So, I’m researching when is the next upcoming high rite to attend at Cedar Light Grove*, which is on February 1st. In this I am reminded of feeling a bit of being different in rituals of past. I usually attend the high rites (which is pretty much the Pagan equivalent to only going to church on Easter and Christmas if you were Christian) because I thought it would be nice to be a bit more social. Maaaaaaan, I feel like a fly in the milk there. The people at the Grove are very nice but I miss being around people who look like me. It sucks when you scan the crowd at the circles and it’s pretty much nothing but White faces and you’re clearly the only Black person there. That and continually thinking, “Good gods, can we get some Mos Def or Lupe Fiasco up in here when we do the music or rhythm parts? At least some ?uestlove,” while time checking the phone sneakily, wondering when ritual will be over.
I have brought it up, of course, to one of the higher ups of the Grove, Ms. Karen. She mentioned that there were Black members of the Grove at different times in the short history the grove has been there but they never seem to stay for the long haul. One thing I do like about Ms. Karen is that she reminds me of Ms. Donna, who I got my first bearings from in Paganism and is thus, fairly straightforward. However, even she jumped quick to mention that they’re not ousting minorities, the minority members are just leaving for their own reasons. I didn’t think the Grove would do anything major to drive people away but it would be nice if some Black Pagans stuck around longer. (Hence why I put up the place’s name and their next high rite in the first two lines of this piece, hint hint.) She suggested that I talk to one of the further higher ups on having a workshop series there for Black Pagans. Although, I didn’t really get a chance to really talk to the people I needed to because it was super late night and discussing business while super sleepy is generally a bad idea. Updates on that will be in the future if I’m successful or not.
I think when I’m there, it reminds me usually of the feeling I get when I’m in massively White spaces…because it’s a massively White space. Sometimes I’m hesitant, just waiting for someone to say something or do something racist and or classist, usually in the form of a micro-aggression. And usually, it happens. When I was at now-defunct Mystickal Voyage, it was someone trying to tell me that slavery ended in 1865 but women are still oppressed today so somehow, I don’t experience racism (nor sexism since apparently by her logic, Black women don’t exist) and that I’m being a wet blanket about a throwback topic from the 1950s. Riiiiight. And I couldn’t really freely interact because being a Black person (or really, any minority) in a majority White space, you have to watch what you say and do because the last you need is someone thinking you gave them the pass to be as openly bigoted as possible and as strongly as possible. I can’t really joke about the fact I was raised in the inner city because someone is going to make a “ghetto” joke or even say the n-word because “Oh hai, a Black person is here and they’re talking about the hood! Let me show how street I can be, freshly learned from Macklemore, Gwyneth Paltrow and Miley Cyrus!” Dude, no.
Let’s pause for a second. I don’t care what anyone else feels, Black, White or otherwise. But I don’t like nor can really stand the n-word. I don’t say it. I don’t like it when others say it either. Not “I don’t mind when Black folks say it but White people can’t.” It’s “I don’t like anyone saying it, Black or White. It’s a crappy word. The end.” Just don’t say it. Seriously. Especially if you’re White. Reaffirm your Whiteness in other ways. Like, join the Tea Party or Westboro Baptist Church or something.
Moving on – I don’t like the feeling I get because I can’t really be me if I have to be on guard regularly. I don’t have to worry about rape jokes, that’s nice. I don’t have to worry about homophobic jokes, huzzah because I don’t like hearing them. The atmosphere is pretty progressive but the thing is, it always seems like race is the last frontier for people to be actually progressive on. Since folks are so afraid to talk about racism (and racism intersectioned classism) because it involves deconstruction of Whiteness and bringing a lot of fetid cesspool thinking to light and people not always feeling happy about themselves or the cultures they were raised in, they just power straight through blindly with all the hidden bigotry they can muster. You know, having the Isis statue with the ski slope nose but freaking out at the person who mentions that Isis shouldn’t have a ski slope nose…nor be lighter than Beyonce or Nicki Minaj. Being ok with having a Yemeya statue that looks like Brighid but nearly going into convulsions when someone brings up that Yemeya should be waaaaaay darker than that. Like, making her darker than 12:01 AM would be more accurate than having her lighter than 12:01 PM. Basically, it’s hard being comfortable somewhere where you should be comfy because you have to worry about been seen as an object to interact with than a individual person.
Thing is, being in White dominated spaces, it’s hard to have a list of topics to talk about. When I’m around other minorities or simply other Black folks in the same backgrounds I’m in, I can talk more freely about things because in case I make a fleeting reference to race or culture, I’m not going to be most likely greeted with micro-aggressive racism/classism right out the gate because the other folks understand where I’m coming from. There’s no risk of hearing, “Not all White people are like that”, or “Well, that’s just your opinion”, or “Isn’t that racist against White people? If the roles were switched, people would be crying racism,” because if I just want to talk about Whitewashing of deities, how Pagan media is so snowpiled to the point it’s almost phony when people say that the face of Paganism is diverse…but somehow keep showing White person after White person after White person, then I want to talk about it without having to hear people trying to reinforce the status quo. I want to be able to talk seamlessly about things, not pit stop every five minutes to explain cultural differences because the person I’m talking to didn’t understand my reference, or worse, learned about the reference from whatever Seth MacFarlane has made and The Wire.
Hey, I still remember the one time one of the other folks at the Grove touched my hair without my permission. I have OCD. Not “Oh, I’m so ocd about how my pens are lined up”, I mean, I have been officially diagnosed with it at least three times. I have had very poor experiences in regards to the fact folks just seem to think I have zero need for personal space (actually, I need a lot, usually). I also have several years (around a decade or so) in martial arts training. I don’t like it when people grab my hair, plain and simple. I’m not a petting zoo. Though the person apologized fairly profusely, it still bugs me because I’m natural haired and it’s really common in White spaces for some random person to up and go yink! if you happen to have an afro or dreads. While I surprised myself for not hitting anyone (remember, I’m a martial artist and this happened behind my back), I still don’t appreciate anyone just randomly touching my hair/head in any way, shape or form. Plus, it makes me concerned that it could happen again in the future because just like any Black person who has been in mixed crowds, just because you explain you don’t like something done to you doesn’t mean folks are going to respect that and stop doing it. If that were the case, racism probably would have been solved a long time ago, ditto with other forms of oppression and bigotry.
I’m Black, I can’t separate that from my identity. I don’t want to either. It’s nice that some Pagan groups want to put in more effort than others but something is not attracting and keeping Black Pagans to stay with these groups. This doesn’t mean that the groups are pretty much Stormfront in eco-safe clothing, there’s just something in the culture that doesn’t allow minorities to really be themselves or to still feel very alone. That can make many Black Pagans feel like it’s time to move on or, like me, just come only during the high rites instead of being a more dedicated member and part of the group.
So, if you’re in the DMV area and you want to spend Imbolc somewhere new, go to Cedar Light Grove. I am not sure if they have overnight rituals every high rite (they did for Winter Solstice and Samhain), but pack a sleeping bag if they do and you want to stay the night. It would be nice to see more diverse faces.
Next week is The Arts!, here is what is being featured:
– Love! Love!
*This post is not for the intended purposes of shading, reading, criticizing, slighting or dissing Cedar Light Grove. For the most part, they’re pretty ok.