Posts tagged ‘white privilege’

Shamanism Part 2: Is Cultural “Neutrality” Possible?

One of my questions for thought and discussion in my last post was-

“Is a culturally neutral shamanism- or any spiritual practice possible? Why or why not?”

Most of my questions don’t really have “right or wrong” answers, because they are designed to make you think, question your assumptions and work on developing your spiritual path. I admit this one however, was a bit of a “trick question” intended to test what assumptions you might have of cultural neutrality.

From a social science standpoint it’s impossible to be “culturally neutral” or truly “generic”. I often see American Pagans attempting to do this, especially within a particular region- this is “generically North American Indian” or “generically Asian”. The results are often very watered down, ineffective and often offensive and mis-representative of hundreds of distinct ethnic and regional cultures, all in one ritual or book! The pan-Indian ritual will be Disney’s Pocahontas meets Dances with Wolves, ¬†and the pan-Asian ritual in the next room ends up looking like a cheap hippie version of this Katy Perry music video.

Basically, to be “culturally neutral/generic” you need to stop being human. Humans, are by definition social animals and need each other for our physical survival and mental sanity. Culture is by definition, shared and co-created over a long period of time. If you are still thinking “But I don’t have a culture!” I suggest you read this article- Body Ritual among the Nacirema and that might help you to view things differently!

I know some of my co-religionists were wondering about my choice to include shamanism in my Approaching Paganism series. Most of them would simply state “shamanism is practiced in some Central Asian cultures, and if you’re from outside of that context, you just shouldn’t use the word”. I understand and empathize with that position, but the fact is I am explaining modern Neo-Paganism in its many varieties as it is, rather than as I would like it to be. I might have an easier time influencing people who are totally new to Paganism(s) and shamanism in any form, but by simply accusing people of cultural appropriation, I’d be shutting down any potential conversations with Western/non-indigenous people who have been following a neo-shamanic path for years. Being an American who gets politically and socially classed as “white”, I have a lot of opportunities to challenge racism and cultural insensitivity from people with similar backgrounds. But I have to find the best way to use those opportunities to calmly invite people to learn more and challenge their assumptions and sense of entitlement, rather than just shutting down conversations by playing “I’m a Better Ally Than You!” trump cards. And I realize, that I in turn always have more to learn about these issues myself!

It also seems a bit hypocritical to me to judge people too harshly about this, since after all I call myself a Druid. A lot of people in broader Neo-Pagan-dom would consider that “fair game” simply because it’s of European origin, but it’s more complicated than that. There are living Celtic cultures, and while they don’t have a continuous unbroken tradition of druids, they still have opinions about people who call themselves “Druids” particularly when they come from English or Anglo-American cultural backgrounds and think they are entitled to grab anything pretty and shiny with knotwork or tartan patterns and call it “Celtic” without bothering to learn anything more about distinctions between Celtic cultures, languages and their histories of suppression and erasure.

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June 3, 2015 at 8:06 pm 2 comments

#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


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