Pagan Response to Racism

shutterstock_104520869Crystal Blanton is one of my favorite Pagans. She has been a tireless activist voice within the Pagan community and beyond it. Her focus has been speaking up for those marginalized by society at large, primarily focusing on People of Color, but also focusing on issues around class, gender, and sexuality.

Recently there have been several high-profile cases of unarmed Black men being killed by police officers, and despite the fact that there was evidence that the Black men were not resisting, or evidence (including video in some cases) that the police were using excessive or inappropriate force, the police officers were not charged with murder.

What does this have to do with Pagans? The issue is that Paganism is a minority religion. We’re used to being persecuted, and many Pagans jump at the chance to defend other Pagans from being unfairly treated. The Pagan community has long been a refuge for other minorities, such as GLBTQ community members. Yet, in a recent Facebook post, Crystal spoke up about the silence of Pagan organizations on issues of race. And that silence is something that is worth speaking about.

Here’s what Crystal wrote:

Crystal Blanton:
I am noticing… again… the silence of the Pagan organizations in light of the recent unrest, death of unarmed black men, injustices, protests, and harm within society. As a POC Pagan, I am looking out into my community and I do not see the community standing up for me.

This is an opportunity to stand up and support the people of color within the Pagan community, and society, by saying… we see you. We are not ignoring you, we are not staying silent.

When the Pagan community does not stand up to support the POC members within their community that are hurting, it is an “in your face” way of reminding us that we are not welcomed.

An African Zulu greeting “Sawubona” translates to mean… I see you. More than the normal seeing…. seeing the core, our humanity, our spirit, our worth… our souls.

So tonight I am saying to the Pagan community, I see you….. the question is… do you SEE us?

I thought I’d offer some context about where I stand on this. First, I’m not the leader of any large organization, so I’m not in much of a position to release a formal statement to any non-Pagan group. Or at least, not one that carries any weight with the media. However, I do have a voice within the Pagan community.

My activism has, in the past, primarily focused on environmentalism. And then transgender activism, and GLB activism, within the Pagan community. And then I became an activist for consent culture (vs. rape culture) as well as an activist speaking out about issues of abuse and rape.

Where I’ve tried to be an activist for People of Color, as well as other minorities, is through using my voice to begin to speak to the issue of privilege. I feel that that is a key step in this whole process.

I use myself as an example; I’m white, heterosexual, cisgender, and female. I grew up thinking I was incredibly poor–and by comparison to my classmates, I was. I grew up in an all-white town thinking that racism was over, never realizing how many racist attitudes I was raised with. Several years ago I was (very harshly) privilege checked. The way it was done, it pissed me off and I had a bad reaction to the P-word for years. It wasn’t until talking to Crystal, and attending part of the first Pantheacon discussion on privilege that I really understood it.

A lot of my activism around privilege is practically one-on-one. I post conversations on my FB, write blogs, and I hope to introduce the concept of privilege in a way that is more accessible than how it was thrown at me the first time.

Why do I bother?

Because for me, once I understood privilege, I understood that we don’t actually live in a color blind society. I’m often appalled at my own racist assumptions. And these are just autopilot things that I never even considered; it’s just what people did and said around me when I grew up. “Lock your car door when you’re around Black people.” And, “It’s not racist if it’s true.” And dozens of other things.

By understanding my own privilege, I understood a lot more about racism, and it’s made me a better ally.

What is an Ally?
Certainly I’m not a perfect ally–I’m sure there’s more I can do, I’m just a little clueless as to what. As I said, most of my activism has focused in other areas. I see environmentalism and ecological sustainability as a core issue of social justice. Who lives next to the toxic gas exuded by factories? The poor, who are often minorities. Who gets exposed to the weird chemical runoff in the water that causes exotic cancers? The poor, who are often minorities. Who isn’t going to be able to afford to pay for clean water? The poor, who are often minorities.

My activism is usually twofold. One is, I work to live my own life in a way that is in accordance with my values. I reduce what I use and try to live more sustainably. I’m an advocate for consent culture so I shift my behavior to support that.

The other is that I speak out. Again, my platform is typically within the Pagan community, so I speak out about environmentalism and ways we can change our behavior as a community to be more environmentally sustainable. I speak out about how heteronormative rituals aren’t inclusive of gay, lesbian, and bisexual community members. I speak out against the discrimination against transgender community members. I talk about sex and abuse and consent and rape. I hope to expose people to these concepts so that, even if just within the Pagan community, we can begin to make those changes.


And I also write about privilege because I find that once people can see the perspective on their own privilege, they begin to see how the system harms those at the bottom. People of Color, GLBTQ, Pagans, the poor…there are so many who suffer because the system treats them differently. But we can’t really effectively help, or change the system, until we first SEE the system, and acknowledge our own place in it.

Privilege is usually accompanied by silence. Meaning, people who have privilege–even if they don’t see that privilege or understand how much privilege they have–don’t tend to speak out about injustice because they don’t see that injustice is happening.

And many, many people try to argue with me that they didn’t come from privilege, and they perpetuate the “American Dream” myth that anybody, regardless of class or background or ethnicity or skin color, can pull themselves up by their boot straps if they try hard enough.

As long as we hold up that myth, we are supporting the system that murders unarmed black people.

Being an ally first means acknowledging the system. And then, working to change it, even if all you are doing is speaking up to confront racism in others. You don’t have to join a protest with a sign to be an ally. But, I also acknowledge that it can be difficult to navigate how to best help as an ally.

How Can I Help?
There are ways I already speak out, but I acknowledge that there’s more I can do. Speaking for myself, I don’t always know how I can help. I’ll be more specific. As I said earlier, I’m white, I grew up in a pretty much all-white town. I’ve slowly been learning how many microaggressions I’ve committed against People of Color (check Wikipedia or Google if you want to understand microaggressions) and I’ve worked to correct that behavior.

But I don’t always know how I can best serve as an ally or activist for People of Color. I can work to wake people up to the concept of privilege…but how can I impact the larger system? How can I help?

Going further, how can I help in a way that respects Black and brown voices and doesn’t seek to put my voice above theirs?

I know that many don’t consider themselves to be activists at all. And I’ve heard with some frequency from other white Pagans that they, also, feel at a loss for how to help. What I’d love to do is begin to gather together some concrete actions that Pagans can take to combat racism.

I feel that the first step is for all of us–all of us–to acknowledge our own racism and classism. Our own privilege. Our own discrimination against minorities. Let me tell you, I was a little horrified once I realized how many racist assumptions were just ambient noise in my head. And I’ll be clear–these are things I learned from teachers, classmates, family, television.

Once I began to recognize my own racism and discrimination, I had the tools to begin to take it apart piece by piece.

Concrete Actions
What I’d like to do is put out some information–probably in the form of blog posts–about what are things that people (Pagans) can do to combat racism. And for that, I’d like your help. I’d love to pull together a list of specific, concrete things that people can do to help. Personally confronting our own privilege and racism is a start. And talking to others about racism (and checking others on racist comments) is another. Asking larger Pagan organizations with a media presence to speak out is yet another.

But what else will really help?

I’ve found that running Pagan events is very similar to activism work. When I’m running an event and I post on Facebook or in email and just vaguely ask for help, that usually gets very few results. What works better is asking people, “Will you help? Here are five concrete things that you can do that would help me.” That gets a lot better response.

In fact, in an activism workshop I was in years ago, there’s an entire category of activism that isn’t at all about being out on the streets with the signs–it’s the person who’s good at strategizing those 5 things that people can do, and coordinating the helpers.

Posting on Facebook is potentially a way to shift people’s thoughts and ideas. And I’ll keep posting on privilege because I know I get through to a few people every time I do and build the pool of allies. But I’d love to know what are other concrete actions that I can take that would help this cause.

Brainstorm and Boost the Signal
Send along your ideas in the comments, or repost this blog on your Facebook and put it in the comments there. Tag me if you post this on your Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or elsewhere, or otherwise send me an email with a link to make sure I see the comments.

If we, Pagans, want to see a world that gives us justice, we can’t sit by and watch People of Color get trampled by that same system. Let’s look at ways we can help change this system for all of us.

13 thoughts on “Pagan Response to Racism

  1. What I see happening when a major event occurs to bring the issue to the forefront, is that suddenly people are in a frenzy of “I have to DO something! Right now. We’re going to end this problem today. Tell me what I have to do to end this problem, because I stand as your ally.” This in itself is privilege. There is nothing, not one single concrete thing we can do that is going to end the problem. It has been centuries, millennia in the making and it will take a long time to undo. If we focus on “give me a concrete thing I can do to end the problem”, people are going to lose interest and hope and burn out when they don’t see immediate change. We need to change the conversation among allies. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to be in it for the long haul.
    So lets keep having conversations. Make sure you are having conversations with people in real life, in your immediate sphere. Discuss how racism shows up in your own community. Bring people to the table, especially those you would never sit with. Ask questions, research police response, and speak when you see racism happening.
    It has to happen in our own communities. If everyone started doing that, if people started coming together, slowly but surely we could change things.

  2. What can we do, First listen to people of color, second confront our own privilege, realize that our “privilege box” prevents us from considering actions outside of our comfort zones. For example, if this situations does not cause an inner narrative about what you are willing to risk to confront this problem, you are most likely living in your “privilege box” Would you risk loosing friends? Will you risk being arrested at a protest?, Will you risk your job by confronting racism or privilege at work when you see it. The current situation demands our willingness to take action in support of people of color. If they were killing our white kids, I suspect we all would be willing to risk all these things. Maybe it is time that we as a community examine why, as a group, we are not outraged by the killing of black people, Could it be our place of privilege?

  3. I am thinking about putting on a workshop at Paganicon about race relations- primarily for teaching folks with white privilege (99% of the attendees anyway…) However I’d like to not be focused on privilege as such as I think privilege discourse has gotten to be pretty broken. It’s still a relevant concept but people turn their minds off when they hear it.

  4. Thank you for this important contribution to our discussion about how pagan leaders can take meaningful action on this awful situation.

    This morning, I read the news and learned about the nonindictment in the Michael Garner and I almost threw up. The idea that that horrific assault was not considered at least probable cause for a trial on murder one was so insane, so cruel, so dismissive of the suffering of that man, who did nothing but try to help his neighbor. The idea of continuing to choke someone who is gasping that they cannot breathe is so distressing. The idea of telling the sociopath that did this that it’s okay because he was doing his job and because after all racism – I just couldn’t even breathe thinking of the enormity of this cruelty.

    Then I got a text from my lover (a black man) who just said, “I feel a disturbance in the force”. And my heart wept for him.

    And then, I was doing a home health nursing visit on a white woman, a bit rough around the edges, who has breast cancer and a host of other problems. She had a mark on her back she thought was a bruise, and I checked it for her, and I told her it was just a hyperpigmented area, probably the result of recent radiation treatments. And she laughed roughly and said, “You better not be telling me I’m turning black!” – and I saw red. I swallowed, because my usual policy in professional situations in which people express ideas I find objectionable, is to have a boundary that says their opinions are not my problem or mine to judge. But this time… So I said to her, “No, I’m not. I’m telling you your body has been damaged by your treatments for cancer. Would being black be worse than having cancer?” She said, “well, maybe not, but you know!” . I replied, “I don’t know. I think it is sad that you feel that way about so many good, hard working people who happen to be black.” She was silent, and then said, “well they aren’t all good people”. And I said, “neither are any other race including whites.” And she just looked at me, and then looked away, and then we went on with her care.

    I don’t know what impact if any I had, but…..This I do instead of remaining silent. I vow to speak whenever i hear racism expressed or implied. Thank you Peter, and Crystal, and all those who have contributed to my sense of support for speaking out.

  5. This is just one article I’ve been recommending for weeks now on FB. I highly recommend it for students who want to finally “get it” at all.
    The other main article should be called
    “I Can’t Breathe.”
    Justice now… illegal use of force caused homicide.

    Marybeth/Pythia Witt on fb

  6. Pingback: the least I could do | The House of Vines

  7. Our NYC community is preparing for Yule–the theme for our Rite is “Pushing through the Darkness for the Light.” We have community members who are people of Color, who live just down the street from where Mr. Garner was killed. It is a comfort to know we are not alone in this. This pain is a pulsing cyst in our local community and it has no place to go. My student (who is leading Yule) and I are going to talk today about creating space for the pain this “decision” has drummed up in our Rite. The worst thing we could do is create a space of community and pretend this hasn’t happened. The worst thing we could do is focus solely on light. We must draw from the lessons of Yule–pushing through the dark, terrifying season which we as humanity are most certainly in–and focus on the light to come.

  8. Ask the people of color how you can help. Listen to people of color explain the problem. Spread their message. Ask the people of color what they would like you to do. Then do what you are capable of.

  9. Im a pansexual roma women, from America, and im not going out to protests or talking about it actively. Im not bottom of the barrel but I wouldnt call myself overly privileged either. But 1. I do not believe in protests. They are usual fueled by hate, cause major disruptions, and have a good chance to end in riots and 2. there is nothing I can really do and maybe its time from most people to accept that as well. I recognize that these things are happening and find it awful but no one cares about the riot that happened, burning and looting the town they “love”, and no one cares about the men who got off scot free from attempting to bomb an area in Ferguson to kill that officer. They pretty much just wanna kill anyone pale but thats okay to everyone because they happen to have a high melanin production. Im done with all this shit and give up. This is why I wanna move wayyyy up north with no electricity.

  10. Pingback: PWN 2015.1.3: Controversy in the Pagan World | Pagan-Musings Podcast Channel

  11. Wonderful site you have here but I was wondering if you knew
    of any community forums that cover the same topics discussed here?
    I’d really love to be a part of community where I
    can get responses from other experienced individuals that share the same interest.
    If you have any recommendations, please let me know.
    Thank you!

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