Race, Racism, and White Privilege: Talking About It

I’m at Pantheacon, friends. For those of you who have never been here, it’s an annual conference that seeks to engage, entertain, instruct, and inform members of the Pagan community about each other with classes, workshops, parties, concerts, and rituals, and it’s pretty much a 96-hour party for those who attend and 12-month undertaking for those who put it on. (You can read about it at the Con’s web site here.) I love coming here. I’ve been coming for over a decade now, and many of my friends are here. I’ve learned a lot, grown, changed, and today I led a class in using charms and a hand-drawn compass to talk to our ancestors. Tonight I attended a panel about racism in the Pagan community, and I’ve got a lot stirred up around this issue that I thought I would get out of my system before I try to sleep.

Pantheacon does a lot of stuff right. Having, hosting, and holding space for panels like the one I attended tonight (hosted by Crystal Blanton and called “Bringing Race to the Table: An Exploration of Racism in Paganism”) is one of those right things that they do. I felt really challenged tonight because like almost every other white person I know, I consider myself a good person. I consider myself a non-racist ally to my brothers and sisters of color. I donate to causes, I challenge racist opinions, and I pray for change. So when Pagans of color talk about dealing with white pagan guilt, the overwhelming crush of do-gooder whiteys who can’t wait to tell them how much they suffer guilt for what people of color go through—with the implication being how good they are for trying—they can’t possibly be talking about me, can they? When Xochiquetzal Duit Odinsdottir says that she’s done offering absolution to white pagans, is she talking about me? Because maybe she’s talking about me. I’ve never thought of myself as needing absolution from a person of color because I haven’t ever considered myself a racist. I didn’t own slaves and none of my family did, although I do come from a long line of very racist Irish people. But not me. I don’t and didn’t and won’t ever use the “N” word. What if that’s not enough, though? Or more to the point, what if that’s not the point at all? What if the point is that whether or not I’m racist is the wrong question. What if I should be coming from the position that by virtue of my birth as an American descendent of Western European ancestors I am privileged, and my privilege is something that goes with me and is part of every breath I take. How much money I have is irrelevant. My zip code is irrelevant. What is relevant is that I don’t have to fight through a social construct of “we” versus “they” in which I am the “they,” because as a white woman I am automatically included in the “we.” I am not society’s Other. I am not the social antithesis, and THAT is my privilege.

One of the panelists tonight said that at the root of racism was fear, and that got me to thinking, “Fear of what?” We talk a lot about fear, but what does that mean? Are we afraid of other people? Am I afraid? What am I afraid of? And I felt it: a clench in my gut. There it is: my racism, a core fear that lives in my root chakra. What is it? I’m still working it out, but I’ll tell you what I’ve got so far: I’m afraid that I’ll be treated the way people of color are treated in this society. I’m afraid of having to be afraid of the police. I’m afraid of what it would be like to have to fight through bigots at polling places, or to have to deal with bosses who don’t want to hire me for a good job for which I’m well qualified because I don’t look “right.” I don’t want to be the Other.

And there, my friends, is the unpleasant and ugly truth staring me straight in the face: I like my privilege. And that is some fucked up shit right there.

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