Posts filed under ‘Race/Ethnicity’

Topics in Polytheism: Race/Ethnicity

Topics in Polytheism #7 Race/Ethnicity

First view: Neither ethnicity nor “race” are important in polytheism, because religion is a matter of spirit and practice and toleration

Second view: “Race” is not so much a social construct as a reality, and therefore necessary in polytheism. Ethnicity is less important and reliable, because it can change or overlap.

Balanced view: “Race” is a rather useless word, but ethnicity is an indispensable concept in polytheism that needs to be redefined* in today’s troubled, modernized and global world.

To begin with not all forms of polytheism are based around a specific culture or ethnic group.  There are newer polytheist religions like the Otherfaith and the Fellowship of the Phoenix which have their own pantheons.

One can also be a polytheist within many different religions and philosophies that include different theologies such as: Wicca, Thelema, Discordianism, Unitarian Universalism, ADF Druidry, Revival Druidry, Core Shamanism, the women’s spirituality/Goddess movement and theistic Satanism/Luciferianism. In addition to of course, un-interrupted polytheisms-  indigenous Asian, African, North & South American religions/spiritual traditions. The so-called “polytheist movement” or “polytheist community” doesn’t always reflect this, making it seem as though all polytheists in the “Western” cultural sphere are reconstructionists, revivalists or traditionalists of some type. We need to be careful to say what we really mean when we say polytheist, who are we including or excluding? I find conversations with polytheists from other culturally focused traditions very illuminating, but I also enjoy conversations with polytheistic Wiccans, Druids, Thelemites etc. Of course many of us have multiple affiliations and spiritual/cultural identities. That’s one of the great things about polytheism, after all! 

For those of us drawn to culturally based religions I would tend between the first view and the third view. Rather than ethnic ancestry however, I would define it more by cultural upbringing since many of us are far removed from the cultures of our ethnic ancestors, if indeed we even know who they are. Certain people (typically some folkish Heathens) are prone to claim Heathenry or Asatru as pan-European and the label “Celtic” is often defined so loosely that anything vaguely resembling nature spirituality regardless of cultural or historic origin gets lumped in. I know many people who have made a serious effort to connect with traditions that they have ancestral connections to, or believe they have connections to with not much success, while instead stumbling across a connection to cultural tradition that they are not related to. Some of these people were later able to more easily connect with their roots after exploring another, non-ancestral tradition either temporarily or in addition to their ancestral tradition. Many people also honor their own ancestors within their adopted tradition- indeed it is often a requirement of their tradition!

The ancestry doesn’t matter at all stance goes too far. I’ve seen some polytheists become so concerned about racism and nationalism that they discouraged even mentioning or honoring ancestors as part of their practice. In particular I recall a Heathen group in Austria that had that policy– they didn’t honor ancestors in their rituals. That is going way too far. Veneration of ancestors and the dead is key component of any traditional cultural polytheism, and I also think it’s important in other forms of polytheism, simply because we’re all human, we don’t live a long time, and remembering our past and where we come from either by familial or adoptive descent or other kinds of lineage is key part in knowing who we are. In fact, I believe that instinct is the most basic ingredient of religious reverence, we can see it in our Neanderthal cousins, as well as intelligent species such as elephants. Another Pagan, NeoWayland has a unique take that some might find more approachable. Here’s another post I’ve written about different types of ancestors.

 

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July 19, 2018 at 8:03 am 2 comments

Things Other White People Tell Me

They tell me, if I work in solidarity with people of color, and try to educate myself to unlearn the racism I have been taught, that I must be motivated by white guilt.

They tell me if I criticize what other white people say, that I must hate myself- my skin, my “culture”, “heritage”, “people”. They don’t specify what they mean by those things. Apparently I share their culture, am one of their people, just based on my skin color…

They tell me that immigrants are coming to destroy “our” way of life, religion, culture, take “our” jobs. They forget all the same things were said about their ancestors.

They tell me Black, brown, Asian people are more homophobic and sexist- it’s just “their culture” what do you expect. While most of the laws made to oppress queer people and women are made by white (purportedly straight) men. Clearly we need to invade those other countries so we can civilize them and bring them feminism, or atheism, or capitalism or Christianity. Because that would be progress.

They ask why study other languages, because English is clearly the best one, immigrants all need to learn English. They forget how long their German or other ancestors kept speaking their languages. They forget some of my ancestors stopped speaking their native language, being force-taught “superior English” before even coming to this country.

They tell me that “white genocide” is apparently a problem I should be worried about, forgetting that some of my ancestors survived genocide- whether they were considered “white” or not at the time.

They worry about me riding the bus and walking in certain neighborhoods, in spite of the fact that a white cis (non-trans) woman is less likely to be attacked than a woman or man of color.

They want to keep out Syrian and other Muslim refugees to protect white women like me. That’s why the Klan was formed, why countless Black men were hung. To protect white women. I am more likely to be abused or attacked by white men- simply due to who is in my social circle, and who I tend to date. If that happens, though I suppose their concern for me will disappear, how was I dressed, did I have a proper escort.

I am also told that I need protection from the trans women who need to use the bathroom. In spite of the fact that I’ve experienced far more bullying from other white cis girls, because I wasn’t feminine enough, my teenage autistic awkwardness sticking out. I learned that there were many ways to be a woman from trans women, from women of color, from non-binary and genderqueer folks. The same people making these bathroom laws also oppose anti-bullying laws. Who are they actually protecting?

February 29, 2016 at 2:27 am Leave a comment

Diasporan Polytheism

Diaspora is a Greek word meaning to scatter, usually referring to ethnic groups which have been scattered forcibly by expulsion, persecution, genocide and other not-fun thing humans do to each other. The most famous example which often gets the capital D is the Jewish Diaspora, the Irish and African diasporae are other well-known examples. A diasporan religion is one that is practiced around the world far from its origin- Judaism, once again, as well as African and Afro-Caribbean, Chinese folk religion, Shinto and Hinduism. How does the concept of diasporan religion work differently for broken traditions such as European polytheisms in the Americas, Australia et al.? It is tricky to call them “broken” per se, as there are folk customs of honoring land spirits, saint cults with possible pre-Christian roots and magical practices that have been carried across the oceans. Typically these have survived more strongly in rural areas, the Ozarks, Appalachia, Nova Scotia and Deitsch areas being good examples.

This is one of the difficulties of the Irish diaspora in the United States- a mostly rural people became one of the most urban. People even identify their origins by what city they are from- as I sometimes explain to folks that my father is “Philly Irish” (Philadelphia) rather than St. Paul Irish. Then of course we discuss what counties we know our ancestors came from. According to Wikipedia- in depth research I know- Philadelphia has the second largest Irish-American population, Boston being the first.

Like Sarenth discusses here (Broken Lines), there was very little in the way of ethnic cultural traditions that were passed down to me. Then again, I realize there was in way- this would make my father cringe but we are pretty culturally Anglo. It just tends to not be recognized as “ethnic” as its the Wonderbread of American culture (and German culture to some degree, just spell it Wunderbrod) And on the other side, various forms of resistance to dominant Anglo-American culture, including the assertion of Irish identity, trappings of hippie-dom and such. Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that I often find British Druids easier to get along with, while the few Irish-in Ireland people I encounter online seem a bit hostile to American Irish polytheists/pagans/New Agers  being concerned that we don’t care about the living culture, only the old stones of the past, think Ireland is stuck in an endless time loop of the Quiet Man, and we made their lives suck by funding the Irish Republican Army. And using their culture to promote white supremacy.  I understand and empathize with many of these concerns, except maybe the IRA one. WTF? Interesting essay about Irish assimilation here. I guess my dad’s take on Irish identity was the opposite of Sean Hannity & Bill O’Reilly- he saw supporting the Civil Rights movement as a moral duty- both as American citizens and in memory of the challenges our ancestors faced. It’s very interesting to compare the similarities and differences of these three diasporae, adding more in of course- I highly recommend Ronald Takaki’s book A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, as well as PBS’ 3 documentaries- the Irish in America, Africans in America, and the Jews in America. There is also now one on Italians but I have not seen it yet, so I can’t vouch for its quality either way.

Polytheisms as Diasporic Religions

Vodou F*cks Everything Up

 

January 13, 2016 at 2:29 am 6 comments

Cultural Sharing vs. Stealing- Past Posts

There’s been yet another dust-up on Pagan Patheos about cultural appropriation- I’m not bothering to post links, you can find them yourself, and I found both of them had a mix of things I agreed with & disagreed with.

So, I’m re-posting links to some older posts I’ve written on the subject. My views may not be exactly the same as the various times these were written, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s very difficult to have all around hard and fast rules about what’s OK and what’s not OK- many folks on Tumblr use the concept of “closed” and “open” cultures, and while it’s good that gets the concept across that some things are off limits, I think it’s also an oversimplification. Many people think Shinto and Hinduism are “closed” but I know non-Japanese and non-South Asian-descended people who practice those religions in fairly traditional ways. Other traditions that are seen as “open” like revived/reconstructed European traditions still have etiquette and taboos, so it’s not like Woo! anything goes!

Cultural Appropriation Has Lost Its Meaning– the Blargh! Everyone’s talking past each other! post

All Wrong: Religion, Culture, Country– the whatever, I don’t care anymore, everything White Americans Do is Wrong post

Educate Yourself!  Attempt at figuring out some guidelines for approaching other cultures respectfully

Encouraging Respectful Language while being respectful

How Folkish Heathenry Differs from Judaism & Native American tribes

Fellow White Liberals, We Created Rachel Dolezal

September 30, 2015 at 1:54 am Leave a comment

Regional/Cultural Divisions in North America

There are various ways people have tried to divide North America based on cultural settlement, economic activity, etc. Though really, the biggest division tends to be between the urban and rural areas! But if you’re curious here are some books, they are in reverse chronological order. I have only read the 9 Nations one. I think what is a lot more useful, would be to research the history and culture of the particular area you live in. (Above link compares these various books)

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard (2011) This sounds like it oversimplifies and leaves out a lot about later immigration.

American Colonies: the Settling of North America by Alan Taylor (2001) This one covers all the European colonial powers, so- Dutch, British, French, Spanish. Might be of interest.

Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer (1989) This one really goes into cultural differences between early British settlements, and is definitely on my to-read list!

The Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garreau (1981) I think this has similar problems to the Eleven Nations book

Immigration & Assimilation from European Ethnic to “Whiteness”

How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev (this one I have actually read- very good, though depressing!)

Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights America by Matthew Frye Jacobson

Special Sorrows: the Diasporic Imaginations of Irish, Polish & Jewish Immigrants in the United States by Matthew Frye Jacobson

Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants & the Alchemy of Race by Matthew Frye Jacobson

Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White by David Roediger

**Good White People: the Problem with Middle Class White Anti-Racism by Shannon Sullivan (this sounds very good!)

After reading  reviews I would NOT recommend these-

Are Italians White? How Race is Made in America- the reviewer notes that the authors only compare Italian-Americans with African-Americans, not with Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Latinos or other groups that might have more similarities. It does not take into consideration discrimination that did take place against Italians, and especially Sicilians.

How Jews Became White Folks by Karen Brodkin- apparently the problem with this one is that it does not discuss the background of anti-Semitism in Europe much, and is better at discussing gender issues than racial issues. There are plenty of other books about Jewish American identity & assimilation, so I would look elsewhere.

Note

Please share if you have any opinions on these books or additional ones that may be of interest. There is most certainly *much more* out there to read about various cultural influences in the U.S. and Canada- I am sorting through stuff about European immigration due to my own interests and focus, so this is not to exclude anyone else!

I have started reading “A Different Mirror- A History of Multicultural America” by Ronald Takaki which is quite good so far.

Warning- For anyone who reads this, and decides I am “anti-white people”, “racist against white people”, “anti-American” etc. and feels the need to trumpet this, your comments will be deleted.

August 11, 2015 at 10:34 pm Leave a comment

Fellow White Liberals- We Created Rachel Dolezal

First off- who is Rachel Dolezal? She was until recently the president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP- the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She is also a professor of Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University. For ten years she has been presenting herself as a light-skinned African-American woman, but recently both her parents came forward to the press and said  essentially- Ahem, we’re her birth parents, and this is our ancestry, and African it ain’t (well other than the all humans eventually come from Africa part)  To be clear I think Ms. Dolezal was wrong to misrepresent herself to Black communities, and the way she treated her family members (both her parents & brothers) makes me a little sad inside. I suppose some people would say, hey screw identities/labels, and race, she can be whoever she wants to be, and what matters is the activist & academic work she’s done.

I’m not going to spend too much time self-righteously condemning her, because I think this is a time for anti-racist & social justice-y white folks to reflect. Because while Ms. Dolezal may have creating her identity, we created the culture that made her possible. The culture of All Identities Are Valid, Create Your Own Reality, and Everything is a Subjective Social Construction. Granted, I still do affirm that many categories like race and gender are social constructions, but I do not deny biological differences in human beings such as variation in skin color and anatomy. But the facts of biology and the meanings and stories that humans assign to these variations over the course of history are two different things. The social consequences of being assigned a “race” at birth are very real, even if the divisions between the races are often arbitrary. Based on the “one-drop rule” of American culture that goes back to slavery, even 1 distant ancestor of African origins could give Rachel Dolezal the social license to identify as Black, while the same amount of Latino, Asian or Native American heritage would likely still mean she was white. I am not sure who or what is the deciding factor in why this “rule” is still used, and certainly it’s much less of a factor in determining people’s identities.

Now, I’ve spent a lot of time in mostly white activist-y groups (or non-activist groups with a progressive slant, like the Pagan subcultures) Whenever race is discussed, there is always a mixture of white guilt, ritual confessions of racial “sins” both individual and collective (especially directed awkwardly towards any person of color who happens to be present!) and earnest attempts at white ally “guidelines” or rules. I’ve heard people apologize for growing up in all-white towns in Iowa that left them “culturally illiterate”. I’ve witnessed much hang-wringing and self-flagellation about the lack of diversity in both membership in leadership of various organizations. I’ve also wondered about what types of diversity are we talking about- and not talking about? Would I get more “diversity points” as a woman of color than I do currently as a white bisexual Pagan woman with invisible disabilities? I “know better” though, than to bring these things up.

I’ve voluntarily attended multiple workshops and panel presentations about white privilege and allyship, and speeches by David Roediger and Tim Wise, both authors/leaders/activists in whiteness studies and white “allyship”.  I’ve read many books on racial issues. And I still don’t really know How to Be a Good White Person. Mostly I just try to be a good person in general, and try to stop worrying so much about saying and do the Wrong Thing. Mostly I try to make an effort to listen to people from different backgrounds from myself, and do what I can to help their voices be included.  I think American culture has plenty of ways to encourage people of color to become neurotic self-doubters and self-haters on the basis of their skin color and ethnic culture, but for white folks signing up for these neuroses is largely voluntary. So any whining we do is understandably, not going garner much sympathy. And it’s not really helping anyone, including ourselves. Guilt eats away at your stomach, not at injustice. We also aren’t sure what we’re supposed to be culturally. Rachel is “part Czech, German, Swiss and possibly Native American”. Did her parents talk about any of that when she was growing up, and learning to admire the cultures of their friends and neighbors? Beyond a few family recipes, I suspect not, like in many “white” families. It doesn’t matter where we come from, we’re all Americans now. Except, I forgot to tell you honey, but no, you can’t be Black. Or Indian. Or Asian. But I don’t know what to tell you to be instead. Just be a “regular” American!

So no, I’m not surprised at all at by Rachel Dolezal. I can see why she did what she did, even if it was dishonest and an “easy way out” of the endless unspoken “Well, WTF am I supposed do?” questions that lurk in white “allies” minds.

References:

Passing for Black? Now That’s a Twist

When Rachel Dolezal Attended Howard University, She Was Still White

Why Rachel Dolezal Would Want to Pass as a Black Woman

June 15, 2015 at 11:53 pm 3 comments

Feminism Beyond Black and White

Earlier, I mentioned there seems to be a growing division between Black and white feminists. As I’ve done more reading and listening to speeches, books and blogs by Black women, I’ve come to better understand and empathize with their concerns, and see the problems with mainstream liberal feminism- that it is centered around the concerns of upper-middle class, educated cisgender non-disabled white career women- or stay-at home moms who have “opted out”- the so-called “Mommy Wars” frame this as a choice for “every woman” while ignoring that is truly only a choice for some. To make clear that this “feminism” is not truly inclusive, it has come to referred to as white feminism.To be fair, I understand that the “white feminism” is distinct from “feminism(s) as theorized/practiced by feminists who are white” (The definition of white also varies by country & culture)

I’ve toyed with “Country club feminism” instead- since country clubs traditionally exclude all the groups that white feminism excludes (or make feeble but clueless attempts to include!) However, like “white feminism” I think it ends up having a rather U.S. centric cultural connotation. Clearly, this is very much a false dichotomy, to begin with it leaves out Latina, Asian, Pacific Islander and indigenous women activists (whether they identify as feminist or not) And even within the designation of Black, it is not always clear how inclusive this may be of Afro-Caribbean and African immigrants and their descendants and people who still live in Africa or other parts of the diaspora. (Sometimes Black/African Diasporan feminism/womanism is used instead)

I feel white liberal style feminism does include lesbians pretty well- at least if they are white and class privileged. There is a mixed record with bisexual women, and an even more mixed record of trans inclusion! Poor/working class and disabled women might be included if they manage to “make it” into the business, academic or political fields- so long as they keep the focus on their struggles with sexism and less about other isms.

Another tension between Black and white feminism is the use of the term intersectionality, which was coined by Black feminist legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw to discuss the complexities of discrimination and oppression experienced by Black women- including gender, race and class. I have embraced this concept and seen it used by many feminists of various cultural backgrounds, but then it came to my attention that intersectionality is being used more broadly than intended by Ms. Crenshaw and her colleagues. I am not sure what this means for non-Black feminists of color, but at least for white feminists, please note that I did write this post discussing various forms of oppression without using the word until this paragraph. I think we are intelligent and capable of coming up with our own words, though perhaps we can still use intersectionality when Black women are part of the conversation. White (sub)culture(s) built on stealing from others have made us lazy and uncreative, learning to create without taking from others (and not giving back) is a skill we need to develop. Even if we are intersectional, we need to show it with our actions, not by just invoking the word!

Further reading-

#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen- Women of Colors’s issue with Digital Feminism- by Mikki Kendall

Conversation with Patricia Hill Collins (Black feminist/womanist) about use of intersectionality by white feminists

If You’re White, Don’t Call Yourself an Intersectional Feminist

May 1, 2015 at 2:12 am Leave a comment

Separate Worlds: Race, Disability and Sexuality

The reason I wrote the previous post is, I cannot say enough how important the concept of intersectionality is to me as a bisexual disabled woman who is considered “white”.  I have tried to articulate these types of ideas before, “interconnecting identities” I believe is the phrase I used. But it seems as if I knew no one else who was talking about it. Intersectionality is a term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, a legal scholar who researched how Black women experienced both racism and sexism within the legal system, but that the system would only recognize those as separate forms of discrimination without seeing how they interacted.  Yet as I watch various conflicts unfold between feminists and other activists, I sometimes wonder if intersectionality is a concept I can truly share in, because I am socially and legally classified as white. I have noticed that some Black feminists resent white feminists using this term. But more about feminism and my place in it (or lack thereof) later.

As I’ve discussed before, I grew up with my parents being involved in racial justice in the NAACP and in the United Methodist Church in particular- in both Topeka, Kansas and Dubuque, Iowa in the 1990’s.  This may have been where I started to get the idea of the Civil Rights movement as the Holy Grail to which all social movements cannot be compared.

While we were living in Topeka, my brother and I were both labeled as being on the autism spectrum. I was noticed as having anxiety problems (fragile moods, the doctor called it) and my brother had various developmental delays including with speech.  At the time it was very unusual for so-called “high-functioning” autism to be identified, and we were lucky that my Dad was working for the Menninger Foundation, a mental health organization where we had access to more state-of the art psychologists. So while my parents advocating for justice along racial lines, they also began advocating for my brother and I’s inclusion as students with disabilities. They attended state autism conferences (and once my mom made it to an international one in Toronto). They developed a small social network of other parents with autistic children, particular with Asperger’s Syndrome. I was always the only girl. I never thought about that fact that everyone we seemed to encounter in the “autism world” was white- this was Iowa after all. This was not really questioned or commented on.

Advocacy for disabled student inclusion in schools was a matter of civil rights and justice too, and yet it seemed to exist in a parallel world from the NAACP- or the United Methodist Church for that matter. I remember my mother describing the pain and isolation she felt from other church members, when she tried to explain the emotional outbursts, the embarrassing questions, the sensory issues. Somehow all this didn’t seem to be a part of the church’s social justice mission- they were just her parenting problems.

My parents also advocated for multicultural education, following the lead of a controversial new superintendent in the Dubuque Area school district. I believe this encompassed including the perspectives of Black, Hispanic and Asian-American and possibly Native Americans in the social studies curriculum, and perhaps the roles of women in American history. I mostly remember February as Black History month, and little insets here and there in our textbooks about African-Americans and American Indians and women of various ethnicities. It was certainly, more advanced than the education my parents had received. I don’t believe multicultural perspectives were incorporated into other parts of the curriculum, such as art, music and science. But it was a start, I suppose. While controversies over “political correctness”, the lascivious behavior of Presidents, and other matters raged on, we quietly went about our lives in “flyover country”. Diversity included race and ethnicity, perhaps religion (if you were allowed to discuss it) and the most exotic religion I was aware of at the time was the Bahai’i Faith, due to friends my parents had made in peace and racial justice movements. And gender- which mean men and women- no other options.

Gays and lesbians (bisexual and transgender people were barely on the radar) were just starting to emerge into the national spotlight to demand their rights, though I wasn’t really aware that homosexuality existed until I was in junior high. At the time, no one would dream of breathing a word about the existence of gay people in K-12 schools. Just mentioning it would magically cause young children to decide that they couldn’t possibly resist this decadent “lifestyle choice”. And disability- well that existed in the form of Linda on Sesame Street, the Deaf lady that taught us bits of American Sign Language, various characters and people in real life who used wheelchairs and canes or were blind or had Down Syndrome. Sometimes when a kids TV show wanted to show how awesome and modern it was they would have a multiracial cast with bonus- one white male in a wheelchair! It was truly radical.

To be continued…

March 28, 2015 at 2:29 am 1 comment

Civil Rights Movement: How Dare You Compare!

I’ve often seen the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s held up in a sort of strange but lofty isolation from other social justice movements, to the point where people almost seem to regard it as the only real legit social movement to which all others look silly and petty in comparison and Martin Luther King Jr. is the Best Activist Leader Ever, and the whole thing including him as prophet was anointed and blessed by God. I’ve seen this portrayal by everyone from Black men and women to both white liberals and conservatives. Along with this ideology is the belief that racism is the worst form of oppression, and anyone who tries to compare it with other forms of oppression or their own movement with The Movement, is being racist and appropriating from Black people.

It’s hard to articulate exactly where I’ve seen this, though I think it was a more common tactic in the earlier 2000s and 1990s. As I’ve read and listened to more writing and speeches by women and queer people of color, in particular I have come to realize the disrespectful attitudes white feminists and white GLBTQ movement activists have had towards communities of color and their struggles. When we hear this narrative, we need to question who is promoting it and who is framing it, and what is their agenda? Who are they trying to win over or alienate? Likewise, women, queer and disabled people of color are  in the strongest positions to critique these ideas- they can speak from their own experiences about how racism is similar and different from other types of oppression. The view of MLK as the Best Leader the Black Community Will Ever Have is very self-defeating and oversimplified. He was a great man surely, but like any man he was flawed. He is given way too much credit while many women such as Ella Baker, and Bayard Rustin, a gay man who was responsible for much of the organizing of the March on Washington, are all too often forgotten by historians. This is the case with *every social movement* or field of art or science for that matter. Each one has many people who played key roles, but were more introverted, too ill or disabled, or female, or queer, or radical to be in the spotlight, or did not have the means to access education or travel or media coverage. That’s why I really enjoy reaching into history and remembering those who have been forgotten as my activist ancestors.

March 28, 2015 at 1:24 am 4 comments

U.U. Race Relations Compared to Pagan Race Relations

As I’ve discussed before, I was raised in the United Methodist Church, with parents who were involved in racial/social justice organizing both within the UMC and in broader society. Most Protestant denominations in the United States broke apart over the question of slavery or of integration. Many of them have made official apologies, acknowledgements of wrongdoing to African-Americans and sometimes American Indians depending on their history. Unitarian Universalists are a largely white denomination and we too have been working at racial reconciliation. Some congregations have made apologies to the family members of Black ministers that they didn’t call, there is at least one U.U. church that has a plaque in honor of the slaves who built the building. We have a long way to go, and are far from perfect, but we are committed to this journey. Recently I read “The Selma Awakening” by Mark Morrison-Reed, a book about U.U. involvement in the Civil Rights movement. Before the march to Selma, U.U.s had made various proclamations against racism, and made some attempts at integrating the ministry, with very mixed results. When Martin Luther King Jr. called upon clergy of all faiths to come march to Selma, many U.U.s heeded the call, and this was a turning point in the U.U. commitment to racial and economic justice.

I am trying to take what I am learning about U.U. racial history and apply it to a Pagan community context, but in some ways I find the situations are not very comparable, probably no more so than if I were to compare to the history of the United Methodist Church.

  • Though considered heretics and persecuted at times in Europe, in the U.S. for the most part, Unitarians and Universalists could practice their faiths openly and freely with formally recognized churches and clergy
  • Wicca came “out of the broom closet” in the 1950’s, and Paganism more broadly in the 1970’s. There were earlier groups, the Church of Aphrodite was formed & legally recognized in 1939 in New York, but they are outliers.
  • While tending to be mostly white, and sometimes insular, people of color could technically join both U churches, though they were not always accepted.
  • Covens and esoteric orders, being initiatory and secretive, tended to stick to a mostly white middle-class social network.
  • Public, celebratory groups and festivals opened up Paganism to a broader spectrum of people, book publishing and the internet even more so.
  • The Unitarian Universalist Association is one organization, albeit a loose structure, that congregations belong to as members.
  • Pagan groups are mostly small and local, with a minority having a larger organizational affiliation. Most Pagans are solitary. (There’s one similarity- there are many U.U.s that do not have a local congregation or fellowship)
  • Unitarian Universalism affirms social justice oriented values- while some Pagan traditions (like Reclaiming Witchcraft) may affirm commitments to peace, environmentalism, gender equality, etc. and individual Pagans might connect activism with their personal beliefs and practices, Paganism in general is not united under any set of principles, and even Wicca specifically does not require any socio-political commitments. (Which is fine, by the way- I’m certainly not proposing a platform for all of Pagandom!)

I think we need to delve into our history in order to understand where we are now. I am going to start by talking about Wicca and related ceremonial magic groups and esoteric orders in Britain and the United States. This is partly because I simply know more about this history, not because other traditions don’t matter, and also because of the influences they have had on other forms of Paganism. American Asatru arose as a separate movement, with different socio-political and cultural influences, so it makes sense to discuss it separately. If you have information about the history of inclusion and exclusion of various ethnic and other groups from your tradition of Paganism, polytheism (or insert preferred label) that you would like to share, please link, I’d be interested in hearing about it. (Also please let me know if I get anything wrong!)

March 5, 2015 at 4:49 am Leave a comment

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