An author on Patheos by the name of Cyndi Brannen posted some reflections lately on the white supremacy she perceives in American paganism and witchcraft. A response against her conclusions was later posted by Kenaz Filan, author of a website entitled “Europa’s Children”. This sort of contention between pagan thinkers leaning to the Right or the Left has been going on in many forms, and for far too long. Being someone who usually seeks a middle and mixed way, I find myself almost always isolated and alone when I try to participate. My aim in remaining neutral is not to be a provocative individualist (far from it because I am more on the side of collectivism, albeit in smaller rather than groups), much less an indecisive shifty person who follows the crowd, nor indeed a self-appointed judge who utters the final word. If all pagans can agree, in opposition to monotheism, that there is no one single Truth, the conclusion must be that there are Truths, and these exist on several sides. This is what I seek, however difficult it may be to attain. In spite of sporadic faults, I am attracted to the idea of reconciliation and confederation in cases of unnecessary disagreement among pagans, but this is beyond my power to convey as a relative newcomer or indeed a single voice. I remember an anecdote from the English Civil War, in which Prince Rupert (on the King’s side) at the head of some troops saw a man going about his business in an isolated area. So, the Prince asked “You, fellow, are you for King or Parliament?”. The man’s reply was as reasonable as it could be in itself, but it was immediately misinterpreted in times of war: “I am for both King and Parliament, sir”. This caused the poor man’s death, because the Prince shot him immediately. What happened then is being repeated, albeit differently: The division between Left and Right is becoming quite akin to a cultural and ideological civil war, in which middle voices are put aside as traitors or fools. And when the battle has to do with identity, the heat will only increase by mutual opposition.
Below are excerpts from the two posts abovementioned, and I have consciously put them in the form of a dialogue to illustrate (a rather mild example of) the disengagement and disagreement that pervades pagan discourses online:
Brannen: White advantage is everywhere in modern witchcraft, from pop culture to the common Wheel of the Year. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it is problematic when all this whiteness blinds us to the problems it causes for those who are from marginalized groups. However, there are ways those of us who want a more diverse witchcraft can be true allies. Diversity strengthens us personally and witchcraft as a whole…Look at your bookshelf and the thought leaders you follow on social media. I did just that. So much whiteness. This launched me on a quest to better understand the problems this causes and ways I can possibly help give space to those who aren’t white. I’m not putting myself on the cross here. My interest in dismantling whiteness in witchcraft is selfish.
Filan: Brennan offers some ways in which White Witches can fight this system. Some of her pointers are quite good. I am all for treating other cultures with respect: I encourage everyone to honor their Ancestors and to work toward uplifting their Folk. It’s always good to sit back and listen. Looking for a Little Brown Holy Person to fill your spiritual emptiness rarely ends well. Neither do we disagree on the importance of developing one’s own identity and figuring out one’s personal truth.
Brannen: Check your privilege. Basically, asking ourselves if we are coming from a place of dominance over the individual or group with whom we are interacting. Also, if we believe that we are inherently better than another group or individual. In addition, having an attitude that we are the “chosen ones” can also be a sign of privilege. In other words, be humble.
Filan: To all this chest-thumping and rending of garments there is only one proper response. So I helpfully reassured Brennan, and her readers, that “It’s Okay to be White.” And because I am an inveterate shitposter I appended those five problematic words with fourteen that are even more controversial. The results, which we will explore in our next entry, are both predictable and amusing.
I had examined the problem of group identity, white supremacy and indigenism before on this site (see, among others, here and here). Looking through the two opposing posts, it appears there is an original problem with definitions and premises (leading to problematic conclusions) further reinforced by a lack of direct discussion. Aristotle has a wise quote that I love to bear in mind in such circumstances: “How many a dispute could have been deflated into a single paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms”. In pursuance of his advice, I will attempt to define the following terms:
What everyone agrees it is: the belief in the superiority of one race above another together with the resulting practice, directly or indirectly, of favoring that race above others.
What some mistakenly believe it to be: A) the belief in the priority of serving and preserving one’s ethnic people, as in Europe B) the belief in favor of endogamy within one’s ethnic or close groups (N.B. “White” is not an ethnic group-see below)
What we should further agree on as to what it is: A) the belief in the existence of a collective heritage, ethnos or culture belonging to a whole race of people (as in the white race). B) the belief in the priority of serving and preserving one’s ethnic people in spite of past & continuing colonialism, as in the New World
What it is: A) The belief in the superiority of the white race above others B) The belief that the whites should maintain the status quo and cultural ascendancy in areas they colonized
What it is not: The belief of Europeans in Europe against immigration and multiculturalism within their own soil
What it is: the collective mentality of Western Civilization and Eurocentrism in relation to other cultures, especially in the New World
What it is not: every person of white complexion (unless that person subscribes to the above)
This has an obvious definition but once again I would distinguish native privilege from colonial privilege
My conclusion in one paragraph, in the style of Aristotle:
Both authors don’t fully understand each other’s position, nor even the groups they are attempting to speak on behalf of. It is necessary to separate Old World European systems and cultures from those of the New World. Although Old World Europeans have yet to remove their influence from former colonies completely, New World Europeans are still using (and cannot escape from) colonizing systems. Part of the latter system is the concept of “whiteness”, and it has also crept into Europe through American socio-political influence as well as natively through the expanding project of the European Union. Paganism should be helping us in either case, since the knowledge we have of indigenous practices is sufficient, if not vast, to heal past wounds and reform identities. Colonial systems should be opposed and dismantled as much as possible, but there is an effective & persuasive way to achieve this (tone is always a good beginning); unfair institutions and bad ideas must not be mixed with the people who happened to grow up following them, otherwise this will lead the people to hold onto such institutions and ideas all the more strongly*. The New World is not European, but it is inhabited by Europeans who must be gradually brought to the realization that they have separate origins in distinct parts of Europe that they must reconnect with and allow others with different origins to do the same. Identities based on continents (European/African/Asian) make very little sense in general and certainly no sense at all in paganism; they only lead to confusion and misunderstanding. It is therefore not OK to be “White”, but it is OK to be Greek, Irish, German, etc. And yet it is OK to “Black” (in a collective sense) until whiteness is dismantled (because Whiteness created Blackness). After many centuries of domination, the dangerous idea of a collective Western/European/White culture must end and give way to native and indigenous systems.
*In colloquial terms, “don’t throw away the baby with the dirty bathwater”