Note: Prior to today, I felt that a raised-middle class white woman had no need to comment on this ongoing drama. Apparently, I do have to because I’ve been needlessly dragged into it.
Over on Tumblr, there was an explosion of debate when someone started the Pagans of Color, or PoC, Tumblr blog. The whole point in this, from their blog, is, “In our experience, we’ve found that having a safe space within the Tumblr Pagan community is essential. The recent controversy surrounding the mere idea of a Pagans of Color blog has made it clear to us that this space is necessary. It is a place we are welcome, comfortable, and free. We can write about our traditions and our experiences among people who understand and relate. We can celebrate our heritage and our practices.” More or less, the point was for them to have a safe place to comment and post about the racially motivated experiences they’ve gone through in pagandom. Here’s a really awful example of why a blog like this was necessary. Yep, yep. Stuff like that happens; I’ve heard about it in a myriad of quarters and I have little faith that pagans can be as morally uplifted in all genres (from pro-choice to gay rights to skin equality) as I believe they should be. So, I’m pretty pissed off to begin with this morning.
And then I read this. And this is the point where I’m going to get really stupidly pissed off and angry. This is the point where I’m probably going to get death threats and that’s okay. All of this has an eventual point, but I have to get everything out of my head in the order it deserves. But before we go very much further, I’m going to link to LJ’s post about racism because I think we need to pay attention to what actual racism is before I go any further. I’ll wait until after you read her post.
This is the point when I wanted to throw my tablet across the room and scream obscenities. Declaring that you are upset by people choosing to have a space that marginalizes you because you’re white, is hard (for me) to take seriously. Do you actually HEAR yourself when you say these words? Do you realize how hard it is to hear this because that’s what it’s like for me and other PoC and marginalized groups for a few moments in a hypothetical situation? Our marginalization happens in our day to day. We are marginalized, othered, and shamed for things we have NO control over, just going about our day. I wish I could feel for you, I really do, and part of me does; but the part of me that does, is sardonic in its response because you have now been afforded a taste of what my life is like, CONSTANTLY. At this point, I am pissed the fuck off for a number of reasons. One: this is snide and condescending and will not win any sympathy with the very people who would have stood beside you and aided/abetted you when you asked for your PoC venue at a major pagan function. Two: this is very privileged in the opposite way by insinuating that because someone falls into a certain set of racial or sexual or gender guidelines, then they must not get shit on by any other group of humanity. Three: no one holds the “my life sucks more” crown when it comes to humanity; everyone’s life equally sucks.
So, the first thing I mentioned was that I felt that this statement came off as very snide and very condescending. I’ve actually heard things like this said about statements I’ve made and I’ve also made similar comments to other people. “I mean can you hear yourself?” When someone says something like that, they’re pulling out a very self-righteous card that they probably have absolutely no reason to be holding. All it does is place the person making that statement above the person they are talking to and it doesn’t matter what the situation is – victim shaming, gender shaming, race shaming, etc – no one should hold themselves above or better than anyone else. I don’t care if the person stating this is rich as hell or poor as hell. I don’t care if the person is black, white, or red. I don’t care if the person is completely at home in the gender they were born with or otherwise. I really don’t care who they are or what their circumstances are, but when you say something like that, it is completely uncalled for, unnecessary, mean, and just generally off-putting.
And in regards to that off-putting, as I stated, saying something akin to this is just asking for the people you want to aid and abet you in your goal – a public venue that is PoC friendly or only – to step out of it. I may not agree with the overall goal here, and I don’t and I’ll explain why later, but I would have stood beside you and helped you to make this happen. Obviously, it’s not because I believe in the cause but because it’s something that should be taken into consideration. It’s something that, maybe, will open up the eyes of people on the fence or unaware of racial discrimination in pagandom. It could actually do a lot of good and besides. Most of us pagans are very keen on the whole social outreach and helping others thing in our practices, for whatever reason. And I’m the kind of person that wants to stop the rushing crowds from running over the people fallen to the floor, in need of help. Not because I want to get a medal but because it’s wrong and inhumane to not just stomp on someone while they are down, but to kick them until they black-and-blue. I want to help the “little guy” I suppose is what I’m getting at and from the stories I’ve read, like the one I linked to in my first paragraph, PoC need assistance to make other pagans aware that racism is strong in pagandom.
However, by being so condescending in that one little paragraph, I’m no longer interested in your cause.
(Now the reason I don’t quite agree that there should be a PoC-only venue is because I feel that in setting that up, you’re only making the racial debates more pronounced than they already are. You’re setting up the idea that we could head back to segregation. And I think that’s incredibly dangerous. Don’t segregate yourselves because of this. Yes, I think there should be a place where PoCs can go to unwind, discuss some of the issues they’ve found or are facing, but I don’t think that they should have their own venue. Segregation wasn’t good back in the day and it’s not good now.)
So, the second thing I mentioned was that in making it seem like you hold the stakes on how very badly life is going for you because you are X, you are actually coming off in what I’ve deemed as “reverse privilege.” Often in these debates, you’ll hear people discuss how certain people are privileged. Now, according to Dictionary-dot-Com, there are about five main definitions for the word “privilege” but the one I felt really correlated with the debates as well as what I’m trying to convey is, “the principle or condition of enjoying special rights or immunities.” So, when the racial or gender or sexual debates come up, we hear discussion of privileged people, people who are immune from X because they are not afflicted with whatever it is that causes the problem in the first place. And I’ll admit that I am white. So when it comes to race, I am exempt from things. However, when you state something like the above, you are ASSUMING that someone of my race or gender cannot have things badly. You are ASSUMING that there is no way I can have it badly or that Joe Blow doesn’t have it badly or that anyone else has it nearly as bad as you unless they are a person of color, a person who is gender-queer, a person who has had an abortion, a person who has been raped, a person who is homosexual, etc. etc. etc.
This is wrong. This is false. And this is drivel.
I am a white woman. I was raised middle class. I went to public school. I attended church every Sunday until we hit my teens. Just in those statements alone, we’re beginning to paint a picture of me that is actually not who I am. By making broad generalizations about me, you’re assuming that my life is going well. Well, as a white woman, I don’t hear racial slurs directed at me and I’m protected by all my white male relatives. Well, as someone who lived middle class, we owned a house, I was given the ability to go to college, and my parents probably bought me anything I wanted. Well, I went to public school because, as a middle class person, my parents couldn’t quite afford a private school but I probably went to a good school with good statistics with other middle class kids. Well, as a middle class citizen, I probably was able to give to the church, go to functions, and generally believes in God.
These are all fallacies. I’ll get into some of the reasons why. In the first, I was raised middle class by a single parent. I had a mother and that was it. In the second, we didn’t own a house until I was nearly ten years old and we lost that house when I was a teenager. I went to an inner-city public school where being white was a minority. I stopped going to church because I was angry at God for taking away my dad when I was a kid. I was raped. I was molested. I was treated like dirt for various reasons – single parent, buck teeth, being a geek, not caring about makeup, reading all the time, etc. Just because you are given the above statement about me doesn’t mean things were all that great for me. I got to listen to my dad die in the middle of the night, never mind the other shit I’ve gone through. So, I’m sorry. But seeing me based on the fact that I was raised middle class and am a white woman, it really, really doesn’t hold a candle to the argument itself.
I may present this outward face, but in reality, I’m just as torn up and fucked up as the next individual. And that brings me to…
No one’s life is better than anybody else’s. Nobody’s life can be looked at in this two-dimensional lens when everything is three-dimensional. We are a sum total of the experiences we have gone through and lived. These are the aspects of ourselves that we should be judged upon because it is because of these experiences that we feel so strongly about issues. For example, I like the idea of “helping the little man” because I was, in fact, considered a “little man” by myself and others throughout my formative years. So, I don’t like to see people bullied or anything because I know what that’s like and I get all HULK SMASH when I see or hear about things like that. No, I wasn’t made fun of because I was a white or a girl (unless we talk about the time that I wanted to play tackle football and the boys said no because they thought I would get hurt and so they made it two-touch football instead and I never got hurt but ran through the lines because I had long legs), but I was made fun of for a lot of other reasons. And it’s those reasons that make me the person I am today.
But as much as I may wallow in my own hurt and pain and anger because of X, Y, and Z, this is no way gives me the ability to act as if I am wearing the “MY LIFE IS FUCKED TO SHIT” king’s crown. My life is shit, but so is everybody else’s. They all have problems stemming from their childhood, from their teenagerhood, from experiences with exes and with their parents or their siblings or watching news items on television. Each of these aspects have created and molded these people into who they are and possibly have resounding effects as to why they feel/think that their life is really crappy. And in some of those instances, we can say it’s because of skin tones, gender profile, sexual orientation, or any of the other main debates still raging around out there. But beyond these aspects, we also have to keep in mind that boys have it just as bad as girls; that people of color have it just as bad as people without major melanin-production; and that people who identify with a sexual orientation that society frowns upon have it just as bad as the bigots who think they shouldn’t have the right to get married.
No one’s experiences are greater than anybody else’s.
Now as much as I’d like to get in to my basic ideas about this debate, I have to take a break. Please look back for part two in the next few days. Or, you know, hate me for the rest of my life because I can’t just sit by and let someone shit on me for being a white woman raised middle class without knowing that I am a sum of my experiences and not of what you see when I walk out the door.