Archive for April 18, 2014

White Deviance, Pagan Angst

Earlier for one of the “D” posts for the Pagan Blog Project, I planned on writing about how the Neo-Pagan movement is, in part a manifestation of white deviance. I realized though that I did not want assume knowledge on the part of the readers about sociology or Critical Race Theory, the lens through which I’m approaching this.¬† Social deviance is a sociological concept- it means straying from social norms of what is considered social acceptable and expected behavior in a given culture.

Critical Race Theory, and its offshoot of whiteness studies, views race as a social construction and seeks to critique and deconstruct race as a social category. Blaargh- see I can’t define it very well, so go read the above link!

There really is no one concept of “whiteness” or “white culture”- it will become apparent from reading the blog Stuff White People Like that is reflective of a certain kind of white people- it’s a pretty spot-on description of Unitarians actually! Who society considers white and who gets white privilege has changed over time- at one time only English Protestants were considered white, but as various European ethnic groups assimilated and become upwardly mobile they became “whitened”.

Still there are typically standards in a given social context of what a “proper white person” looks, dresses, acts etc- middle or upper-class, educated, heterosexual (or “straight-acting” homosexual), cis-gendered (non-transgender) Christian (or atheist/agnostic/secular in some contexts) ¬†White people who do not conform to these norms are stigmatized as white trash, rednecks or with various other labels, and people of color who do not fit into these norms are typically stigmatized even more.

Anyway, since most whites have at most a symbolic ethnicity– a watered down identity based on nostalgia for the Old Country, certain foods, holidays etc. if they feel unsatisfied or not included by dominant forms of white culture they create their own subcultures to identify with- some are more deviant, others more accepted. Skaters, goths, punks, hippies, geeks, GLBTQ+ subcultures and so forth.

When people of color pursue an interest in mostly white subculture- even one that prides itself on being progressive, they frequently encounter racism. Because whiteness is such an unexamined “norm”, Pagans, geeks et al. often do not realize that they are pursuing a different way of being white, thereby excluding non-whites with interests in those subcultures.

Being a hippie or being a “bohemian” both in the United States and Europe has frequently gone along with appropriating aspects of Black and indigenous cultures- particularly in music, dress and spirituality. While these white deviant subcultures tend be seen as threatening to the white dominated social structure at first they are often co-opted by the very institutions the white deviants are trying to reject.

Instead of truly critiquing, examining and challenging the dominant power structure, white deviant subcultures end up becoming the rebellious children of Big White Daddy- be it of the government, business, media, church. We give up the privileges that come with conformity but are shocked when we are mistreated by society. If the social cost comes too high we may go back home to Big White Daddy. And he might give us crap for not going to church, or having the right job, or sexual behavior or hobbies or what have you. But we still have that option- our brothers and sisters of color do not. (Nor do our trans* friends who can’t “pass” as cisgender, or our disabled friends that can’t
“pass” as able-bodied or neurotypical.) That is the profoundly alienating contradiction that they must face- can they really trust these rebels?

When we talk about getting Paganism to be accepted in the “mainstream”- are we really unconsciously saying “I want the cultural definition of acceptable whiteness to include Paganism”? How do we instead, make examining and challenging whiteness a part of our Paganisms?

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April 18, 2014 at 1:05 am 2 comments


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