Being Black and Pagan isn't much different from being any other race and Pagan. I worship some of the same Gods, I have an incense collection that is slowly taking over my house, and I celebrate the seasonal Sabbats with the same abandon as others do. There are differences, though -- however minimal -- and I think they are worth taking a closer look at. Please keep in mind that this is just my experience; I'm sure that it's different for others.
As a minority in a minority religion, the most frequently asked question I get is "How can you be a Pagan, you're BLACK?!" This implies that my religion is defined by my race, an assumption that I hope no one really thinks is valid. While it is true that the vast majority of African-Americans are Christian, there are those of us who walk a different path. The call of the Gods is just as strong in us as it is in say, someone of Anglo-Saxon descent. Another assumption made is that if I am Pagan, then I must practice Vodoun and/or be pledged to the Orishas. If I am neither, then I must not respect my ancestors.
This argument more than any other frustrates me. It assumes that you can tell my racial makeup by the color of my skin, it assumes that I'm ashamed to be an African- American, and it assumes I have no honor whatsoever for the family that bore me. None of these is true. A person is Called into service by the Gods in my opinion, and you have no control over Who it might be or what you are drawn to. I've found that this particular argument goes both ways, as I have seen my white friends who follow the path of the Orishas disrespected for not "following their own people."
Some may be wondering if I have encountered any racism is my various travels as a Black Pagan. The answer is not as nearly cut and dry as I would like it to be. Blatant hardcore racism? No, not at all; if anything the comments I've run into more fall under the term "hipster racism" than anything else. I will say, however, that in my non-spiritual life I have rarely had any encounters with racism (a blessing), but I have had far more online and IN Pagan communities. The internet allows some anonymity in regards to race, but in face to face meetings this safety net of sorts is removed. I like to think that the comments are not made in true hatred, and truly I don't think they are. However, it is something I have to consistently worry about in my dealings with people. As a result I do very little networking with local Pagans, be it via our local Pagan pride days or frequent our local shops.
How does this tie into the Future of Paganism? I believe that we need to realize that the face of Paganism is constantly in flux. One shouldn't assume another's path or tradition by the color of their skin. We need to stop doing double takes when someone whom we think doesn't "look" Pagan shows up to circle, grove, or temple. If visible minorities within a minority religion are oppressed by their religious peers, how can the community grow positively and be healthy? I came to Paganism years ago because among other reasons it felt right. I believed (and still do) that one's race has nothing to do with how you worship. If I did, I probably would have never sought out Paganism to the degree that I have and my life would have been a lot less rich then it currently is. I would hate to think of the next generation of Pagans feeling unwelcome or scared for something they have no control over. My hope is that in the future there won't be a need for an article like this and that we as a religion won't bat an eyelash at minorities at our events. I'd love to be able to freely network face to face and swap thoughts/ideas as well as visit my local stores (one can never have too much incense) without the uncomfortable stares. I believe that there is a place for everyone in the myriad paths of Paganism. Blessings to you and yours.
K.W. is a Black Witch following a Celtic path. She resides in the wilds of NYC. When not at her day job, you can find her with her nose in a book, practicing Welsh or dancing madly to Bollywood soundtracks.
8/23/2010 4:00:00 AM