culture

Propaganda About Muslim Women: How Does it Fit into White Oppression?

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If you live in America, then no doubt you are aware of the “politics” surrounding what Muslim women choose to wear on their bodies. I wanted to write this blog post about it, because it is actually very important.

Usually in topics such as these, whether it’s white people speaking about sexism in the black community or what Muslim women choose to put on their bodies- notice how there is always a need to make it appear as if somehow these cultures are any more sexist than their own.

They will always try to make it seem as if their culture is somehow the pinnacle of appropriate behavior, overlooking their own flaws and instead choosing to focus on those in PoC communities, because those flaws they find only serve to feed how great white culture is as compared to those of PoC.

Also is a need to “save” brown women from brown men, (or other PoC). Here we also see how many white people view MoC (Men of Color) as beastly, uncouth, and uneducated. The idea that WoC would be “better off” if they simply emerge themselves in white culture or just stay away from men of their own race is also present- as if somehow things are always better if they are white.

The very fact is that white people are offended that you will not shed your own beliefs and culture and be more like other Americans. (White) This is also coupled with the propaganda the U.S. is using in order to fuel it’s interference with the Middle East, under the guise of fighting terrorism. The U.S. has a history of painting other races and cultures as barbaric, lazy, uncivilized masses in order to fuel it’s political agenda- today is no different, albeit in a much more subtle form. 

Hatred, misunderstanding, and down right LIES about what is and what it means to be a Muslim only serve to rile white America up into outrage, building anti-Islam into a smear campaign against Middle-Eastern Americans.

The idea of a white Nun being the epicenter of purity and devotion but a fully covered Muslim women being oppressed is no coincidence.

Because the idea that women’s bodies- especially those exotic, foreign brown women- are covered from white male eyes is literally throwing white America into a tizzy. Because in American culture, women’s bodies only exist for the gratification of white men, to serve as their own sexual fantasies and conquests.

The idea of a Muslim women- or any other women- is refusing to please the white male gaze is like an unmentionable crime.

Also present is the confusion that sexual freedom somehow equals power, because if  you please white males and entertain their white male privilege, everything ill be a-okay. Just don’t mention their privilege. Or your culture, other than those “exotic” adornments. Or expect him to take your customs seriously. Or honor your family.

Pagans: Please Stop Stealing Hoodoo

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A reoccurring them I seem to be realizing through many of the Pagan books I’m reading is the tendency to take traditional Hoodoo formulas and then relabel them as a generic “magickal” formula. Lets dig deep into this, for those of you who are confused.

Hoodoo, also called rootworking, is an African American spiritual practice that came into being via  slaves brought over from Africa into the Americas. By mixing not only each other’s beliefs, but also those of Native Americans and Europeans, the system of “Hoodoo” was created. Let me repeat: although Hoodoo is a spiritual practice that anyone can practice, it is an African American one. I have seen many books that seem to feel uncomfortable with this fact and will often drop the African American part and simply address it as a spiritual practice that anyone can do of apparently mysterious origins.  Recognize  the system as what it is- a system rooted in African American culture.

This is problematic because the common trend in modern, eclectic Paganism where said Pagans will decide that they enjoy/want a particular aspect of a culture and will take from it without doing further research, by attempting to sever this new system/practice from it’s traditional  structure  and repackage it as if it never belonged to a system to begin with (i.e.- chakras, yoga, the Elder Futhark) because it suits their need to incorporate an element into their personal practice without having to sacrifice the work, effort, and energy to study said system in it’s original context, feeling that their own interpretations are good enough to suffice for authenticity.

Hoodoo is a very specific system- it is not just general “magick” or magickal herbalism- it is unique in that not only herbs and stones are used, but also animal parts, soil, body fluids, and the like. The individual meanings and how each element is incorporated into a trick or working is specific to Hoodoo- when you redefine the meanings of formulas,candle colors, or herbs, it is no longer hoodoo.

Also there  is the tendency for some to look down at Hoodoo because unlike other modern magical systems, hexes and curses, called crossing, are also used as a part of the system. While many individual root workers may choose not to practice such things, favoring other practices instead, there is often a break in history where people forget why they were used in the first place.

It is because African Americans in the past faced (and yes, still do, although in a much different, non-institutionalized form) oppression and racism that was  constant threat to not only their well-being, but the well-being of their loved ones and communities as a whole.

When having an enemy can mean danger to your family, or when racist cops are quick to find offenses to get you in trouble over, you don’t give a shit as to whether or not your actions are harming someone else. Your concern is the safety of your own- your family, your community, and your people.

You’re not concerned over whether or not the white man at work whose sexually harassing you is harmed, or whether or not your  nosy, snitch neighbor develops a disease and moves away- as long as he’s gone and your shit is safe, that’s all that matters.

Hoodoo is a practice born out of desperation of a people with the desire to live and prosper under horrifying circumstances-not some gentle, herbal practice that those with no appreciation for the it can just go buy on Etsy without even understanding the circumstances of it’s creation.

This is not to say that no rootworker-then or now -has ever used it for unjustified malicious purposes- because yes, it was common at one point in time.

What I’m saying is that many Pagans today have no or little understanding of what it means to be truly desperate.

There is also a long standing history of whites appropriating from black culture while giving no credit to the culture they appropriated from. Keep this in mind when traditional (black) rootworkers become offensed over your taking of their shit.

If you want to work or practice Hoodoo- do some research. Until then, quit stealing our formulas because the idea of having tons of magical formulas entices you, or because you like the way the packaging looks, or because it’s so versatile, or whatever bullshit excuses you’ll try to give for being too lazy to learn shit about the culture you’re stealing from.

The versatile, Earth-based practices of Hoodoo- floor washes, Mojo hands, powders,incense, bath crystals, handwashes, candles, and perfumes make it an easy target for those who are interested in new ways to incorporate herbs into their practice, but who could care less about the oppressive history of African American culture and spiritual practices, it’s apparent “lack” of ethics, and it’s lexicon of new words.

That will be all.

Why Do We Still Treat Asian-Americans as Foreigners?

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One of the things I have continued to notice is how people seem to constantly look at Asian-Americans as foreigners, ignoring them as American citizens.

Questions such as ‘Where are you from?”, “Where were you born?”, usually come before more racist questions such as ‘Do you eat dog/cat?”, “Did your parents own a Chinese food shop?”, and “Do you like sushi?”

The problem with questions such as these is that people tend to put emphasis on someone else’s Asian ethnicity, completely tossing aside the idea that they may have been born in raised in America, or even that their parents may have been born in America. The idea that if someone is other than white or African American must be a foreigner can have negative repercussions on people, especially those who uphold specific cultures and customs.

For example, Indians who choose to wear traditional Indian clothing, such as saris or kurta-pajama may be looked at as foreigners unwilling to “adapt” to American culture, instead of people who are choosing to wear clothing specific to their ethnicity.

Other Asian-Americans may have a cluster of inappropriate comments and generalizations made about them, comments that destroy the cultural differences between them. This is why questions such as “Do your parents own a Chinese food shop” can be offensive- it’s not that there is anything wrong with owning a Chinese food shop, or denying that Asians can own Chinese food shops- it’s the idea that you are associating being Asian-American with stereotypes, refusing to see the differences between Asian cultures in favor of a more homogenized view.

On the other side of the spectrum is the exotification and constant “need-to-know”- that is, people who treat Asian-Americans as if their ethnicity is a game, something to guess and figure out. The funny thing is, if someone were to go up to someone white and go “What is your ethnicity? Where are your ancestors from?”, they would receive odd looks.

The exotification and appropriation of Eastern cultures has a long and dirty history, as is plundering from Eastern spiritual practices in order to “spice up” Western ones. Practices such as yoga, Eastern forms of meditation, yoga, and even martial arts have all been appropriated in the West, presented here as a new form of exotic spirituality/ exercise that’s fine for everyone to do! Cultural appropriation benefits only those who are doing the appropriating, as spiritual practices that were once held sacred or of high importance in their original context are now watered down to merely an excercise done by girls in sweats or an after school activity for kids.

The exotification of Eastern countries and people is also a huge problem, as many Asian-Americans face issues regarding those who view Asian women through a hyper-sexualized lense, one in which Asian women serve only as exotic sexual conquests. Men who state how much they love Asian women are only continuing the racism against them the idea that somehow, being Asian is to be one specific type of person, with no distinction between multiple Asian cultures.

And what about those Asian-Americans who don’t practice cultural specific things? A lot of times they have their ethnicity stripped from them, as if now, since they aren’t doing anything to further “alienate” themselves from American culture, that that now makes them fully American? Why does it seem that we expect Asians to always do/ act a specific way, while it is not the same with other cultures and ethnicities? (Most) people understand that not all Black’s eat fried chicken and watermelon before washing it down with orange soda- so why does the idea that all Asian-Americans must always eat rice and fish and wash it down with tea? Why is that they are always expected to maintain stereotypes and assumptions that may Americans still have about them?

Because America still sees Asian-Americans as being  foreign, and the idea that of course a foreigner would just maintain all their foreign cultures instead embracing American culture is a prevalent one. We need to stop seeing Asian-Americans as being any different from any other Americans, while understanding that they may have a different culture from us, wear different clothing, enjoy different foods, or just simply do different things. We need to understand that you can see race and understand and accept their differences without alienating and exotifying them.

No, Not All Deities are the Same

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Did I catch your attention? I hope so.

I wanted to further talk about cultural appropriation in the pagan community, because I feel as if it is a topic that needs to be stressed and understood. If this were an issue that people recognized and said “Oh! Now I understand! I’ll stop doing it right away and tell all my friends!” I’d be quiet. However, it is ongoing, and so I, in turn, will be vigilant.

The problem I want to talk about is cultural appropriation in terms of lumping all deities together. Whether one believes that all deities are archetypes isn’t really what I’m talking about- what I am talking about is when a person decides to lump all deities together, slap an Archetype on them, and then proceed to honor them in anyway they feel like it, because it feels “natural”, “intuitive”, or the like.

There is nothing wrong with feeling intuitive and inspirational in your practice. However, when a person decides that they don’t care how a religion has been practiced for hundreds or thousands of  years, or decides that an individual deity can be worshiped in the same way as another, ignoring any cultural implications or traditional practices,  it becomes a matter of cultural appropriation.

This also ties into the “shiny, me want” culture. I cannot tell you how many times I have gone to a pagan website, and have them create a ritual for Kali-Ma under the Archetype of “Destroyer”, without even understanding how She is worshiped by actual followers of the Hindu faith. They do not take the time to learn, because they feel as if they can worship the deity  in anyway that they want to.

This is not okay.

This is especially not okay when we are talking about cultures that have been (and continue to be) marginalized, exotified, and trivialized. 

If you love a deity, and feel called to them, how about you actually take the time to learn about them, they’re history, and they’re development? 

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The same thing happens in regards for the iChing. How many people can actually tell you a bit about Chinese mythology, or even some history or spiritual practices? Not many. But they still love the iChing! The words are beautiful and poetic, and the symbols are pretty cool too. What could be wrong with that?

Everything, because you are taking something interesting from a culture, and saying fuck the rest. You believe that you have a right to something belonging to another culture, and will kick, scream, and whine when someone tries to tell you otherwise.

The problem with saying that all deities are the same is that when most people say this, they ignore the individual cultural implications any deity has, and then take it upon them selves to make shit up instead of, you know, reading, about something. So the next time you feel the need to trivialize someone else’s spirituality because you think you can, try stepping back and actually learning about it for once. That way, you won’t get offended when someone calls bullshit.