Racism and Cultural Preservation in Modern Paganism

As I sit here NOT heading up to the Stella Natura festival this weekend, it seems a good time to explore my own thoughts about racism, and the prominent place it still apparently holds in the ancestral traditions I value.

If you are involved in the Neo-Pagan movement you likely have seen this post, by Morpheus Ravenna, “Whose Ancestors”? 

I won’t rehash the entire conversation, you can follow the dialog on Morpheus’ blog, but one thing that gave me pause was the issue of cultural appropriation.

A quick summary of my thought process is represented well in one of the comments:

2) The notion that we have access to other religious traditions because of common human heritage is one that is used to justify cultural appropriation. I don’t think that’s what you were suggesting or implying, but it’s important to consider. We don’t think twice about the Lakota refusing to share their religion with an outsider. Should the Asatru have different expectations? – Chirous

Yes, I thought. This sums up my own hesitations nicely.

I have been on the other side of the cultural appropriation issue, wherein an accusation that I was appropriating another’s culture led me to believe that I should stick with my “own” Gods.  A woman in an online forum, who claimed Hindu lineage, stated that I couldn’t possibly know the Goddess Kali, ignorant white person that I was. This person had never met me in person and made this judgement knowing nothing about my practices. She was extremely dismissive and it was quite hurtful.

My response was that the Gods call who they call, and she should take it up with Kali. But still. It affected me deeply. I spoke of the incident to another friend, and his response was, why don’t I work with the Celtic equivalent of Kali. (Because I don’t see the Gods as interchangeable, that’s why).

Eventually my work with Kali dropped off. I came to believe that it was more appropriate to work with the Gods of my own ethnic heritage. That perhaps this woman was right, how could I ever think I could really know Kali. It is only recently that I have been realizing what a loss this has been.

So I had to wade through some emotions around this. Since this incident, I have been holding to a “culture and religion evolve out of the folk-soul of a people” worldview. Which is scarily similar to what the AFA says on their website.  Now, of course, the folk-soul of a people is not necessarily genetic. But still. I had to think about this. If I was so willing to accept that I couldn’t possibly truly understand the traditions of another’s culture, can I so quickly say that another could understand the traditions of mine?

Another thing that was bothering me is the “Universalist” piece. Some folks are very concerned that our “We are all One” stance is going to lead us to a homogenized monoculture. This is a fair argument, and one that concerns me as well.

Thankfully, Wayland Skallagrimmson addresses this very skillfully here:


In a nutshell he speaks of three basic categories of Heathen: the Folkish, who take the stance that only those of Norse or Germanic descent can practice Asatru; Universalists, who posit that anyone who has an affinity with Norse deities can practice Asatru, and Tribalists, who take a middle road:

” The members of the middle faction of modern Asatru are called Tribalists, and shun the errors of either extreme. The racism of Folkish practice is avoided as well as the “anything goes” motto of the Universalists. The answer the Tribalists have to the question of “Who can practice Asatru?” is: “Anyone who makes a sufficient effort to understand and adopt the culture of the ancient heathens.” Wayland Skallagrimmson

This last sentence brought it home for me.

I don’t want an “anything goes” spirituality. I want traditions with lineage, insofar as that is possible. I want traditions that carry a strong identity and depth of meaning beyond my own imaginings.

The types of lineage I value are not based on bloodlines, but on culture.

So here’s what it comes down to for me:

I take the tribalist stance – as far as I am concerned, the Gods call their own based on any number of factors, which we may or may not understand. I do not believe culture is defined by race, but by shared experience. We have been “going native” in one another’s cultures for years, and it often leads to beautiful collaborations. With respect for one another, I think we can continue to share traditions in a way that does not feel appropriative.

Amy Hale’s distinction between appropriating and borrowing, (also from Morpheus’ blog) is a useful guideline:

There is a difference between cultural appropriation and cultural borrowing. Appropriation occurs in the context of domination and exploitation. Borrowing happens all the time and mostly flies under the radar – Amy Hale

Limiting the type of culture we can participate in based on race, i.e. white people should play “European” music and black people play the blues (I actually read this online recently) is ridiculous, and an incredibly stagnant way to live.

Preserving cultural diversity is more effectively accomplished by preserving the culture itself. Genetics are irrelevant. Regarding monoculture, we have far more to fear from shopping malls and fast food chains than we do from sharing our cultural identity with one another.

Also – cultures change. It is inevitable. Whatever our ancestors were doing a thousand years ago, we can be sure that much of it is lost or irrelevant. We live in a global society now. The tribes of yesterday are not the tribes of today. They can’t be. Time marches on and things change. We needn’t fear this. Micro-cultures will continue to crop up. The best way to preserve this diversity is to keep doing interesting things together in our local communities. Turn off the TV, get away from the strip malls, and create together.

I will speak out and defend against racism when I hear it happening. I will add my voice to those who say we do not accept racism in our Pagan traditions.

Also – I am uncomfortable with some aspects of the dialog around racism. There are a lot of snarky blanket statements about white people floating around the internet. A lot of anger is hurled about, and while I understand it, I also find it alienating. I am not the enemy, but a lot of the conversations make me feel as though I am.

I feel that on one hand I am told that white guilt doesn’t help and on the other hand I am expected to atone for my white privilege. I have read blog comments that say white people need to sit down and shut up. I want to partake in conversations where I am welcome to speak.

I wish we didn’t speak in terms of “White people” and “Everyone else”. It pits us against one another. We are all people of color. I am peach. I know we aren’t at that point in the conversation yet, but I hope we get there.

I understand why this anger exists and am willing to sit with my discomfort in order to participate in the dialog and hopefully be part of a solution.

I acknowledge that there are also those who speak about these issues from a powerful  and well-thought-out place that does not feel alienating. (Crystal Blanton, I’m thinking of you).

Also – the “We Are All One” thing is getting a bad rap. It was never meant to be some hippy-dippy platitude, although it is quite often over-simplified to come across that way. It almost certainly comes from Buddhism and is meant to point to the interconnectedness of all life. It was never meant to encourage monoculture, monotheism, or “anything goes” New-Agism, but only to point to a common ground of being, a pregnant void of pure potential before the manifestation of any form. From this an endless cornucopia of diversity manifests.

This seems a good stopping place for now, as this post is already plenty long. Suffice to say these thoughts will surely morph over time, but I did want to give an honest weigh-in of where I am currently at with this, since it lies at the core of my community. Some of it is difficult to talk about, which is why I have been silent up till now, but better to speak of these things and work through them than stay silent. I hope I can contribute some value to this conversation over time.


31 thoughts on “Racism and Cultural Preservation in Modern Paganism

  1. When the first Norse settlement of Greenland got down to about 75 individuals, they vanished, and today, some Inuit on the east side of Canada are taller than others, and some have blue eyes. It’s thought that they rescued/captured the Norse survivors, and brought them to Inuit lands. I’ve wondered from time to time if those Norse people adapted to Inuit culture. Could they have survived and even thrived, if they didn’t?

    The whole idea that one has to have the ancestry to connect with the antiquity of another culture has always seemed to me to be blatant racism. Not everyone is afflicted with this. I’ve attended Native American sweats, and afterwards, asked the leader about this. He said that it was a matter of considerable debate among those who do medicine. Keep it pure by keeping it for NA people only, versus share it with respectful people no matter where they came from. So far a I know, this is a conundrum that has no generally accepted answer. And there are exceptions. Psychiatrist Carl Hammerschlag, a Jew from New York City, has spent so much time with Native American healers, especially the Navajo, that he is accepted by them and uses the motifs of their healing practices in his own practice. No Native person disrespects him.

    This is the XXIst century; the world is small, and just about everyone knows people from all over the planet. In Tucson, it isn’t hard to meet people from several sub-Saharan countries, former Soviet republics, and so on. “Foreign-born” has lost its “mysterious” connotation — not completely, but it’s getting there.

    And look what has happened to the gay community. So many people have come out that most straight people know gays. This has made the “gay community” so much less mysterious that within 5 years, most citizens approve of marriage between gays.

    I bring all this up to demonstrate that humanity is finally beginning to figure out that we’re all cousins, that the seven mesolithic women from whom all living people descend are not a myth. We are all cousins. Every doc knows that about 1/4″ in, we are all pretty much the same. We can all breed and produce live, fertile offspring. Siberian blood is capable of matching and then transfusing South American people. When you’re given a form to fill out that has a space for “race,” how many people write in “Human”? More than a few.

    So the whole “gotta be Scandinavian to worship Odin” noise is really meaningless. So is the presumption by some Native Americans that human remains from ten millenia ago have something to do with their tribal culture. I’m half Italian — does that “restrict” me to following the pagan path that includes the Night Battles elucidated by Carlo Ginsburg? I’m also half Jewish, but I have never been or been taught Judaism. Am I “supposed to” follow this path? If you’re not Greek, what about being tuned into the Hellenic path? And consider ancient Egypt. A cursory look at the people immortalized in ancient sculptures shows that their “racial” characteristics are gone from this planet forever. Does that mean that no one should be “allowed” to follow Isis? Consider that the Buddha came from India. It’s interesting that he had no problem with Chinese people learning his teachings.

    But more than that: is there any reason why spiritual paths should NOT be the inheritance of all humankind? Is there spiritual wisdom that is *inherently* impossible for some human beings to “get”? Does a teacher who lived 2,500 years ago in India have nothing to offer to anyone not from India today? It’s a foolish question. Is there any reason why a white person cannot walk the Red Road? Does Lugh have nothing to teach craft people today who might not have Irish ancestors?

    I conclude that “racial” restrictions on a person’s choice of spiritual path — or paths — is simply bullshit. We don’t need any of that, on the small little planet it’s our destiny to inhabit.

  2. Words of wisdom, Ms. Knight.

    Another element to keep in mind is that there is a difference between cultural appropriation of “dominated cultures” (Native Americans, Hindus, etc.) and the cultural appropriation of what is, in the case of Asatru, a reconstructed faith.

    The only reason Asatru Folkists have a racist bent is because they CHOSE to include it in THEIR reconstruction. There is nothing historically that implies that “Odin only accepts worship from ‘truly Nordic’ people.” Having chosen to include it in their reconstruction despite this lack of historical support for it makes clear that their reasoning exists to support a racist agenda rather than either a faithful reconstruction of their ancestors’ faith or concerns about appropriation.

    – Mr. M.

  3. I was with you til you pointed out how ‘alienating’ it is to be lumped together with people who do bad things who also happen to look like you.

    The hundreds of thousands of nonwhites who have been stopped by NY’s stop-and-frisk law would agree with you on how alienating that can feel.

    The nonwhite people of AZ (who were going to have to, BY LAW, carry a paper declaring them citizens or permanent residents, so as to weed out illegals) would agree with you that it’s alienating.

    The need to ‘sit down and shut up’ as you call it, comes from an opportunity that is being extended that many, MANY, nonwhites working in social justice issues would like to remind you, is a position that we are tacitly ASSIGNED in the larger world.

    We are given very little choice more often than not. We are alienated, and Othered, and shamed for our genetic makeup, on the DAILY.

    When we gather together and want to talk out the things that we wish we could ALL work on, more often than not it turns into holding the hands of white allies who cry (sometimes literally) about how unfair it all is, how ugly that makes their world look, how sad it is FOR THEM, to know that this happens.

    The rest of us, just bite our tongues to bleeding because yet again, instead of empowering nonwhites, we’re asked to stop what we’re trying to do for the sake of white people’s feelings.

    I wish I could say this without alienating you, I really do. I wish I could say this in a way that was pleasing to your ears and heart. But I have almost literally NO TIME for that. There is too much going on in the world, in the US (since that’s where I live) for me to be able to stop the work I am trying to do to hold ONE MORE white person’s hand as they gather up the gumption necessary to stand up against the people who are just as peach as they are but willing to stomp on my head.

    I’ve run out of sympathy for those tears. I’ve not run out of heart and there is room for you and others who feel as you do. But those tears aren’t for me to console. If I did, we’re still no better off. I end up falling into the traditional trope of caring for the white person in the room. Sometimes, to the detriment of the other nonwhites in the same room.

  4. Your position makes sense to me, Sharon. And another aspect of the “cultural appropriation” blame game that is rarely discussed is that for every member of Tribe X who is waving the “don’t steal our spirituality” banner, there is often another who is quite willing to share it because, after all, it is true and meaningful and if everyone followed it, the world would be a better place.

  5. Hello Xochiquetzal –

    Thanks for responding. I figured someone was going to get upset by that, but I was trying to give as honest a representation of where I am at with it all as I can, and that is part of it. For what it’s worth, I hear what you are saying, and understand the frustration. Or at least, I try to.

    That said – you kind of proved my point. You mentioned the hundreds of thousands of non-whites who feel alienated by being lumped all together as a group and judged unfavorably, and that they are given very little choice in this. My point is, to respond to this by then doing the same thing to white folks seems like it just perpetuates the problem. It feels tit for tat, not really part of a solution. It feels like the focus is too much on “getting white folks back” and not moving forward. Maybe this is inevitable for now, as folks need to vent. But it feels like just more polarizing.

    The “white people need to sit down and shut up” thing is not what I called it. Those were literal words I read on a blog. I know blog comments are a terrible metric on which to gauge human behavior, and this is certainly not the only way I hear the conversation happening. But it happens often enough that I don’t really feel welcome in the conversation much of the time.

    Even your response makes me feel that my inclusion in the conversation is conditional, and that it is not safe for me to come with whatever I have to lay on the table. You don’t have time for it. The thing is, all I have is a white person’s perspective. To pretend otherwise would be contrived. So if I am not welcome to share what is real for me about the issue, then it’s a one-sided conversation. The fact is, white people do feel awful about the things that are happening in our society. These injustices were in place long before we were born, and we do have our own sets of conflict around them. If it feels like you have to hold our hands when we try to share our experience, then we stay polarized. As I say, I do try to understand the anger and frustration. I look forward to the day when we can all care for every person in the room.

  6. Hey there,

    So, first. I’m not actually upset. I just pointed out to you the part where you lost me. Not because I don’t understand why you feel like that, but because I totally understand feeling like that. And the thing is, it’s not a useful feeling. That feeling? Doesn’t actually help matters any.

    Here’s the thing about such a polarizing action as feeling silenced; at the end of the day, when it’s applied in the way you speak of (a gathering of mostly nonwhite voices with a few ‘allies’ in attendance, for example) that feeling? That’s a barometer for some of us. We watch you sit and squirm and want to say something and we recognize that feeling, that consternation. Because we identify with it so strongly. The next time you feel that, remember that for nonwhites; that’s our life. It has been for as long as we’ve been relegated to the role of caretaker for white people and their lives. You see it very well portrayed in movies like The Help, Gone With The Wind, The Butler, etc. basically, any TIME that a nonwhite person has been portrayed as that very trope I speak of. The only other group of people lumped like that? Children with the whole ‘seen, not heard’ saying. I’m not saying it’s a nice feeling, I’m saying I recognize it.

    Now, as to your discomfort with it, imagine generation after generation (and as a woman, it’s quite easy to do so, the struggles for legitimacy and acknowledgement are similar) living that EXACT SAME feeling, even to this day.

    You are right, you didn’t call it that. It does get called that in certain areas and with comments along those same lines. But sometimes, that’s the very thing that has to happen because, and sometimes, more importantly than everyone getting to use their voice, we have to work at amplifying the voices we are trained to NOT hear. There are countless studies on how we are enculturated to automatically dismiss nonwhite faces, it’s not that hard to imagine that also extends to the voices attached to those same faces.

    To touch on your last points, it is not my place to make you feel safe at a table that has LONG had a seat with your name on it. If your appearance at a table prepared by my peers makes you feel unsafe, the answer isn’t that we acquiesce to your discomfort but for you to explore the thing that makes you feel uncomfortable. Is it because you feel that you and your opinions might be made invisible? Is it because you worry that your voice is no longer the strongest? I’m not saying that your experiences don’t matter. They most certainly do, but what I am asking you to remember is that this isn’t a time for us to look towards a ‘white savior’ type for the answers. I’m saying that sometimes, the answer is uncomfortable and makes us all uneasy.

    It’s not WORTH it for you to suddenly decide to apologize for every single white person who has ever uttered a racist or bigoted or hateful remark in their life. Because you’re not supposed to bother martyring yourself for a cause you put no stock or faith into. But, every single time someone utters the phrase ‘white guilt’ that’s what ends up happening. Don’t do that.

    Refuse to do that. Stand up for something OUTSIDE of the need to apologize for the actions of all when the only person you can apologize for is yourself.

    Move from that place. I won’t deny, when a white person starts to hurt from hearing the stories of what nonwhites experience, I am inexplicably DRAWN to want to alleviate that pain. I want to make it OKAY for them, but I can’t do that anymore. I’ve done it for far too long already. It’s not that I don’t hurt for you, but then, all I or most nonwhite people know IS hurt. Where are the white people moved to hold my hand during my painful stories?

    And I do care, I care too damned much is what has been apparent in my path for far too long. And I don’t know what the answer is to make this problem go away, magically or not. But I do know that I’m digging my shoulder into it, and I’m not as capable (I guess) as some others, but it doesn’t change that I want the same end-result as you do. An end to racism and bigotry within Paganism, and the world at large.

  7. Just now I’m reading “The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity”. Benjamin Isaac has thought long and deeply about what racism is, what culture is, and the difference between appropriation and domination. One thing he says is, race doesn’t exist, racism does. It’s a profound and difficult insight. I’d love to hear what you think of his work.

    About the gods calling you: my coven turned up at a local Buddhist shrine for a White Tara empowerment. We sat down, a line of people in black, and the saffron robed monks blinked at us and then said, “She calls who she will.” The person who pushed you off Kali was one person, and had her own wounds to carry.

    As a “white” person who has been quite publicly called out for exerting privilege, I try to listen. I try to be an ally and not to take over the conversation. Not to exert my right to speak. Sometimes I am very uncomfortable. I try to sit with it, the discomfort points my privilege out to me, and I try not to make others responsible for solving that for me. For myself, I believe all of us have a responsibility to confront our own privilege and that of others. We do have the responsibility not to speak where our speaking upholds privilege.

    It helps a lot that I did a lot of analysis of the ways women are silenced (Woman Magician, Women’s Voices in Magic). In the West men automatically have the floor, women fight for it. In the West “whites” have the right to speak, “non-whites” have to fight for it. Male allies have stood up for me, I try to stand up for others.

    I appreciate your honesty. I know it’s counter intuitive, but the only win-win conflict resolution strategy is conflict – you have to speak with honesty, then listen with compassion, which you are doing. Thank you for addressing this and adding to the conversation.

  8. > My point is, to respond to this by then doing the same thing to white folks seems like it just perpetuates the problem. It feels tit for tat, not really part of a solution.

    I think something is missing here.

    That discomfort we feel at having the playing field closer to level isn’t something they’re doing TO us. It’s just a side effect of leveling the field. Any time someone has the experience of dropping in height, they get that sinking feeling. But height in this context is only relative to each other, not relative to some objective measure, so there is no way to level, no way to shore up the deep end without bringing down the mountains.

    For those of us standing on the hills as they come down, there’s going to be a sinking feeling. But that’s not something that’s being done TO us, that’s something that we experience as a result of the change between where we were and where we need to be.


  9. While I read this piece with a sense of empathy and compassion, I’m in agreement with Xochiquetzal. Speaking as a white male, I long ago confronted the discomfort I felt, recognized it for what it was and then focused on helping people of color as an ally. For me part of that has involved helping to facilitate the conversation.

    I’m the managing non-fiction editor for Immanion Press, which basically means I steer the direction the non-fiction line goes. So my focus has been on finding people of color or people of disabilities or whatever else represents a population of people who are disenfranchised because they don’t have the same level of privilege I have. And I ask them to head up and contribute to anthologies and I step back into the background and help facilitate the process so that I and other people of privilege can actually hear what a person of color or a person with disabilities or a person who doesn’t identify as male has to say to us, and listen fully present and cognizant of the fact that whatever experiences I’ve had, they pale in comparison to what those people face every day because of a pigmentation on skin, or a disability, or gender or sexual orientation.

    As Xochiquetzal says, there is a place for white people at the table, but we need to do some internal work, own the discomfort and then ask ourselves what we can really contribute beyond wringing our hands over what’s happened. The only way we can have equity in this world is when we are willing to take actions that support everyone being heard, instead of just one segment, and I’m happy to sit down and listen instead f speaking up as much (though I have done so here).

  10. Hello Xochiquetzal –

    Again, thanks for writing. Your words and your passion are appreciated. When I decided to write exactly what my feelings were at that moment, I was kind of hoping someone would meet me there. I don’t know what the solutions are either (believe me, I have no “white savior” ideas to offer) but I do know that starting to talk about it and explore my own feelings is the first step.

    You are right, it is not your job to make me feel safe, and the better approach is for me to explore my own discomfort. Which is what I have endeavored to do by writing this blog post. I expected there may be a person or two who just said “fuck you,” but figured it was worth it to start exploring these things honestly and get through the messy stuff.

    FWIW, it is my inclination to listen more than speak in any new situation, as I need to learn where the conversation is. So it isn’t that I fear no longer having the strongest voice. It is more that the rage baking off of some people is so intense that I frankly don’t know how to process it. When the anger is directed at a specific person or instance that is one thing, and when it is directed at “white people” in general, I read that as “me”. For better or worse, that is where I go.

    Anyway. I don’t know exactly what to do, or what my role should be, in this situation. For now, just listening (which feels better than sitting down and shutting up) probably is the best response, that and trying to not shrink back when the anger feels overwhelming. I can also explore my own emotions, and will continue to do so here on my blog. You are welcome any time, and I also understand if you want to skip anything that feels like hand-holding.

    Thank you for not saying “fuck you”. That would have been a viable option, but instead, because we have spoken honestly, there is little more connection between two beings, and connection brings understanding and compassion. It’s the only thing I know to do right now.

  11. Thank you for writing Taylor! It is nice to see you here. I won’t write a long response, as I have already responded to Xochiquetzal a second time, and would just be repeating my self. But I did want to acknowledge your comment.

  12. Oh I know it’s not something being done TO us. Or maybe that is a layer of it, I don’t even know. As I said to Xochiquetzal, it feels like so much anger that I don’t even know how to process it. And then I feel defensive, like “Damn, I didn’t even do anything”. And it only happens when the tone of the conversation is “white people suck in general”. Because I interpret that as “me”. And I am not trying to suggest people change their behavior to accommodate me, only that I address what is real inside me at this time, because that is the only way I know to move through it rather than shut down and decide it’s not my problem.

    Talking about it helps, because it helps me identify what is going on so that I can move through it.

  13. I want to say that I love this conversation. I think one of the things we are not prepared to do in this society is to talk about race from a place of shared empathy and understanding. We are all victims of a system that has created dynamics where people of color are literally trained throughout generations to care for the feelings of white people above their own, and for the white people to be trapped in the moral dilemma that fuels cognitive dissonance because they do not believe in the system that has been created before them and yet benefit from its effects. These dynamics make the conversations very hard. And it is why it is courageous to have them, and even more so Sharon to write exactly how you are feeling and struggling. I honor that way more than the bullshit “we should all be colorblind” conversations that I sometimes read. Your post was genuine and heartfelt.

    I think part of what is being talked about here is the challenge of the shift, which is what was referred to already. The pushing against the conditioning for people of color who have been raised to cater to a society that considers them the voiceless, and that we are suppose to get along in a world by making sure that white people are not uncomfortable with our presence. When white people are confused, people of color are arrested, killed, or villianized. And part of us finding our voice in history has meant that we could not stay true to this previous theory…. And still die as a result.

    And the side-effect of this is that even those who we like and are good people become a part of this dynamic of uncomfortableness. In a perfect world we would be able to suspend our automatic implications of guilt and discomfort so that we could really explore this shifting dynamic, and take away the value of the discomfort. But society unconsciously trains us that power means that one side speaks and one just sits without power and listens.

    In reality, the polarity exists but it does not have to be bad. We in society have made it bad for a long time, but our experiences will never be the same and for that reason alone, the polarity can be a acknowledgement of embracing our differences. And when we embrace our differences, sometimes we listen and sometimes we talk. It is the shared experience of our differences that pushes us to learn, grown, gain empathy and understanding, and then find our sameness.

    That is where we have to get to inorder to heal. That is my belief….. It takes all of us to get to healing. And there is a place at the table for everyone’s experiences of this shifting dynamic because we extended the table and brought more chairs. Not because we kicked anyone off. People of color cannot do this in isolation, and neither can white people.

    I believe that we may not change this dynamic in total now, but it is our bravery to create another way to unlearn and then relearn racial dynamics that will set the stage. We are the product of generations of transgenerational oppression, abuse and trauma, working to release systems of thought that have never served us as a whole society…. and still fighting against systems that are still oppressive. It is for that reason alone that these conversations are some of the most important ones to have.

  14. > Talking about it helps, because it helps me identify what is going on so that I can move through it.

    Yes, and in that sense, even we need the safe space to work it through, because there’s really no other way to get there from here. What’s important, I guess, is to recognize even as we seek that safe space, that we must not seek it at the expense of more oppressed people. And then part of the problem becomes “Okay, but how do I avoid that when I haven’t gotten to the place where I know what that really looks like yet?”

    I think… and maybe I’m off base here… that the key is for more aware allies to help us. Like it often helps for a male feminist to tell his dudebro friend what’s up, not because it’s at all reasonable to coddle the dudebro’s desire not to listen to us instead of a fellow male, nor because we need rescuing from the dudebro, but because we need to not always have it be our job to deal with the dudebros of the world.


  15. Sharon, I read this with a great deal of interest. After skimming through the comments I’m almost afraid to wade into the conversation. =)

    Looking at me, most people would be surprised that I have been the “token” participant in many places over many years. (Primarily Czech and Celtic decent.) I’ve experienced it enough not to want to subject others to it.

    I don’t have any great insights or ideas to share at this time. I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  16. Pingback: Building respectful Pagan culture | Brandy Williams

  17. I believe we are all Euro-mutts in our family lineages. Trace it back a few generations, and all of us are born from families that originated outside (in Europe or the other 6 continents) of the 13 original colonies of the “United States.”.
    I would like to comment to Gareth B above.
    I doubt the Inuits would have ‘subdued’ the settlers of Greenland; more like those settlers intermarried perhaps with the Inuits to have blue eyes and have a tall stature.
    As to the Ancient Egyptian comment, from a physical anthropological standpoint, it is well documented that the Modern Egyptians still share the same physical characteristics and genetics as their ancestors. They just don’t portray themselves the same as the ancients did on the walls of tombs and temples; i.e., the kohl makeup, the different clothing styles…but you have to factor in too that the Egyptians have been mingled with Hellenistic Greeks, Romans, Nubians, etc…
    Genetic attributes may be weakened down through generations of time, but peoples’ genetic make-ups essentially do not change that drastically.

    Throughout history, people have practiced the faith of the culture they were brought up in; or they changed their faith through personal experiences, and personal choice. Cultures maintained their ‘original’ faiths/belief systems until they were made obsolete through death of a culture, (Mesopotamia for instance), or the subjugation of another culture(in ancient Egyptian think Persians) or, as in the last one-two thousand years, forced conversion to another religion/belief system.
    My point being is that throughout history, people take up the religion or culture that resonates deep within them, regardless of their birth right. For example; the Romans took the worship of Isis(out of Egypt) throughout Europe…
    Who are we –as pagans or practitioners of other religions to judge other people’s deep felt religious beliefs? If Odin, or Isis, or Ishtar or Bacchus, or Jesus or any number of Ancient Gods and Goddesses were to come to me and I have a deep personal experience with them; regardless of my birth country or my parent’s lineage, I would be more likely to start studying up about that particular God or Goddess and learn why they chose to come to me. It does not matter what religion one chooses to live with, as long as it is lived with in truth–and not because it is the newest, coolest fad. Only fanatics, die hards, and those who do not understand ‘free will and free choice’ do not understand that religion is not a forced thing-it is a deep personal choice by the individual.

  18. Hi there Crystal!

    I was hoping you would chime in. You write with such passion and such compassion at the same time, and I have so much admiration for you.

    I always thought the “let’s all be colorblind” thing smacked of “Let’s pretend this isn’t really happening”. And also – it doesn’t exactly celebrate diversity.

    I am glad to be having this conversation too. If we were not having this conversation, it may never have occurred to me that people of color feel that they have to take care of white people, and put white people’s feelings before their own. It makes sense now that I think about it. But frankly, I haven’t thought about it much. Hell, I have gone through most of my life believing that racism was largely a thing of the past. Sure, there were pockets of bigotry here and there, but for the most part, is was a spectre that we had successfully banished.

    Then we got a black president. And all kinds of racism started crawling out of the woodwork.

    And when the Trayvon Martin verdict came through, I got really worried. Like, if we don’t deal with this, we are going to be shooting each other in the street.

    I live in Oakland. I want all my neighbors to feel they can trust me. And likewise, I want to feel like I can trust them, and if this much animosity is being created between us, how can any of us trust that frustration won’t be acted out from time to time. If we can’t count on our institutions to take steps to level the playing field, them we had better start doing it ourselves.

    The first part of this for me is, exploring my own unexamined assumptions.

    Anyway – I have a lot to explore regarding this topic, and will probably do so on this blog.

    But for now, I’d like to ask you – what kind of support would you like from a white person? What does a white ally look like to you?

  19. Hi Ember –

    I am happy conversing with white folks about these things also. Really I am happy to converse with anyone who might want to respond. I don’t think I was asking to be made safe at others’ expense, just exploring where I shut down. I am sure many of the online platforms that strike me as snarky or hostile are places to vent, places where people of color can have space where they don’t have to worry about the feelings of white folks. I probably won’t wade into those particular conversations very often. I can strive to be more understanding of them, and question my initial knee-jerk reactions to them. Because of this conversation, I think I understand a bit better why it happens. But also – I do have my own feelings and vulnerabilities. I am only human.

    Also – I don’t know that I would trust a white ally to represent people of color accurately just yet. So I hope that some people of color will also be willing to talk with me. And so far they have.

  20. Pingback: After Stella Natura, confronting racism: round-up and what’s next | Brandy Williams

  21. LOL – have had this convo in various permutations. When I get a proponent of “your genetic heritage culture only allowed” thinking who has a better answer to “what do us mixed race/ethnic mutts do?” than “you have no place and should not have been born”, I’ll give them ear time. Till then, as long as the gods, ancestors, and others I interact with are good with me, I just can’t be arsed. YMMV.


  22. Sorry, it’s been a hectic couple of days or so due to having to travel for a conference and life, as always.

    To your first comment, about the possibility of someone telling you to fuck off, or other such things: I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened; but along that same line I have actually seen that kind of commentary from other white people to those who post and write about their struggles with recognizing their privilege and using it for good allyship. So yeah, I hear you on that because it’s HARD, really HARD to strive to be transparent with such a difficult self-examination, especially when the very people you are trying to make aware of their own privileges are holding onto that structure that gives them these privileges with a deathgrip. If that makes sense?

    To your other question: that’s a bit harder because I can’t honestly say I have set parameters to what ‘good’ allyship looks like because to me, doing this right here, that’s good. Doing it in this way, being honest and open about the journey into these things about society that you don’t like because they give you some sort of advantage that you never ASKED FOR, but received without question, that’s amazing and I honor that.

    When I ordained in my trad, one of the things lauded about me by my High Priestess was my willingness to be fully present; even when it hurt like a mofo to do so. Not because I enjoyed the pain (far from it) but because I didn’t see how turning my back on a difficult moment(s) was a helpful thing to DO. So, wading through your personal quagmire is to be ‘good’ allyship.

    Being willing to stand up against bigotry in whatever shape or form it takes, is ‘good’ allyship.

    The XOJane article’s a good start. The other thing that is awesome about discovering how you or anyone else can be a better ally (and because of intersectionality, we ALL have the opportunity to be a ‘good’ ally) is remembering that while we may have a privilege over a specific group, we are not the spokespeople FOR THEM. We may be able to address others who don’t understand how they are busted when they use -phobic or -ist language or are declared -ists or -phobes, but we are not more than amplifiers to THEIR message. And that can be hard to NOT do. I hope that comes through, I just finished a 5-hour drive and can’t seem to sleep despite the drive. @_@

  23. Thank you Xochiquetzal, for writing.

    Yep, I have seen white people get very defensive and miss the whole point many times. I have seen that in myself, which is why I have started poking around at this stuff.

    I appreciate your words on what can constitute a good ally.

    And yeah, I think I get your meaning in that last paragraph, about remembering that a position of privilege doesn’t grant one the right to speak for the less privileged group. I think that was the point being made with the twitter hashtag “SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen”. Which is one of the places online that got my own defenses up. It helps to remind myself that I am just walking into a conversation that has been well underway for awhile now. If folks weren’t doing stupid shit, hashtags like that probably wouldn’t crop up.

    Anyway. There is a lot of food for thought here. Even though it raised my hackles to read a bunch of stuff that felt like “sit down and shut up”, the fact is, for the most part that is what I am inclined to do – just listen for awhile, and dip my toe in only occasionally, as with this post.

    I really appreciate you chiming in here.

  24. The problem with racism and practising norse/germanic traditions is difficult for me, too. I live in Germany, I don´t have to tell anyone about racism and the history of my country. Many Germans get these feelings in their guts only by watching certain runes or symbols and practisioners like myself have to constantly remind ourselves of times “before” the horror of worldwar 2. I am thankful for each thought about this topic and happy to see it go into all the right directions. I guess the tribalist stance is a good start.

  25. Well then.. this is interesting.

    I do believe it’s important to stick to your ancestral heritage/religion, however I can’t say its good to reject the notion that “Outsiders” believe what you believe. It’s just plain silly, especially if you, like me, believe that many (Not all) of the gods/spirits are interchangeable – Just a different cultural name for the same being.

    Racism is overplayed by governments/politicians/religious leaders throughout the world. Nowadays its seen as “racist” to not find somebody of a certain nationality/culture attractive. That’s just silly. There are, of course, certain ethnic/religious groups I don’t like as a whole. However it’s important to give the individual a chance. Never alienate a potential ally, even if they are different.

    I do feel, however, that there is an anti-Germanic movement in the world. There has been since as early as the Roman Empire. Anybody east of the Rhine was a “savage”. This, coming from the people who made men fight against tigers and other beasts for entertainment, makes me laugh. The term “Germanic” was originally meant as an insult to the tribesmen east of the Rhine. The Thuringians adopted it with pride. I don’t know why.

    After the western empire fell, Clovis I united all of the Frankish tribes (Franks were Germanic) and conquered the western and northern parts of what the Romans called “Gaul”. This led to the formation of the Holy Roman Empire.

    The Holy Roman Empire was, disputably, formed by Charlemagne. He was a radical christian and he spent much of his reign forcing conversion on the non-Christians of what was still the “Frankish Empire” (It never became “Holy” Roman Empire until 1157 and it was still “East Francia” until Otto I in 962, but since Charlemagne it eas essentially the same thing).

    The Western Franks (also known as the French) spoke a language based on the Roman language, while the East Franks held on to their native language (slightly adapted, of course).

    During the first World War, there was a lot of anti-German and sentiment in the United States. Schools in the United States even teach that Germany started the first World War. The King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Edward VII von Saxe-Coburg-Gotha changed the name of his house to “Windsor” because of anti-German sentiment in the United Kingdom. After the war, the Entente powers crippled the German economy seemingly beyond repair. The German Empire was even forced to give up Elsass-Lothringen (Alsace-Lorraine) to France and its easternmost territories (Danzig corridor) to Poland.

    During World War Two, prior to any military action or genocide, there was a worldwide boycott on German goods – because they were attempting to fix their economy. Hitler requested that Poland return at least a portion of the Danzig corridor to German control, and to allow the German nationals living in Polish-controlled land safe passage back to Germany. The Polish government refused. Hitler invaded. Britain and France declared war on Germany. I’m sure everyone knows the rest.

    History, as you can see, has been dominated by anti-germanic peoples. To the point, even, where Germanic people are coerced or tricked into fighting against their own kin. Therefore, it’s really no surprise to see people who find their ancestral faith to find resentment against others, particularly Christians, Italians/Romans, and Jews*.

    *When I say “Jews”, I mean followers of Judaism. Not people who claim to be “Ethnically Jewish. There is no such thing. You may be ethnically Semitic, but Judaism is not a culture or an ethnicity. Its a religion. The culture you’re looking for is “Hebrew”.

  26. Hi Vagn –

    Thanks for writing.

    I think there is something to our DNA having a consciousness of sorts, and that is why many folks are drawn to their genetic ancestral traditions. But with our world becoming so small, many, many folks are of mixed ancestry, even though they may have the dominant traits of a specific one. I would never presume to judge someone as an outsider, though they may look different than me. Also – who am I to say why a culture draws a person. It could be a genetic-bloodline thing in someone who doesn’t look Germanic (for example) but had German ancestors, or it could be something other, a past life connection (if there is such a thing) or any number of other reasons. So much of this world is mystery, and especially when it comes to things like magic and spirituality, to claim we known anything with certainty is to overstate things, IMO.

    As far as racism…it is a delicate topic. Yes, I have seen what feels to me like the “race card” getting overplayed. However, I have also seen a whole lot of compelling evidence to suggest that there is still plenty of inequality in this world toward folks with darker skin. Frankly, I see this much more often than I see the “race card” get played.

    It is a heady topic, one that requires long term consideration from us all. I don’t doubt that there is an anti-German sentiment (and the history was interesting, thanks for that) in the world, because everybody is anti-everybody else. It is a trait of human nature that we “other” other tribes, and have always done so.

    I think these dialogs on racism are important to have if we ever want to move beyond making each other different, other, separate, less valuable. I know I do.

    And I believe we can do so without becoming a homogenous monoculture.

  27. Regardless what can be stated there exists racism ranging from subtle to blatant when non-whites who are steadfast in their own particular beliefs interact with those calling themselves ‘Pagan’. I’ve experienced this time after time in real life and the internet. Many go on as if the term Pagan is exclusively for white people of European descent. American Indians seem to get the worst of it especially if we do not measure up to what white pagans or those of the new age movement have read or have been told regarding our beliefs which are very diverse from tribe to tribe.

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