I’m still trying to wrap my head around Pantheacon 2015. It was a very different con for me, a strange mix of ups and downs. It started off incredibly when I got to watch my wife present for the first time. She got wonderful feedback on her work as a hypnotherapist. Throughout the con, and even after the con, a number of people expressed their appreciation for her session and for the work she did for them.
I got to help Shauna Aura Knight in her ritual facilitation workshop. By simply repeating a chant about Air as three others chanted the other elements, we raised some pretty amazing energy in a small space. I got a tiny glimpse of her ritual skills, and it left me wanting more. Much more.
I was the bad kid in a class on knot-tying, that poor student who wants to learn but needs the individualized attention from a teacher too busy to give it. There was important lesson there for this high school teacher to learn. My fellow witches and I sent protection to the witches of future at Devin Hunter’s Rite of Grand Convergence, and I worked to restore order in the world with Christopher Penczak. I met with men about men’s issues, talked with David Salisbury about establishing a Pagan lobbying day in the nation’s capital, and had the opportunity to meet Krampus, who was taking a break from his holiday season duties.
My new friend Krampus had some bad children to flog at this Pantheacon. As you may have already heard by now, PantyCon, the satirical newsletter that always appears at Pantheacon, published an Onion-esque blurb that was aimed at the recent failings of the Covenant of the Goddess and other groups to adequately address the fact that Black Lives Matter, but the language frightened and angered Pagans of Color. Here is what it said:
Ignoring Racism: A Workshop for White Pagans
Large Umbrella Pagan Group
Isn’t all this talk of social justice and racism just tiring? Don’t you wish you could just ignore it and put out meaningless statements of pure pablum? We’ll discuss how to ignore requests for consideration by pagans of color, cover up racist actions of high-ranking members, and pretend that you don’t understand the resulting outrage. Remember, #AllLivesMatter, except when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient.
Large Umbrella Pagan Group has been around for long enough that they think that they can get away with this stuff.
Like many others, I found it kind of funny. I thought it was clearly aimed at CoG and other organizations who stumbled around trying to find the simple words to say that racism is wrong. I’m sure that is what the author thought too. But it failed to take into account how people of color, who it was supposedly supporting, would feel. Jonathan Korman at the Miniver Cheevy blog has done a wonderful job of examining this angle on the issue. I encourage you to sign on to his letter if you choose to.
It hurt people. It hurt in a way that I, as a white heterosexual cis-male can’t really understand. Worse, there were reportedly people who expressed that they would have liked to attend this session if it were real. To me, that’s the real concern. Satire forces out truth, and the fact that some convention attendees expressed a desire to attend a session that worked on ignoring the rights of people of color validates the concerns expressed by the Pagans of Color Caucus.
On Monday morning, a meeting was organized to air out concerns about the issue. I attended, but stayed back, knowing that my role was to listen, not speak. My job was to listen to people of color the way that they have had to listen to others over the past 300 years.
There was a lot of that went on in that session, but one single piece of pain stuck with me. From what I saw, it also struck a chord in other white allies. I learned that Pagans of Color have an entire back channel of Twitter hashtags and private messages meant to ensure that they can safely walk the halls of the con. They need this feed to create a buddy system to ensure that they are safe as they navigate the halls.
Part of me rebels at that. I want to say, “Of course you’re safe. Pagans aren’t racists. We’re all minorities.” But then I remember that there were Pagans who said they’d love to come to that satirical pro-racism session. My thoughts seem pointless. I have much more to learn.
I think that’s the big recognition out of all of this. We all have more to learn. There will always be more to learn. Diversity and opposing, even shocking points of view force us out of our ignorance and into an ever more real world of pain, struggle, and truth. It’s not pleasant, but it’s real. When we listen with our hearts, without the walls of protection we so naturally seek to construct, we learn from the lived experience of others and begin to understand how we can move toward true equality. We leave provincialism and move toward true community. It’s not about shedding tears; it’s not about defensiveness. It’s about helping everyone thrive.
Update: the authors of PantyCon have posted a thoughtful apology to the comments of Jonathan Korman’s blog.