Hello, beautiful creatures. Today, I’d like to talk some more about the problem of racism in Pagan, polytheist, and occult communities.
Got your attention, did I? Good.
To be fair, I’m speaking here to the portion of my readership who happen to be white… which, let’s be honest, is most of you. The people of color reading this are exempted from most of what I’m about to say.
In case you haven’t seen it, there’s a blog post on Medium which has been making the rounds on Pagan-ish social media, Ashley Nicole Hunter’s “11 Pagan Habits That Need to Die.” I found it an interesting explication of a lot of the things about neo-Paganism I find intensely annoying, many of which seem to stem from the persistent problem Pagans have with balancing their values. In short, some Pagans take themselves too seriously, and don’t take their spiritual practices and values seriously enough. It’s why there are so many p-words who are lackadaisical about things like other people’s time and work, the environment, history, or—and I phrase this as delicately as I know how—personal hygiene and grooming.
This isn’t to say it’s a perfect article, mind you. A couple of Hunter’s points are a little weak and detract from her overall message, which I feel is both timely and, sadly, timeless. As ever, I encourage you to read it yourself and make up your own minds about it. I was initially thinking of responding to Hunter’s post point-by-point, but a couple of days after I read it, I saw Sarah Anne Lawless’ post on the Bane Folk Facebook page announcing her withdrawal from the Black Flame Montreal occult conference. As before, I encourage you to read her post (available here in a non-FB format) for the details. It’s also worth reading Black Flame Montreal’s response, deleted but captured here, and their follow-up announcement, in which they cancel the conference altogether.
I read Lawless’ post, and I thought back to my own posts about racism and white supremacy in Paganism. More specifically, I mulled over the reactions those posts engendered from self-styled “ethno-nationalists,” “proud advocates” for ethnicity-based Paganisms and polytheisms, and outright goddamn Nazis. I received abuse, outrage, and vague personal threats, and I know Lawless has been targeted even more overtly, and more viciously. Gee, I wonder why that is? I know part of it is that Lawless is much better known, but might some part of it be that she’s… you know… a woman? But I digress.
I’m here to suggest that Ashley Nicole Hunter’s list of Pagan bad habits, while amusing and largely true, suffers from the glaring omission of our communities’ real, real bad habit of racism.
Sometimes that racism is as overt as shaven-headed, tatted-up buff dudes wearing white supremacist insignias, spouting fascist buzzwords and white-supremacist dog-whistles, sure. Most of the time, though it’s the casual racism of “nice” white folks providing cover for other, not-so-nice white folks. It’s the easy racism of giving white folks the benefit of the doubt because “they’re our friends,” because “they’re good people,” because we know they don’t actually mean all that fascist ethno-nationalist rhetoric, it’s just a t-shirt or a patch or a tattoo sleeve, why are you so sensitive, ugh, you leftists always take things so seriously, you’re just projecting the negativity in your own hearts…
This is on us, white folks. This is our fault. Our communities are anti-black, anti-brown, anti-indigenous, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim—you know, racist—and we are doing far too little to break that habit.
“What?” you cry. “How can you say that? I’m not a racist! I… but… I…”
I know, I know. I often feel the same way, but please believe me when I say there’s no time for that kind of squishy white-person handwringing. There never has been. We say things like this as a way of distancing ourselves from the word “racism,” because we know that “being a racist” is A Very Bad Thing. The trouble is, we’re patently unwilling to actually do the work it would take to make our communities actively anti-racist, just like we’re unwilling to make our communities anti-fascist, and largely for the same reasons: we’re afraid of offending and upsetting people. We’re afraid of being the bad guys calling people out for their racist, fascist douchebaggery. We’re afraid of how that makes us look.
And, underneath that, I think we’re afraid of confronting the racism that lives in our own hearts. We’re afraid of discovering that, yes, we really are the racists we deny being.
At the risk of being a consummate downer here, I don’t know what else to tell you, white folks. We can deal with the sickness in our spirits, or we can live in thrall to it. We can acknowledge that we live in a culture which values whiteness above all things, or we can deny it. We can work to dismantle the power structures that privilege us, or we can benefit from them, fingers jammed into our ears the whole time to block out the voices of the oppressed and disenfranchised.
We can indeed do that. What we cannot do is turn around afterwards and claim to be one of the oppressed. Whatever your flavor of magic, there is no room within it for deception, self-deception least of all.
I’ve had a couple of people ask when I’ll stop writing about the problems of whiteness in Paganism, when I’ll just spend my time writing funny things about D&D, sexy things about queer sex magic, and snarky reviews of witchy media. Believe me, I’m just as tired of it as you are, and I’d much rather write about those things… but here we are. Since I’m sure those folks are just concerned for my emotional well-being, and not at all attempting to concern-troll me or shut me up, I’ll give the simplest and truest answer I can:
When I stop seeing occult conferences self-destruct rather than simply uninvite neo-Nazi presenters.
When I stop seeing Pagan conventions literally drive away Pagans of color rather than acknowledge the harm the convention’s culture has done.
When I stop hearing white folks make excuses for each other’s racist bullshit.
WHEN PAGANS STOP LETTING RACISTS AND FASCISTS HAVE AIR TIME.
So, hey, let’s do us all a favor and get on that, shall we?
There’s more to say on this subject, of course. There always is. That’s quite enough for the moment, though.
Until next time, dear ones. ♥