patently unfair; after all, some of my best friends are white. Some accused me of being a virtue signalling, spiritually bankrupt race traitor, which is sort of a judgment call. Some were angry that I was writing about racism at all, and accused me of identity politics, playing the race card, and all the other bullshit jargon people use to derail a conversation, none of which is worth dignifying with a response. Some even accused me of hating Paganism, which… you know what? Ask me again after I’ve had a cup of coffee.

But not a single one of these self-appointed defenders of the white race refuted the central point of the piece, that the core of many Pagans’ belief systems isn’t Paganism, polytheism, witchcraft, or magic, but whiteness. Point of fact, they kinda proved it again and again, rushing in to defend whiteness, to defend their right to be racist. Of course, it wasn’t always phrased that way. Sometimes it was couched in terms of “practicing our traditional ways,” or “like prefers to be with like,” or questioning the legitimacy of my own practice, presumably as a means of dismissing the point without ever actually engaging with it. What was most interesting to me about this wasn’t the creepy racism of the white ethno-nationalists in the comments section, nor the banal racism of the white middle-class liberals. It was how little difference there is between the two.

So little difference, in fact, that one might be excused for thinking they’re basically the same.

Now, here’s the thing: I’m not going to sit here as a white person raised in the late 20th century and claim I don’t have racism and racist ideas embedded in my psychological matrix or my cultural upbringing. Not only would that be a big ol’ lie, it would be disingenuous as hell. So, when I’m pointing out the tendency amongst white Pagans and polytheists to privilege whiteness above all else, I’m not excluding myself from that analysis. I’m a white American in 2019; ergo, I have a hell of a lot of privilege, and a hell of a lot of responsibility. I can cower in a corner, whimpering about “white genocide” and “preserving traditional ways,” pretending that I’m under attack and using that pretense to justify atrocities… or I can try to use my privilege—which, after all, is really just another way of saying “power”—to make things better for everyone in our community, especially those who have less power than me.

I choose the latter. I choose to try to do better, to be better, and to make the communities of which I’m a part better. Imperfectly, of course, with stumbles and screw-ups all along the way, but still doing the work, because if the modern Pagan and polytheist communities—and all the various traditions, paths, schools, lineages, philosophies, religions, and social groups of which they’re comprised—aren’t willing to do the work of being truly inclusive of all races and ethnicities, they’re not worth the breath it takes to repudiate them. (Of course, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t cheerfully spend some breath repudiating them, just that it’d be more than they deserve.)

And, of course, this doesn’t only apply to races and ethnicities; gender, sexual orientation, ability, neurodivergence, and other areas of marginalization are also worth considering, and it’s long past time we had a heart-to-heart about them. Tune in next time—and that right soon—when I’ll have some observations about how the p-word communities deal with their own unexamined biases and attitudes of exclusion, and how we might go about being better… assuming we want to be, that is.

Until then, dear ones, be the better people you want to see in the world. ♥

P.S.: If you’re ginning up to leave me a nastygram about how much I hate white people, be advised that your comment will be saved in perpetuity, then removed from view, mocked publicly, and/or reported to the appropriate authorities, as circumstances dictate. Write accordingly!

About Misha Magdalene
Misha Magdalene (Seattle) is a multi-classed, multi-geek, multi-queer witch and sorcerer with a degree in gender studies and a slightly odd sense of humor. They're an initiate of multiple lines of traditional witchcraft, including Anderson Feri and Gardnerian Wicca, and have also been known to dabble recklessly in both modern ceremonial magic and grimoiric goetia. They've been blogging since 2001, negotiating the online world since 1987, playing Dungeons & Dragons since 1981, and listening to weird music since birth. They live on occupied Duwamish territory in the Pacific Northwest with their polymath partner, their precocious daughter, far too much coffee-making apparatus, and a long-suffering bamboo plant named Smitty. You can find them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and their very own website, or lurking somewhere around the Seattle area, usually hiding behind a cup of coffee. You can read more about the author here.

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