Posts tagged ‘racism’

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.

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

Do Not Claim to Speak For Me

Do not claim to speak for me

When your voice fillls with hate and superiority

I am not of your “sisterhood”

I am not of your exclusionary tribe

Those you cast aside, that you scorn

I know I’m not far behind

You tell me I betray “our kind of people”, but you didn’t ask if I was really one of “us”.

I may look like the right kind of woman, from the right neighborhood, the right school, the right country, speaking the right language with the right accent

Clean, respectable, honest, punctual

Trustworthy, loyal to some cause or nation, real or imagined

I’m only of value if I keep silent or stay in line.

I’m not here to be your example, your metaphor, a symbol for your struggle.

What do you know of my struggle? Or whether I share in yours?

You Do Not Speak for Me.

Entrance Fee

My college degree is a membership fee

To enter your special club

I see my friends outside, looking in.

I’d give my ticket away to them. I can’t find my way inside this maze.

But maybe instead I’ll find other ways. Other paths inside to speak my truths about different ways of being

I can’t take apart your country club. But I can open the doors a little wider. I can draw maps of the mazes inside.

(Not sure if this one is done…)

June 16, 2015 at 11:19 pm 1 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

Ways Religious Syncretism Happens

Syncretism is when you combine two things together to create a new thing, and it’s very common in many religions. It happens both historically and in modern times, for a variety of reasons. I’ll start by discussing historical examples, and will cover ways to approach syncretism yourself in another post.

Syncretism in the Roman Empire– We’ll Go to War with You and Then Add your Gods to Our Pantheon!

As Romans added territory to their Empire, they encountered people who worshiped other gods. Being polytheists, they didn’t really care so long as the Gauls, Germannii and so forth obeyed them. But the Romans liked to say “oh, that god you call Wodan is kinda like Mercurius”, just as they had done earlier with the Greek gods. This is referred to as Interpretatio Romana. Sometimes these foreign gods were adopted into Roman religion, often with Romanized names. Sometimes we don’t know the original Celtic, Germanic, Iberian or Slavic name as a result. In addition various Eastern mystery cults were brought in- often by soldiers and traders- including Isis (Greco-Egyptian) Kybele (Anatolian) Mithras (Persian) It was kind of like the ancient Roman version of the New Age- ooh, cool, I’m going to try out this new religion! Complete with parents and other authority figures getting annoyed by all this weird new-fangled stuff. More on mystery cults in another post.

Colonialism, Slavery, Suppression of Culture/Religion– When people from West Africa were enslaved and taken to the Caribbean, the American colonies, Brazil, and other parts of South America they brought their culture and beliefs with them. Because they were expected to be “good Christians” (often synonymous with being an obedient slave!) they kept their traditions alive under the guise of Catholicism- various spirits were identified with saints. Theology note: in many of these traditions there is a Creator God- identified with the Christian God who is more distant, and other beings who serve Him- so the world “god” is only used for the High God, the rest are Spirits or Powers.  In mainly Protestant areas such as the Southern United States (outside of French Catholic Louisiana) African influences can be found in music, ecstatic healing and dancing, folk art, stories like Brer Rabbit and Aunt Nancy (Anansi) belief and magic. These are often referred to as Afro-Caribbean religions. *Some* followers of these faiths identify as Pagans or associate with Pagan & metaphysical communities, others group themselves more with African Traditional Religions (ATRs)- some with both. Many also consider themselves to be Catholics, and would look at you strangely if you invited them to a Pagan Pride event!

Similarly in Central and South America, indigenous religious beliefs are often syncretized with Catholicism. It’s very interesting to watch how various Catholic officials in Latin American have reacted over time to manifestations of folk religion. La Virgen de Guadalupe, (who may be influenced by the Aztec goddess Tonantzin) is totally accepted as the patroness of Mexico. The cult of Santa Muerte (Saint Death, a female Grim Reaper figure) on the other hand is greatly discouraged by the Church, but has many devoted followers who generally identify as Catholic.

Conversion of Europe- Messier than Your Sunday School Teacher said it was… Now, to be clear in contrast to the mass conversion of the Americas, Christianization in Europe was not necessarily the result of colonialism. It was nasty sometimes, but it didn’t go along with slavery and genocide to quite the same degree. Within the Roman Empire, colonialism and slavery were already there, Christianity was just a nice bonus. Outside the Empire, people typically became Christian because their king or chieftain said, “I’d love to be allies with you, neighboring Christian king- sure I’ll get baptized if that’s what it takes!” and then the peasants had to at least pay lip service to Christ, even if their heart wasn’t in it. Remember, for a good chunk of European history, in many places there was a lack of formal churches and trained clergy, and most people were not literate. So often people were mostly “Christian” politically, but on a daily basis in their little villages, they were praying and making offerings to spirits and ancestors- over time more Christian language was added, and gods became disguised as saints, so in many ways not so different than the later examples I gave in the so-called New World. Actually one way we often learn of various gods and holidays and customs, is from accounts written by clerics complaining about this or that awful pagan thing those ignorant peasants keep doing! We have to keep in mind that they may exaggerate and make it sound “worse” than it was (especially if they are trying to convince Rome to send more missionaries to someplace cold!) but still it’s kind of a ironically fun way of finding information!

So likewise, if you are researching European forms of polytheism, you will likely need to research local folk versions of Christianity in whatever country and region you are studying.

Questions for reflection (this is messy so there are really no “right or wrong” answers!

How does syncretic polytheism in the Roman Empire remind you (or not!) of modern cosmopolitan cultures?

Who of the different people(s) I discussed might consider themselves pagan, Pagan, Christian, Catholic or a member of an indigenous religion? Might they identify with more than one label? Can you be both pagan and Christian? Why or why not?

What examples of syncretic folk religion are you familiar with in your own life? (Could be Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Unitarian Universalist etc)

Have you noticed differences in how religion was taught officially vs. how it was practiced at home? Did this cause any confusion for you growing up?

May 18, 2015 at 2:02 am 3 comments

Comments on Why I am Not a Heathen

I reblogged Pagan Church Lady’s Why I am Not a Heathen essay But of course, being me I have to add my own commentary. I am not sure whether I’d identify with the label Heathen or not- I generally call myself a polytheist- the details vary as I figure out my path. I tag my posts about Germanic/Norse religion with heathen, heathenry and asatru partly just to add another voice for inclusive, non-asshole Heathenry.

Rejection of NeoPaganism

I have generally found more friendly attitudes from Heathens who interact with broader Neo-Pagandom. Their friendship and cooperation does not necessarily mean being “fluffy” or “eclectic” just as when I go to an interfaith gathering, that doesn’t mean I suddenly decide I’m going to start observing Buddhist or Muslim traditions.

I most definitely respect the choice of Heathens and Heathen groups to choose to engage and work with other Pagans or not. I think there are various good reasons for doing so. I can also understand why many Heathens feel they don’t have much in common with non-Heathen Pagans or even simply feel excluded by Pagan festivals, Pagan Prides and other entities that are very Wicca-centric. Many other polytheists and followers of other indigenous/folk/tribal religions feel similarly.

It would be enough to simply state- “As a Heathen, I don’t consider myself/identify as part of the broader Neo-Pagan communit(ies), here are some reasons why…” and list some relatively neutral reasons of differences in values, focus etc. I do see those sorts of explanations from some folks. But even more often, I see a list of generalizations with undertone of “Eeew- we’re not like Those People!” A caricature of promiscuous, nudist, hippies is then painted- while on the other side, a caricature of gun-toting redneck Heathens  is painted by some Pagans. Rather ironic- considering both Pagan and Heathen mean “redneck/hick/hillbilly” in other languages. In any case, obviously these generalizations are very harmful to all our communities, so I ask that we try to get to know & judge each other as individuals. I admit that I can be very judgmental myself and make assumptions about other people’s character, beliefs and behavior based on their appearance, the bumperstickers on their car and so forth. So this is a learning process for everyone, I am no exception!

Dismissal of UPG/Spiritual Experience

I most definitely consider the Eddas, Sagas and so forth to be useful sources of information about Germanic and Norse mythology and religion. But they are not The Lore- Holy Writ from On High as Handed to us by the Gods! The Eddas, in particular are Norse myth skaldic Christian fan fiction. Actual folklore, by definition is information (lore) handed down orally by the folk, the common people, not attributed to any one person. Just as we’ve gotten literary interpretations of legends of King Arthur and his knights from Malory’s Le Morte de Arthur and secondary or tertiary historical sources from Geoffrey of Monmouth, we have literary interpretations of Norse mythology and history written from particular viewpoints by authors of Sagas and Roman dudes like Tacitus. Is Snorri Sturluson a better source for the original myths than say, Wilhelm Wagner? Yes, definitely. But that doesn’t make the Eddas holy writ. To develop any revived polytheism into a living religion we need to come up with our own folklore- we are the folk- the common people. We can use texts as guides and templates, and hold them up against our own insights and experiences. But ultimately, we need to create lore ourselves- for our time, for our lands, for our people. Likewise, Heathens in Europe tend to draw more heavily from the folklore and customs of their respective nations, even if those customs don’t go back to preChristian times. We can too. But we live in different climates, different terrains, with different cultures. So we need to adapt accordingly.

My additions- Black & White Thinking– Whenever I attempt to join an online Heathen group, before posting I have to learn not just the rules of moderation, but all the unwritten rules of this particular cadre of Heathens which I learn by lurking and carefully poking thru archives before I dare make a post. Which authors are good, which are “fluffy”. Whether patrons or fulltrui, let alone godspouses are a Real Thing ™ Whether using runes, magic and seidhr is a legit part of Asatru/Heathenry or assumed to be a fluffy Wiccan influence. Whether certain beings/deities/spirits are off-limits or not. Whether exhibiting any sense of compassion and mercy is hospitality or “Too weak and Christian”. Granted, Pagans across the board are quite capable of black & white thinking, and engage it quite avidly, but I don’t typically see the same level of uniform judgment about *every single spiritual belief & practice* My Lords and Ladies!

A Stupid, Crazy Level of Ableism Pagans, not being any exception to our broader cultural influences are once again quite capable of every sort of ism- racism typically manifests as clueless, well-meaning “we’re all human/I don’t see color” platitudes and micro-aggressions, sexism typically as gender essentialism and Truly Liberated Women will, of course sleep with me! Homophobia and biphobia are typically not tolerated, but transphobia definitely rears its head especially in the name of “safe spaces/rituals for women”. Ableism is most definitely present in various forms. But damn, among Heathen groups online anyway- I found the ableist insults and assumptions to be so constant as to be intolerable. Other isms, while present, I could learn to dodge, but I found ableist crap in pretty much every Facebook heathen group I have joined and left, notable exceptions are the Urglaawe/Braucherei groups, ADF Heathens, and a couple of local Heathen groups. Lokeans, while they vary broadly are also generally more inclusive of most categories of excluded people- I consider them a slightly different category however, since not all them identify as Heathen. People act worse online in general, but I notice particular sets of obnoxious traits among online Heathen groups, atheist/skeptic/humanist groups, Men’s Rights Activists (MRA’s) and right-wing libertarians- rampant ableism (under the guise of intellectual snobbery/superiority- anyone who disagrees is stupid/retarded/crazy) machismo, and dominance by white male heterosexuals who raise a hissy fit if anyone ever mentions the concept of privilege, and loudly claim how oppressed they are by Social Justice Warriors. I agree that some nonsense that goes on in the name of “social justice” online is pretty ridiculous, but they can’t distinguish between that and everything else. (Yes the irony of that subtitle was intentional)

The Racial stuff– well, that you already know my opinion, and I have been informed by certain Heathens that I’m apparently “obsessed” with race, motivated by white guilt, “cultural Marxism” and other interesting accusations. It seems I’ve violated some social norms of their communities by not minding my own business. Well if speaking out against racism violates the norms of your community, I definitely don’t want to be a part of it. Clearly I share values with some Heathens and not others, but once again that is the same with every other community I participate in.

May 15, 2015 at 4:36 am 1 comment

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

#Black Lives Matter is Not Racism 101

Throughout the past year, I’ve watched many organizations, both political, religious and civic, particularly those with predominantly white leadership, grapple with the desire to make a statement of solidarity, support, concern or otherwise in regards to the Black Lives Matter series of tragedies and responsive events (my inner political science nerd has trouble calling it a movement yet) The problem is, that some of these groups have not done much in the way of previous work, study or discussion to develop better racial understanding. I have especially noticed this among GLBT, Pagan and Heathen organizations, many of which are comparatively younger organizations, historically very white and not always inclusive of people of color, particularly in leadership positions. As a result there’s been a lot of turmoil in many communities, and long-suppressed tensions have arisen, friendships, professional and organizational partnerships have been threatened or even broken.

There is a large gap in understanding of racial issues between Black and White Americans. It’s always been there, since the first African slaves and free African immigrants alike came here. The gap has changed in nature over time, but it is still far greater than many White Americans realize, and Black Americans while painfully aware of our ignorance, are still surprised by the depth of ignorance. I’ve explained to some Black folks, that in fact, some white folks genuinely *do not realize* why blackface is offensive. White folks who think their racial humor is funny or “ironic” believe that blatant racism is of course, a thing of the past, and so they are being clever/vintage/retro when wearing t-shirts with slurs that their grandparents might’ve uttered but they never heard. White people I know all seem to have their own personal definitions of racism, generally carefully constructed to exclude themselves.

Black folks have been doing work in their communities and broader society in education, health care, criminal justice, employment and many other issues, both on their own, and sometimes with support and partnership of white activists and predominantly white organizations. There is a lot of frustration that they have to be the ones constantly educating whites about race, telling them many of the same things they’ve been saying for years, while white folks argue back and don’t listen. Then self-proclaimed white allies come along and give talks or write books on white privilege often getting paid more do so- or just getting paid, period than Black folks who have been saying the same things for years.

Meanwhile, white progressives/liberals in academia and the professional non-profit establishment have been highly inconsistent about considering the role of class issues when discussing race, thus alienating whites from poor or working class backgrounds. Whites who grew up bullied as a minority in mostly Black and Latino neighborhoods, and whites who grew up in dying farming communities who watched tax dollars being spent on cities feel resentful and angry. When they express their frustrations, they are told that they need to “check their privilege” and that they are racist.

Technology evolves rapidly- making smart phones, and thus access to the Internet far more available to different classes and ethnicities than ever before. Mobile-friendly websites like Twitter and Tumblr grow and spread messages, gossip and information-good and bad- like wildfire. The online community, which thus far tended to slant to educated white men in industrialized countries, finds itself in culture shock at this broader diversity. Isolated teenagers discover others who share their identities, concerns and interests in a way that was never before possible. People are educated, misinformed, and misinterpret, form friendships and communities and end them.

We need to take a step back from this, folks. Several steps back, so we can take a good look at ourselves, our past, our present and future. We need to do our racial and cultural homework before we can write or present our senior paper.

February 19, 2015 at 1:58 am Leave a comment

How Folkish Heathenry Differs from Judaism & Native American tribes

As I was looking thru my wordpress reader, I saw that Sarenth had written a great post-Why Racism Harms Heathenry (go read it!) responding to a comment to statement released by HUAR- Heathens United Against Racism about a folkish Heathen group. As a member of HUAR (though I do not claim to speak for them as a whole) I’d like to further respond to a comment made on Sarenth’s blog.

“As for the Irminfolk bylaws. They aren’t racists. Do they have a quota on genetics in order to be a member? Yes. But so does every Native American, or really any group that’s for a specific ethnic or racial group, out there. That in an of itself is not a racist act, or if it is, then the Huar dishonor themselves by not attacking all “Racist” blood quota. Instead HUAR attacks only heathens, their own people, rather than honorably call out all racists from every group. HUAR, in fact, are engaged in racist acts themselves because they only attack one group based on skin color, rather than hold all peoples accountable to the same standard.”- Lucius Svartalf Helsen

There are plenty of generic anti-racism groups, including ones that are not Heathen-friendly because they think we are all racist! HUAR is opposed to *actual systemic racism* (not “racism” as conveniently defined by whites as happening…against whites) There are a bunch of reasons why comparing membership policies of folkish Heathen groups with American Indians and Jewish communities is very misleading.

The system of blood quantum was put in place by the United States government. Policies for tribal enrollment vary by Indian nations, with the Cherokee being among the most inclusive. Some nations are working on changing those laws- here’s an article about the White Earth Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota considering doing so. Indians, being human beings, are also prone to the influence of anti-Black racism, and some tribes have excluded potential members with proven tribal ancestry due to their African ancestry. Personally I believe they should be consistent in enforcing blood quantum and I support reform in such systems. However as a non-Native person I think it’s best for those decisions to be made by the tribal governments themselves- especially considering they are in fact, sovereign nations. As for non-tribal members participating in traditional spirituality, once again it is up to the Indian or group of Indians in question if they want to share those practices. Considering that the practice of Native American religion was not allowed openly until 1978, with the passage of American Indian Religious Freedom Act, I think it’s pretty darn understandable that they are protective of their spiritual heritage! As I’ve discussed before with the example of my uncle, people of non-Native heritage are sometimes invited to partake in ceremonies, especially after demonstrating a sincere commitment to the group and its folkways.

On the other hand, while various Pagan & Heathen individuals and groups have experienced discrimination and exclusion in American society, our religions were never outlawed, unless you count laws against witchcraft which weren’t really about religious witchcraft. Though some Heathens do organize themselves into small tribes or family-like groups, they do not have legal sovereign or semi-sovereign status the way Indian nations do. They may have status as a registered non-profit- and religious organizations are allowed to discriminate according to the requirements of their religion.

Judaism is a cultural, tribal religion- one can be culturally and/or ethnically Jewish person and practice any other religion- or no religion (though converting to Christianity is often seen as a negation of Jewish identity) Traditionally, a person with a Jewish mother is considered Jewish, in Reform Judaism, any child raised with a Jewish upbringing is considered Jewish. Other Jewish movements- Conservative & Orthodox have their own requirements. Being considered Jewish for the purposes of getting Israeli citizenship is determined by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and undergoing a conversion by a rabbi they don’t approve of can make gaining citizenship difficult. Likewise, certain ethnic groups that claim Jewish descent have been denied Jewish identity. Once again, I’m not Jewish, so I feel making judgments about this really isn’t my business. Whoever tells me they’re Jewish gets the benefit of the doubt.

“But will we ever not be considered racists by the mainstream? I doubt it. We are worshiping “White” gods from “White” countries and taking pride in “white” things. This is the definition of racism as it exists by all those who call Heathens racist. We could silence every real racist out there and the larger pagan community and larger world community would still consider us to be racist because we honor and take pride in “white gods/white history” rather than shame those things as inherently racist. This is why I have pretty much stopped calling out those heathens people have declared “racists.” I do not wish to any longer hunt my religious kin so as to make myself appeasable to the masses. I may not agree with everything a “racist” heathen believes, but his faith is in my gods. Why should i figuratively kill a man of my faith in an attempt to appease a stranger who thinks all who worship as i do are racists and should be destroyed?”- Lucius again

If we tolerate racists in the name of frith and hospitality, while claiming this or that doesn’t “technically” count as racism, people will rightfully not trust us. Referring to pre-Christian European cultures and people as “white” is highly anachronistic. The concept of “whiteness” did not arise until African slavery. Funny thing, I’ve spent a lot of time in Irish cultural and musical events and organizations. I do sometimes encounter people with racist attitudes there, but no more so than any other predominantly white social milieu. I’m not going to claim that all people of color will feel 100% comfortable and not awkward at Irish cultural events, or that they will never be mistreated. I do see people of color at some Irish events. I’ve never had anyone tell me that being proud of my Irish heritage (rather than my “whiteness”) means that I’m racist. I’m happy to welcome anyone, regardless of ancestry who has an interest in Irish culture and wants to carry on those traditions. Now I understand that German & Scandinavian cultural groups attract racists more- but Celtic groups do as well. Would wearing a hammer or a valknot be looked at with suspicion in my community in a way Celtic jewelry wouldn’t? Maybe. But I’m not that worried. Because I’ve lived in an urban neighborhood for 20 years, ridden the buses, had people of all different cultures as my neighbors, my tenants, my co-workers, my fellow activists and students. Not everyone lives in a diverse area, I get that. But don’t just stay within your little Heathen or Pagan bubble. If we keep to ourselves, people won’t get to know us, and they will remain suspicious. But if you get out there in your community, even if you don’t explain your religion to all and sundry, people will know you as a good citizen and a good neighbor, and if and when they find out your religion, even if they think it’s kinda weird, they are more likely to not hold it against you, and maybe even think better of the religion because of your behavior.

December 10, 2014 at 3:17 am 8 comments

Big White Lies

This post is written with some tough love for my fellow People of Pale, it is based on things I have seen or heard people say countless times, in all kinds of social settings, both offline & online. I’m sick of seeing people repeating the same stupid stuff, electing people who use race to divide and conquer the poor, working and middle classes. And hurting and alienating their neighbors, co-workers, relatives, etc.

Note: these are listed intentionally so the most offensive/extreme statements being debunked are at the bottom to make it slightly less triggery.

Real Americans Speak English!

Interesting opinion- you should try sharing that with some American Indians, oh yeah and the folks of Mexican descent whose land was taken as part of the U.S. after the Spanish-American War. I’m sure that *all* your ancestors instantly spoke perfectly unaccented English the second they got off the boat. They never did anything so shocking as to teach schools in the own native language, have newspapers in it, or worship services in Swedish, Polish, German et al. Actually…they did. And native-born Americans complained about it and said all the same nasty things you’re saying now. Immigrants have every incentive to learn English when they come here, but it is a difficult language to learn and it takes time. Have you studied another language, especially one that was very foreign to an English-speaker, like Chinese? Doing so might help you develop empathy for these folks.

Reverse Racism- in general

Racism doesn’t just mean hating or discrimination based on skin color, it also means a *system of oppression* against people based on skin color. Now and then people may proclaim the general suckiness of white people, insult you (honkie! redneck! oh the pain!) However you are not surrounded by messages from the media & society all your life telling you that by virtue of your skin color, you are assumed to be a criminal, no matter how hard you try to be “respectable”- you can wear the so-called right clothes, have an education, be a doctor or lawyer etc. and still be assumed to be “up to no good” by your mere existence.

See this video for an awesome explanation of “reverse racism” from comedian Aamer Rahman

Reverse Racism- Affirmative Action, specifically

You *just know* you would’ve gotten that job, that contract or that spot at Stanford if it weren’t for Those People getting affirmative action. You deserve it! You worked hard! I think you can have non-racist arguments against affirmative action, but claiming “reverse racism” and discrimination against white people are not those arguments. Affirmative action has been outlawed or severely curtailed in many states, so do your homework before you complain. Also if you’re so concerned about fairness, take a look at those legacy scholarships, merit scholarships (which more often children of the upper-middle class benefit from) It may be less obvious, but there is likely some type of “Affirmative Action for Whitey” that you’ve benefited from.

But Obama is President Therefore Racism is Over!!!

Not sure if people are still making this argument, considering all the racist stuff that has been tossed our President’s way. Like how his Dad was from Kenya, therefore Barack was born in the exotic African nation of….Hawaii. Yep. How dare a Black man use an executive order, ever!! Bush and Reagan never did…oh wait.

They Can’t Be “Proud” of Being White

Doesn’t that suck that those Racist People Over There, that *you’re totally not like at all* ruined the white pride thing for ya? Remember those immigrant ancestors of yours I discussed earlier? A lot of them weren’t considered “white” when they first came here. Irish, Italians, Jewish folks, Poles, Slavs etc. they were all considered members of races inferior to upper-class English Protestants. Whiteness is a social construct- it just means you can’t be enslaved and the police are less likely to assume you’re a criminal just by looking at you. Why be proud of that? It’s fine to be proud of your ethnic background, so long as you don’t claim it’s better than anyone else’s.

Genocide/Ethnic Cleansing– Say what? If you’re worried about this, I doubt you’ll be reading this blog anyway, but just for the sake of inclusion.

Are you worried about natural blondes & redheads dying out? That could happen eventually, but seriously doesn’t the world have bigger problems? There is a history and (it still happens) in the United States, Australia & Canada of forced sterilization of people with disabilities, Black, Latina & Native women, immigrants and poor people. This was advocated by both conservatives & progressives before the Nazis made eugenics look bad. You’re worried about being a minority? Just a memo- so-called “white” people have been a global minority for most of human history- you just didn’t notice because of your Eurocentric worldview!

(OK, so I may re-write this later so it’s less sarcastic, but writing it was very therapeutic, and perhaps reading it will be for some people. You have to laugh to keep from crying, sometimes!)

December 5, 2014 at 12:31 am Leave a comment

A Racial Autobiography

I’m currently reading Learning to Be White, by Thandeka, a Unitarian Universalist minister & theologian. I’d read some of her essays before online about race and class issues, and thought she was just the kind of medicine that UU social justice discourse & theology could use! This book came out of her realization that she, as an African-American had by necessity been hyper-aware of race since a very young child, whereas her white colleagues saw race as being something that “other people” had. What is the hidden process she wondered of becoming white? Inspired by this I decided to write a racial autobiography of sorts, and I recommend doing the same to other white folks who are trying to better understand racial issues.

My first memory of race is when I was around 7 years old and lived in Topeka, Kansas. I had a playmate named Renarda, her skin was darker than mine, she wore her hair in braids. To me, she was simply another child to play with. However, another playmate, Sara called Renarda an unfamiliar word that I could tell was bad, and said her father wouldn’t let her play with Renarda. I recall that Sara said her father even threatened violence against herself or Renarda if she disobeyed him.  Though I didn’t understand what was going on,  I did not want to play with Sara again after that.  I must’ve run home crying to my mother about, but strangely I don’t recall the conversation with either of my parents. Which is odd, considering you’d think if I was going to suppress a memory, it would be one about one friend threatening another!

Anyway- I realize that I had an unusual upbringing, as far as Midwestern white kids are concerned. My parents were actively involved throughout my childhood in the NAACP and in discussions of race relations in the United Methodist Church. Like most Protestant denominations in the United States, the Methodists split over the issue of race in the 1800’s, Northern and Southern churches broke apart over slavery, and the Northern church split over segregation- Black people were expected to sit on the second floor in the choir loft. They left to form the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I didn’t really understand *why* people were racist, other than “because they were mean”. I didn’t hear about the concept of white privilege until I was in high school, before that racism was vaguely “Bad Stuff” that happened to Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American people, and occasionally to Good White People who befriended and tried to help defend them against Bad White People. I suspect this the general idea of racism that most white kids in the U.S. grow up with, unless their parents listen to more right-wing talk radio and TV in which case they might get the impression that brown people “brought it on themselves”.  Poverty was also a mysterious thing that Just Happened, but Good Christians were supposed to help needy people, who were victims of Bad Stuff Happening and possibly other Mysterious Mean People. Like Ronald Reagan, I supposed. Still I was more politically savvy that most 10 year olds!

We moved to Dubuque, Iowa where we lived from 3rd grade thru 8th grade, the “diversity” of the town at the time was Irish Catholics and German Catholics. My parents continued in their activism, though my understanding of racial issues did not really become much more sophisticated due to lack of discussion outside of my family & their liberal friends and relative lack of diversity.

Then we moved to St. Paul and I attended a school that was about 70% African American, the other 30% were Asian-American, Latino and a few Native Americans and Caucasians thrown in. So that was kind of a culture shock. I think being on autism spectrum has given me a unique perspective on interacting with different cultures, because I am already a bit of a cultural outsider even within my own culture of middle-class college-educated white liberals. So I learned to adapt to a mostly Black school after coming from a town in Iowa, and studying Spanish and travelling to Mexico. Later in college when I took another trip to Mexico, I recall my classmates commenting that they had an easier time speaking Spanish after they’d been drinking. It loosened them up, and so they didn’t feel so awkward speaking an unfamiliar language. I don’t need alcohol to loosen my inhibitions, I do have them, but they are not so firmly “in place”!

Anyway, in a high school discussion about immigration, assimilation and related issues, one of the teachers recommended the book “How the Irish Became White” by Noel Ignatiev. Just as the title implies, it’s about how Irish immigrants were not originally considered white when they came to America, and the process by which they gained this status. This had a huge effect on my thinking about race and my Irish-American identity. It was also my introduction to the area of whiteness studies, a branch of Critical Race Theory, which I further studied on my own.  Here and there in college, I attended speeches and workshops about racism and white privilege. However, I had trouble figuring out how I as an individual could “fight racism” or “deconstruct whiteness”. Most of my activism in college was focused on GLBT issues in our campus GSA which was very white!

In spite of all my attempts to educate myself, I still often come into anti-racist discussion groups online and feel like I do not know all the social justice lingo- and there seems to be a lot of hostility towards people who aren’t familiar with it all. I find the best approach is to keep listening to and reading books, blogs and other media by people of color from a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds, not just American, to learn about what issues they are concerned about in their communities and support them on those issues. In Minnesota there are many racial gaps in housing, education and employment, and a major component of this is the criminal in-justice system, and the school to prison pipeline. So I’ve come to be involved in the Second Chance Coalition, which TakeAction is a part of.

I also have been hearing a lot of frustration from people of color about white folks’ lack of racial understanding, and that they are tired of educating us. So I have been trying to work on educating white people (when I can get them to listen!) particularly in mostly white subcultures that I participate in. To aid in this effort, I’ve been trying to read blogs and other media by people of color within predominantly white subcultures- Black/Latin@, Asian, indigenous GLBTQ people, geeks, goths, atheists/skeptics, UUs, Pagans, Heathens, New Agers et al. If anyone reading this has such a blog, book, or other resource, please feel free to share. I respect the need for minority space, so if you prefer white folks, or cis/hetero men, or people of whatever group not comment on your blog, that’s cool, I understand.

November 6, 2014 at 12:34 am 3 comments

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