Excluding Definitions of Paganism: How Does it Effect Pagans of Color?

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Often, especially in old books and websites, I find definitions of paganism that go a bit as follows:

“Paganism is an umbrella term for any pre-Christian European religion”

When people define paganism as such, what they are effectivly doing is setting up a system in which European (white) is the default, and any PoC or-non-European traditions- are considered an outlier. When you ask pagans why there isn’t more PoC representation in the Pagan community, often the excuse is that paganism is defined as European religions, and that most pagans choose to follow those paths that their ancestors walked. Instead, the case is that PoC (pagans of color) and non-European traditions are often overlooked in favor of Euro-centric ones.

Not to mention that that excuse doesn’t make  sense. How do you get the idea that if you are following  a European religion that that is the path that your ancestors walked, so long as it’s European?

I do not know where my ancestors came from, and just picking and choosing a traditional African religion does not mean that I’m following the “path of my ancestors”, much in the same way that a white person picking any European spirituality- regardless of their ancestry- isn’t necessarily  following the path of their ancestors.

This system is problematic, as it also upholds the idea of privilege where any pagan who is not following the defaults of Paganism (read: is white, follows a European spirituality or a spirituality filled with cultural appropriation) is seen as different.

Also seen in the Pagan community is the idea of mutual exclusivity, or the idea that, if you are pagan, you cannot be something else, because pagan and xyz are not possible because they are mutually exclusive.

Also not true.

You can still be a pagan and be a racist.

You can still be pagan and be prejudice.

You can still be pagan and have white privilege.

You can still be pagan and have male privilege.

You can still be pagan and have heterosexual privilege.

YOU CAN STILL BE PAGAN AND HAVE PRIVILEGE- just because you are oppressed in one way- spiritually-doesn’t mean you aren’t benefitting in other ways-being white.

Those are the simple facts, and by pointing out the fact that many pagans feel as if they bear the worst oppression because of their spirituality is laughable-especially because many uphold ideas that racism and prejudice no longer exist, while also choosing to remain “colorblind” (which is a form of racism)- they feel as if you are being antagonistic or simply “bringing race into it” or being a ‘race-baiter”

I am choosing to point out these issues in the community because it remains a constant problem, and in order to truly progress and understand each other, we must be able to create a space in which we can accept others without silencing them in favor for a more homogenized, blind view.

Many PoC feel as if they cannot be pagan because they aren’t white. Others avoid talking about race/cultural based subjects in fear of being seen as a negative race-baiter.

This all goes hand in hand with the fact that people with privilege often feel uncomfortable speaking about it, and will often a) avoid the conversation completely, b) adamantly refuse the idea that they have privilege,thus effectively silencing the voices and experiences of PoC, or, c),  become belligerent, rude, and embarrassed.

All terrible responses to have.

As pagans we need to understand-yes, understand, because despite all the feel good books speaking about how paganism is open to all people from all walks of life- many still choose to discount those who come from different situations and experiences than them, because often times they bring with them experiences which point out blatant differences between them and other pagans.

I did not come from a wonderful home with loving Christian parents who were outraged at my involvement with paganism.

I came from a broken, abusive home where my mother accepted my maturity in studying a spiritual path and my father applauds my philosophic skills.

I did not come from a home where milk was a given, or that dinner was a given- I came from a home where good food (read: not ramen) was considered luxury and should be respected.

I am not the standard white middle class pagan, and I will not have my experiences as well as the experiences of others droned out in favor for a more homogenized view of pagans and paganism.

So many books portray paganism in this particular way that it becomes seen as the norm. We tend to see those that practice differently or don’t believe in the Three Fold Law or don’t follow the Wheel of the Year as “those other people” or just “others” instead of validating them as pagans with different experiences and practices.

I am pagan just like everyone else, and just because I am not the “typical pagan” doesn’t mean that I am not pagan. We need to stop drowning out ideas and voices because we don’t like what they have to say.

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