“The Invisibility Cloak: Race and the Pagan”

The Black Witch wrote a post on the lack of people of color’s perspectives in pagan circles.

“…If you’re a minority in Paganism, it is very bright and clear that unless you’re a picture on the wall, you’re probably not going to get represented in any well-rounded way and shouldn’t expect it. The common face of Paganism is White and suburban and the current expressions of it are very well rooted in White culture and most of White hegemony. For many minority Pagans, that means dealing with being thrusted into White culture whether they like it or not – or just study alone and remember that the author doesn’t mean it but they probably assume you’re White.

Just because someone is part of a different religion doesn’t mean they’re potentially any less of a douche in the race and culture department. Thanks to the invisible knapsack of White privilege, it throws an invisibility cloak over minorities. To keep from going too broad, I’m going to focus primarily on the Black Pagan issues as different minorities have different issues depending on how White culture decided to shape them in the eyes of the public and mental landscape of society. You see, I’ve learned through experience and hearing the experiences of others that Pagans love rooting for the underdog – I mean, we are one so it makes sense right? So stories of things happening to minorities anywhere in the world is terrible and tear jerking, right? Even issues that happen in their own home country such as America or the UK, there is an “Oh, some people are awful” kind of reaction. Y’know, as if racism exists in a vacuum and only shows itself when a lynching occurs and stuff like that. As long as there’s no voice from the side of the minority, it’s a one-sided show that can sometimes turn into a near circle jerk of “Well, we’re Pagans! We’re better than that. Those Christians! How dare they! Another sordid testament to the religion itself. What meanies. We would never act like that, the Goddess says love all!”

Let the minority open its mouth, even criticize Pagans and their shortcomings in the culture department and watch that cooing and sympathy drop quick. All of a sudden, it’s “We’re being attacked” and rationalizing ahoy. Talk about some of the humanitarian issues in this nation and how it disproportionally affects minorities and the working class, they’ll claim it’s from not doing enough hard work – this is America, after all. (Yeah, how that occupying working out for you?) Mention words like “institutional racism”, “tokenization” and “privilege” and up come the defenses. I’ve dealt with a stunning variety of Pagan women or Pagan men who thought they don’t benefit at allfrom any form of institutional anything and definitely not privilege because they’re Pagan, bigotry only benefits you if you’re Christian and Christian only. That, as Pagans, they’ve dealt with all sorts of historical bigotry that my race could not fathom such as the Burning Times, the Salem Witch Trials and the loss of some useful occult texts. Yup. I totes wouldn’t know – or maybe I would since I am Pagan. Though, I have never gotten a Walking While Pagan so maybe the jury is out on that one….”

4 thoughts on ““The Invisibility Cloak: Race and the Pagan”

  1. Hmmm, I am sure I am going to catch flak for this, but here goes.

    Is it possible, that it is the writer’s own perspective that alters their understanding of the situation? In my experience, most pagans are color blind. They don’t see race. As for why most Paganism is “White” this is mainly because Paganism comes from the European traditions, mythologies, and practices, but truly enough I have seen Gods, Goddesses, rituals, spirits, and so forth from every part of the world in paganism.

    The author you quoted made a big deal about institutional racism. I wonder if they are not biased, seeing racism at every turn, even when it is not there. I would wonder if the author would be saying the same thing if Paganism drew more from say Hispanic roots rather than European roots. Certainly, seeing an open invitation to participate in the various groups’ pagan cultures as an attempt to “force them into White culture” strikes me as having not an open mind, but a hostile one. To my knowledge, most Pagans invoke a god and goddess, who have no race. Those who invoke individual gods and goddesses do not do so out of a sense of race, but heritage or personal connection.

    It is hard to reach out to someone who sees an open hand as only a threat.

    I do not seek to belittle the hardships of minority pagans. But all pagans face hardships, regardless of our skin color. Is it not better to put aside issues of race? Some of my fellow heathens are “tribalists” and often get called racists, because certain people see them and ask “Am I not good enough because of my skin” when the reality of it would be the “tribalists” who sometimes question others seeking to join asking “Why, all being being equal, are your ancestral gods not good enough for you?” Getting hung up over the racial issue helps no one. I ask that they be put aside, and I would hope that the author you quoted would see with eyes unclouded by hate.

    People looking for racism will find racism, even when racism isn’t there. Do not look for racism. Look for fellowship.

    1. Yes, you will get flak, but I will respectfully give it to you.

      First, of all I will admit that I am biased due to my own experiences, but you are biased as well since you suggest that whiteness is the default. Your “colorblind” viewpoint is dismissive and erases people of color’s specific perspectives, experiences and histories. You are implying that our experiences do not count and yours does. For example, you say pagan comes from European traditions. Yes, pagan traditions in Europe exist, but as you said yourself, paganism exist everywhere. Pagan means any religious or spiritual system that is not one of the monotheistic religions like Christianity, Judaism or Islam. That includes a variety of religions from all over the world from Wicca to Shamanism to Egyptian mythology to Voodoo (or Vodou) to Shinto to Hinduism. All of these systems have various practices that include root conjuring, trance, spells, polytheistic worship, rituals, etc. Paganism did not start in Europe, but has been part of all types of cultures since humans beings started culture.

      I know pagans receive discrimination, but that does not give you a right to be dismissive of other ways people are discriminated against. Racism is real; I and people who look like me and who are part of my culture have to deal with on a daily basis being told we are inferior, incapable, evil and ugly based on how we look naturally and anything associated with people who look like us. If you really want to be inclusive and want everyone to “get along” be aware of other people’s cultures, traditions, experiences and viewpoints. That is how you earn others’ respect and will not be so quickly attacked. We may all be connected, but we all have different experiences of how we live in this world. For starters, look at the African American Wiccan society: http://www.aawiccan.org/site/welcome.html

      But thank you for commenting.

      1. As respect was given, so it is returned.

        I didn’t say that “whiteness” is the “default.” I said that in Paganism, European Pagan traditions were a Primary source, since much of Paganism in the West is by “European” descended people looking in various ways and degrees to the practices of their ancestors. However, it is not the default source nor is it the default setting. I am well aware that any non-Monotheistic religion is Pagan, and that they span the globe. I said as much. However, you were speaking of “White” Pagans, who thus draw primarily from the European and Mediterranean traditions. No where in that is it that “White” is the default. Just that is is a primary source. I’m sure that in branches of Paganism dedicated to say the African Originating Paganism, you will find that African traditions are the Primary source. Same for Hindu Paganism. Etc

        I was not dismissing the way other people are discriminated against. I am well aware of the discrimination that happens to others. I am well aware of the discrimination directed towards me as well. However, what I did say is that if you go looking for hate and discrimination, you will find it, even when it isn’t there. You looked at my comment and you saw racism because my “colorblindness” saw the “Whiteness as default.” You did not consider that I was in fact being truly colorblind, because of the color of my skin. I am white, ergo, I must see “whiteness” as the default and thus even my being colorblind is color-biased. This is not so. when I say I am color blind, I am truly color blind.

        Yes, you will find “White” culture in Paganism. But just because there is “White culture” doesn’t mean that it seeks to suppress or deny the cultures of others. In my experience, Pagans, regardless of if their skin is “white” as a rule are open and inviting. They welcome people to their table. If Pagans of “color” are finding racism in this open invitation, then I would recommend they examine themselves first, and look to see if they are not casting illusions of racism where they don’t exist.

        Racism exists. It’s horrible. I respectfully ask that you not go proclaiming there is racism in Pagan circles simply because you find “white people” doing “white things” in there. Your gods are as welcome as everyone else, as are you. There is no slight upon your culture, your ways, or yourself. Please, do not see insults where there are none.

        Your article mentions “rationalizing” as soon as people point out the “short comings” in Paganism. That is because people who are not racist, and who are not being racist, suddenly find themselves being called racists. What else would you expect, but defensive and even hostile actions. It gives grave insult to people who seek only to be hospitable.

  2. Suuup, Black Witch here. I love these discussions, nice to know my writings get around.

    Alright, Lucius, it seems you’ve gotten yourself in such a quagmire, it’s practically fitting to nickname you Bush. So lets work this out because I have the feeling that we could comment and clog up this nice person’s blog and you still might not get it. I’ve got some time to kill thanks to a busted knee but if you want to go all out, please email me so this girl doesn’t have her comment section bloated with back and forth. Before I begin, though, I would like for you to try out Racialious, Angry Asian Man and other sites that look at race and culture so you’ll have some grounding besides what you think you see.

    Alright, you say that Whiteness is not the default but say that European traditions were a primary (not capitalized since it is the start of all things and even then that’s a stretch) of Paganism in the West – that’s Whiteness being the default. Think about it, if no one puts a racially defining adjective before words like “Pagan”, “American” or “person”, that person is assumed to be White – the norm, meaning default. Then you have to wonder why then is non-European beliefs such as Egyptian or even the monotheistic beliefs such as Christianity fall to Whitewashing (I doubt Christ is a White brunette for a Middle Eastern dude). Whiteness is the norm, which is kept afloat through racial privilege and being willfully blind helps that going because frankly, our cultures are going to be different and usually only one culture likes to be on top and that culture is usually White, middle class (or up) and very Western.

    White culture is in Paganism thanks to Whitewashing, cultural byproduct of past colonialism, privilege and pretty much snatching whatever culture possible but prefer to leave the people of it behind. It may not actively seek to oppress others but kinda in the same way someone with a bad temper doesn’t mean to really hurt people, it just happens. Privilege can do a lot of damage because it leads to suppression which still goes on today. I have had countless Black Pagans tell me about their experiences and how their race affected others to treat them differently by either bringing up race issues they didn’t feel comfy with (“Why do Black people [insert nonsense this person saw on tv here]”, being treated like criminals or assumed to be one, cringe when people would use fake slang which imitated the poor areas in the hood or simply have their culture joked about. There’s no paper bag rule in Paganism but the race divide will show itself through the cultures. I know it can be a headache for me because here’s what my White Pagan friends don’t see: Cultural misappropriation (Isis shouldn’t be White. Ever.), people who talk about my culture or the cultures of my family or friends like it’s an exotic specimen to either be examined to pieces or gawked at, folks who think it’s perfectly okay to not learn my culture and how theirs doesn’t always benefit mine and the glaring fact that my culture is not going to be shown here unless I want to have the race talk where it feels like chatting to a wall or to a child. Privilege makes sure you never feel that. Kinda like being a Christian, they think us Pagans whine an awful lot, I mean, it’s not like we’re getting burned at the stake anymore. Or having Bibles thrown at us, or our holidays not recognized or not allowed to pray our prayers in school or things like that. We’re all happy here, some people just like making mountains out of molehills.

    You respectfully ask not to shout racism, I’m going to waive that: There’s racism in Paganism, get over it. We’re not the land of milk and honey, dude. Ignoring it doesn’t work. Why the hell would you say racism exist but then say “please don’t say racism happens here”? You seem to have a poor understanding of how racism works and how subversive it is. Think of it like a cockroach, very hard to kill and just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Because we’re still part of the same American/Western culture, some of that good ol’ American/Western bullsh*t is going to seep into our Pagan culture. Again, though I doubt you’re going to do it, check out Racialicious for at least two weeks. Just read and read and try to understand because your rationalizing is super apparent because Aker is more on point than you.

    You’re catching flack because you’re in a topic you don’t really know that much about, if at all. And it isn’t flack, it’s someone trying to explain the shortcomings in your argument due to not knowing a lot of what you’re talking about. I know what flack looks like, this isn’t it.

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