Intersections

Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens


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Hidden Figures and Pussyhats

The new film Hidden Figures tells the story of three black women (among many) who helped to save the American Space Program.  In segregated Virginia, these women battled both racism and misogyny, deftly fended off micro- and macro-aggressions against both race and sex, and figured out the very mathematics necessary to launch Americans into orbit and bring them back safely.  Ultimately, their work helped to win the Cold War.

Source: Educationworld.com

Their stories have been largely untold until now.  Their lives were mostly unknown by the general population.  Sadly, despite their incalculable service to their country, despite the fact that they fought against all odds and proved their value and their capabilities, the same fights are still being waged.  Racism is alive and well; misogyny is on its way to taking power in the White House.

After the movie, I happened to overhear two people discussing what they had just seen.  “They didn’t complain,” said one person.  “They just accepted things for the way they were and worked harder.”  These two moviegoers went on to praise the three main characters in the film, not for their genius or their bravery, but for being quiet and meek about the injustices they were forced to overcome.  It was, in their minds, good for these three black female heroes to remain hidden.

Someone clearly missed the point.

As a Pagan, I’m proud to be part of a religious community that is on the forefront of the fight for equality.  We aren’t perfect.  Racism and sexism and other injustices still crop up, but large numbers of our community believe in and actively fight for the equality of all people.  To the general public, we are often hidden.  They want us, and others who believe in equality, to remain that way.

No.

With an administration that has openly insulted women and advocated racist and xenophobic policies, those who believe in equality can’t afford to remain hidden.  What is hidden needs to be revealed, and it needs to claim its power.

One way women are doing that is through the Pussyhat Project.  Inspired by President-Elect Trump’s now infamous claim that he can “grab” women “by the pussy,” knitters have created a hat design to bring their support for equality out of the shadows.  They are taking a term usually used pejoratively and taking back its power.  Many plan to wear the knit hats as they protest the inauguration in Washington D.C. and across the country.  It’s a simple, but visible sign of protest.  It’s a method of claiming power and refusing to stay hidden.

Source: thestranger.com

Contrary to the views of the ladies I overheard, remaining hidden does not help.  The three women who sent America into space may well have succeeded in changing the culture of NASA, but it took a larger and more visible fight to make progress against legal segregation.  There’s a larger, cultural reason that Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan were unknown before this movie.  The contributions of both women and African-Americans is largely absent from standard history books.  That leads to ignorance about their contributions.  Ignorance leads to hatred and fear.

The only remedy for ignorance is exposure and education.  I’ll be wearing a pussyhat proudly and I look forward to helping my black and female friends shine a light on their contributions to society.

 

 

 

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Learning From Pagans of Color at Pantheacon

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.

KrampusThose were the ups, but then there were the downs.

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.


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Painful Truths: The Fear of Discussion

I just wrote a whole post on Ferguson, white privilege, and racism. It was all about overt and institutionalized racism and the difficulty of seeing your own privilege. It recognized my own privilege as a white man and asked people of color to have patience with those of us who have a melanin deficiency as we try to figure out how to handle these successive rounds of evidence of systemic racism in society. Then I threw it out.

It was way too “Great White Father.” I was speaking to the white community, not the African-American community, but it still smacked of power and privilege. I can afford to sit down and think about these things because they don’t affect me. That’s privilege.

Yet I still want to get beyond the immediate injustices because they are symptoms of a much larger problem. We are afraid to talk to each other. People of color fear having their very real problems marginalized (again). Their white allies fear to say the wrong thing, knowing they can never fully understand the Black American experience, so they censor themselves. Plus, people of color need white allies to be vocally on their side. And that is a huge problem in all of this: we need to communicate, both to each other and within our communities.

In my presentation at the Pagan Activism Conference, I proposed this elemental model of activism:

elemental model

Fire represents that immediate, get out on the streets and march element of seeking social justice. That is a vital element, but there is so much more to it. At some point, the different combatants in a dispute need to talk to each other. They need to understand each other’s problems. Otherwise one side sees only the angry picketers and burning buildings that the media shows them on TV and the other side sees only privileged, smug silent observers sipping their Cabernet as others fight for their basic legal rights. If no discussion happens, the sides don’t understand each other. The problem escalates.

We need that lesson of Air. Communication includes both speaking and listening. Argument is good, but screaming over each other as if we are guests on Fox News is not. Going forward in this fight for justice, I hope people of all opinions can quench their fire enough understand that there are real people suffering. Listen to their concerns without becoming defensive and without belittling their true experience. Speak your beliefs in a way that helps the other side truly understand your point of view.

There is so much pain in all of this. Listening to the voice that has hurt you will not be easy. But successful movements must convey their message to the other side in a way that helps them understand it. Protests bring attention to an issue, but it is negotiation and clearly framed messaging that changes hearts and minds, especially the way our media covers these events.

privilege

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

We who live with privilege can no longer ignore it. This constant denial of the basic rights of safety from harm that our brothers and sisters of color suffer cannot continue. It’s not one instance; it’s the pattern.  The Wild Hunt’s Crystal Blanton, a stalwart advocate for real equality puts it so poignantly:

The fear that I carry as a mother of Black children is not different than the fear of mothers from any historically oppressed population. On Monday night, as my son walked out of the door, I stopped him to tell him not to wear his hoodie on his head and to put his dreads back in a ponytail. The fear that he may be mistaken for a thug because people will see him as a Black man first is a sad reality for many parents.

 

That’s not OK. Experiences like Crystal’s need to be communicated to those of us who are free to wear hoodies with impunity.  We need to see and hear and understand these little bricks of privilege. The problem is clear, but let’s begin to focus on communication and healing for the long term.

Sometimes that may include that may include uncomfortable choices like writing a blog post you’re afraid to post or keeping a racist friend on Facebook so that you can scrape away at them with messages like Crystal’s. But then, if that’s the most uncomfortable decision you make in all of this, you’re ahead of a lot of other folks who are afraid to go to the corner store in a hoodie.