Column: Social Unrest and the Reflections of Pagans of Color

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The current climate of society has always directly influenced the cultural tone of the time. With increased racial tension in the United States, between Obama’s re-election, the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, and the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, these larger society issues also have a profound impact on Pagans and how we interact in community.

Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and other social networking mediums have been flooded with reactions and responses to the most recent media bomb, the Trayvon Martin court case verdict, and everyone seems to be talking. What has become quite apparent in these discussions everywhere is the disconnect between different concepts of oppression, culture, cultural response, and empathetic exchange or cultural sensitivity.

The widening diversity gap within the faces seen in Pagan groups and circles bring about a growing need to understand the complexities of cultural integration into the Pagan community. Building community based in cultural understanding and mutual support continues to be challenging for many communities and the increasing tension around race can add to the complexity of diversity within the overarching European theme of modern Paganism. Online groups, panels on privilege, The Pagans of Color caucus at Pantheacon, books and blogs have begun to thrive as people of color are becoming more visible within the community but how do we continue to open doors of diversity when times are so challenging.

True diversity comes with adding the often unheard voices to the conversations within community. And like with true diversity, the answers and views of all Pagans, in addition to Pagans of color, will differ. The following are a variety of recent quotes and statements from Pagans of color speaking out about personal feelings as a Pagan, an ethnic minority, and in response to the current issues of larger society.

Pagans of color on ethnic diversity:

Black Witch

Black Witch

“I feel that it is extremely important for the Pagan community to acknowledge minority Pagans because whether the community likes it or not we are there and in bulk. Plus many more minorities would have an easier time identifying as Pagan or even be more open to understanding it if the community didn’t constantly parade the faith with a White and very middle class or more face. I don’t feel inclusiveness is really being done. There’s a lot of lip service of how the (mainly White) Pagan community wants to be diverse but the reality is, they want a lot of different looking faces – not too many, however – but not their experiences.” – Black Witch, African American Pagan blogger.

Porsha Williams

Porsha Williams

“I don’t feel the larger Pagan community is resistant to integration; I’ll be honest in saying I have experienced some strong online sentiment of resistance towards pagans-of-color. Those most vocal are usually of the Heathen or Germanic/Norse-based sects of paganism. Most of the reasons are all based on the same concept, regardless of /the path of paganism the complaint follows- -that ‘POC’ should not be allowed to join because of their ancestry not matching those that first worshiped the particular path.” – Porsha, Pagan Blogger.

“We all inherit a legacy. As a woman of color, I was raised by parents who constantly challenged me to think critically about the stories that we are told about ourselves via media and even what was shared (and what was left out) of classroom history books. Now that I am a mother, preparing to do the same for my son, I wonder when, or even if, white parents ever teach their children to critically examine what they are told of the inherited legacy of a white identity. The lies and misinformation damage us all. But while my examinations beyond what I have been told, reveal a hidden wealth of beauty, strength, connection, wisdom and a mind blowing capacity for survival, white Americans’ examinations will inevitably reveal the great burden that others in the human community have had to shoulder on their behalf during these centuries of blindness and perceived superiority.” – Beloved Nadirah Adeye

When asked if she felt welcomed as a  Black woman in the Pagan community, Priestess Luna Pantera replied by saying, “In some circle yes, in some not so much.  Sometimes I feel tolerated.” She further discussed her thoughts on the needs of Pagans of color being of interest to the community, “Not to the extend they should be for any other members in the community.  Pagans of Color used to be talked as if we were “mythical creatures.”  We’ve been around for a while, but “invisible” to most.”

Pagans on the Trayvon Martin/Zimmerman case and riots:

Luna Pantera

Luna Pantera

“I am at peace because I have seen so many of my friends stand up for not only Trayvon, but for me and those who look like me and share a story. I saw an amazing peaceful march down Grand Avenue that turned into a “free for all” after the peaceful folk went home. I am tired of Oakland being used to further the selfish agenda of others. I am tired of struggling businesses being attacked for no other reason except that they have invested in Downtown Oakland which had been an economy on the break of collapse that is slowly coming back. I am angry that a young man was attacked for simply being at the right place at the wrong time. I am tired of being angry and tired. But I have hope! I see us finally coming together, seeing that “my enemy is your enemy!” – Luna Pantera, Priestess

Xochiquetzal Odinsdottir

Xochiquetzal Odinsdottir

“This is the end result of that. A world where a ‘white’ man’s fear of what ‘black man’ means outweighed a man’s humanity and the loss of life is brushed away as ‘justice’ and ‘safety’ and ‘right’. This isn’t those things. To think so, is to fall into the trap laid out for all of us. The trap that says we must remain invisible to each other, the trap that says we are INCAPABLE of learning about each other, of crossing some sort of invisible divide to seek the counsel of neighbor and potential friend because our self-sufficiency could suffer if we CAN’T do for ourselves. If we can’t be human to each other. We are each of us, complicit in the society that allows Zimmerman to walk this earth, a free man. Whether we shoulder that burden or not, we are each of us an end result of this society; but this is NOT all we can be, and not all we can do. We can do more, we can overcome what we think of as our ‘great differences’ we can learn: individual to individual. We can be TAUGHT some other narrative, hell, we can CREATE some other narrative. But we have to want to.” – Xochiquetzal Odinsdottir, Priest/ess and Activist.

In understanding growing diversity within any community, there must be an opportunity to create space for the often under-represented voices, and the impact current culture has on varying individuals.

Within the Zulu, and other South African tribes, the greeting said in the village is “Sawubona”,which means “I see you”.  The traditional response to this greeting is to say “Ngikhona”, which translates to saying “I am here”.

This greeting pushes beyond the western understanding of community reaches into seeing the authentic self of the person in front of you. The ancestral idea of the importance of connecting with one another is central to the theory of the African American axiology of interpersonal relationships, the primary value being placed in a person to person connection. Studies are making this correlation in axiology with the understanding of how important levels of connection are within ethnic culture.

The ability to see the whole of our community, and to hear the often unheard voices, might support further understanding of how very diverse our community is becoming.

And so I say, “Ngikhona”.