It’s a sad truth that harassment and discrimination occurs within the Pagan community. However, I want to call some positive attention to several Pagan events that have adopted safety and anti-harassment policies at their events. While a lot of Pagans tell me, “Duh, of course we’d kick someone out for racist comments/sexual misconduct/gay bashing,” the truth is, this is not always the case. And further, some issues–such as discrimination against transgender people–have only recently become something that more Pagans are even aware of, much less working to address.
or, I love where I work.
The killing of Black women and men by police, and the treatment of protestors around the country, continues to make me heartsick. So many words and emotions come to the surface when I even think about what has been happening, what comes to light, and what may still be hidden from the public’s view. The words remain stuck behind lips for many reasons, mostly due to being sick and my desire to be a good ally by not getting in the way of Black and Brown voices.
In the meantime I want to share some images from my workplace. As many of you know, I’m a librarian, and I work in a graduate school library. While the students tend not to share in my being a pagan and polytheist, they do tend to be fairly progressive and even radical. They’re also predominantly White, and versed in awareness of privilege and issues around oppression. Most of these images have been taken in the last week but they have been happening all year. I feel it’s another reminder of the need to work together and not just sequester off with a small group of people exactly like us.
(Car with a “Black Lives Matter” banner across the back windshield.)
Spotted in January.
(Plaque spray-painted with the words “End White Supremacy”)
I walked into one of the main rooms at the school one day in March to see this over the fireplace. It seemed to have gone up anonymously.
the following are from the past week:
(“I Support the Baltimore Rebellion” flyer)
(Flyer for rally in New York City in support of Freddie Gray)
(Quote from theologian Emilie Townes: “Sacrifice is a dangerous notion. It is dangerous because we often ask those who are the most vulnerable to give the most.”)
(Quote from Malcolm X: “We declare our right on this earth… to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”)
(Quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates: “When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.”
(Surprise anarchist pamphlet appears on a corkboard in the library!)
What would you do if a Pagan was being murdered by the police once a month? What about once a week? What about more frequently than that? What if a bunch of Pagans in some cities started protesting, but nobody else cared? What if a riot broke out? Would you stand there blaming those Pagans for being too violent?
Having just taught workshops at three of the big four Pagan conferences, and having attended a number of large Pagan festivals, I wanted to offer a bit of context for how some of these larger events have handled issues of social justice. While these events don’t represent the entire Pagan community, they do reflect issues and trends that ripple out to Pagans across the globe.
I’ve noticed a definite contrast in how specific events/communities are dealing with issues of racism, rape culture, harassment, cultural appropriation, transphobia, and other related issues. Some communities and events are actively embracing dialogue, and others don’t address these issues at all.
Yesterday Pantheacon ended. Pantheacon is the largest Pagan conference and has almost 3,000 attendees and takes place in San Jose every year. I’m posting this a day late because I’ve been at the conference and wanted to write about activism within the Pagan community and specifically on activism-related issues that come up at Pantheacon.
Several years ago, Pantheacon was rocked by the exclusion of transgender women from one of the women’s rituals, and that controversy rippled out (and is still rippling) across the broader Pagan community.
This weekend I was proud to be part of a panel discussing racism within the community. Unfortunately, that panel began on a sour note as I learned that there had been something hurtful and racist written in one of the various newsletters distributed at Pantheacon.
Hi, I’m Shauna, and I’m a racist. No, not one of the ones clearly defined by the pointy hats and white robes. And not one of the racists clearly identified by hateful invective.
In fact, I’m in some ways the more dangerous kind of racist; or at least, I was. Once upon a time, I was the kind of racist who didn’t realize how bigoted I was. I still struggle with my own blind spots and how much this impacts my thoughts and actions on a daily basis.
How did I come to be this way? This kind of racism is systemic. It’s ambient. If you’re raised in it, you can’t see it any more than you can see the air you breathe. But just because you can’t see the air doesn’t mean you aren’t breathing it in.
I used to believe I lived in a post-racial society, that I was “color blind.” And then…I used to believe that Pagans couldn’t be racist. Yet within the broader Pagan communities, we do unfortunately have problems with racism just like the dominant culture does.
But what do we do about it? Because #BlackLivesMatter .
And I hate the fact that I need to make such a declaration.
Last month, three people were killed at a shooting at the Overland Park Jewish Community Center in Kansas. Soon after the shooting, it came out that the main suspect, Frazier Glenn Cross, identified as an Odinist.
It’s bad enough that one of my traditions often carries the image of people playing Viking (remember when Dan Halloran ran for political office in New York?) but worse still is that the traditions honor the Aesir and Vanir can so easily be co-opted by people who will use them to claim superiority based on skin color.
At this point I cannot even start to cover the range of issues which this subject entails, and if I were to try, I am afraid my passion would overtake me and I do not want to make this post into a big rant. What I do want to do is share material to demonstrate that Asatru and Heathenry are not automatically religions of racism and separatism. Nor is it just contained to honoring of Germanic deities. There are also people claiming such separatism in the name of Celtic, Finnish, and Russian deities. Perhaps there are more but so far I have not come across it.
I will tell you where I stand on the matter of who can/should be honoring the Aesir and the Vanir. Those who are called. Period. This is not a religion for everyone, but I also don’t think any of the monotheisms are meant for all people (as much as those faiths might differ), nor is Kemetic religion (my primary faith), Hellenic, Baltic, Near Eastern, African traditional (full disclosure: I do serve the lwa and at some point plan to initiate as a hounsi in Vodou), or any other you might name. But as far as I am concerned, the Gods and spirits will get to sort that out. And even if you do think there is a certain color line which may not be broached when it comes to pre-Christian religions, remember that most Black people in this country (since that seems to be where the a certain faction wants to declare said line) do not have exclusively African ancestry. Think about that the next time you want to talk about metagenetics. (If you decide to search for that word, you’ll find an essay which I admit I cannot even stomach the idea of reading.)
We’re not living in a “post-racial” society just because we have a bi-racial, Black president. When there are people using the N word to describe him and selling stickers with that word and his image, we still have a big problem with racism. And even in Heathenry, we thankfully have people who are getting a national platform to state that we are not a religion of racial superiority.
We also have Heathens spearheading a fund drive to benefit the victims of this horrible shooting. There are only a few days left, so if you feel so moved, I encourage you to contribute.
If you want to get involved in anti-racism work with polytheists, you can check out Heathens United Against Racism and Caorann – Celts against Racism. If you know of any other related groups, please share in the comments.
And to leave this post with a little humor, here is Jon Stewart talking about racism on the Daily Show last month, in light of the then-recent Donald Sterling racism talk and Cliven Bundy’s “let me tell you what I know about the Negro.”
We have made enormous progress in teaching everyone that racism is bad. Where we seem to have dropped the ball is in teaching people what racism actually is. Watch this clip to see Klansmen talk about having Black friends and not being racist.