On the first of September, many members boycotted Tumblr for the day because of the social media platform’s approach to, or rather failure to approach, white supremacist activity on their site. The months of recent RL hate groups collectivizing in cities like Charlottesville has started a site-motivated (and people-approved) monitoring and blocking of hate materials and those who spread them, hopefully nipping these sorts of gatherings in their rotten buds. This means that the profiles of those who imagine that white supremacy is a thing (instead of white privilege) and perpetuate its violences are being banned from the manifests of Facebook, Twitter, even OKCupid. But not Tumblr.
My initial feelings involve frustration towards Tumblr. Because of the visual nature of Tumblr posts, the san serif and monospaced fonts that are easy on the eyes, and the if-not-always-open-at-least-conscious-ish queer sociopolitics of the people on the site, I find myself on the social media platform whenever I have Internet access. The site is also host to gender nonconforming-friendly Norse Pagan resources I use that are run by my English-writing peers around the world.
Looking up resources for my practice as a version of Norse Paganism on a typical search engine too often leads to racist interpretations of Norse tales, defenses that the path should only be undertaken by white people, and once even brought me to a white supremacist site despite my search settings. (I don’t link these pieces of evidence, and I will never link anything like them, because this site does not deserve the fate of being tied to them. Traffic to these kinds of sites needs stop so this trash can fade into, and ultimately be disintegrated by, the Ethernet.) It’s disgusting that there are so many actively racist people who claim to share a religion with me.
The use of a form of the adjective “active” is very deliberate here, as Norse Paganisms are not the only practices with racist happenings. Neo-Paganisms are many things, one of them being very white in origin and presentation. Non-white Pagans and Witches are consistently pushed out of conversations and spaces, many having to resort to practicing solitary or through mostly digital means. Of the Chaos mages, Shamans, and Witches of color I know (most of who are Black, Southeast Asian, and Indigenous), few consider themselves “Pagan” or their practices related to “Pagansisms,” with good reason. Think of how often elements of Vodun, Shinto, and “East/South Asian philosophies” are casually incorporated into modern Pagan rituals and values; of how many resource guides there are for semblances (read mockeries) of Mayan, Aztec, Hawaiian, and amalgamated North American Indian ceremonies and principles written by white Pagans and Wiccans; of how many global cultures are misappropriated in the search for a relatable deity and/or magic for white mages. (You only have to recall some of the magical names of friends and famous folks to start to get what I mean.) Racism isn’t just in the actions of one individual; the consumption of racist materials is how this form of discrimination is still prevalent in these states and beyond.
Once for Witches & Pagans (#33, 2016), I wrote that diffusing the racist interpretations of “non-white spirituality” amongst the Pagans and Witches I met with at high school, therefore everyday interpersonal racism, was not a “battle” I was “the best suited to handle.” In less than a year, I’ve come to the realization that my readiness does not matter—I have to do this now. We have to do this now. The display in Charlottesville and around the states work to display how critical white recognition of both our active and passive continuations of racism is in beginning to step up to accountability and step back from the domicile of racism so that those we oppress can tell us our role in dismantling it, because we’ve proven to be absolute shit at seeing the structure of persecution based on non-whiteness.
In violence prevention/intervention, I’ve learned that the best way to inspire change in violent behavior is to plan what we have to do about it, affirming a new end over exacerbating a past we as white people will get defensive over very quickly. We have to do something in order to demean something that is undoing us.
As a white Norse Pagan, I have to speak up against the inevitable racism I’ll encounter. This means recognizing the ways the religion I practice is racist, the ways people in this religion have been racist, and how I have been racist and talking about it over dismissing these facts. This means scrutinizing the sources I’ve been using (whether these are translations of Snorri Starluson’s translation of the Edda or a WordPress blog or anything else) for racism or messages being interpreted in a racist manner by modern followers and pseudo-followers. This means discussing race in my religion beyond non-white exclusion. I have to understand that I don’t know the experiences of Norse Pagans of color but may be the only one who can talk about these topics with white Norse Pagans with minimal social sanctions. Most importantly, this means providing my full attention when non-white Norse Pagans can and do speak up.
As a white Pagan who used to blatantly incorporate elements of Indigenous and South Asian spirituality and metaphysics into my practice, I have to speak up about the ways I have practiced (and even continue to perform) racism and its consequences. This means recognizing the cultures I have misappropriated, whose spirits I have sullied, and how I have participated in cultural and spiritual domination. This means educating myself on these cultures and the effects of white religious subjugation on them that continues into today. I have to disengage from these rituals even when I find I truly respect them as they really are. Most importantly, this means letting go of the operational racism I’ve been using to do my spirituality.
As a white Pagan, I have to hold myself accountable for the racism that has marginalized and alienated Witches of color from Pagan communities. This means recognizing how non-European religions are approached as novelty ways to do magic in neo-Pagan communities. This means my beliefs are just as involved in race as they are sexuality, gender, class, nature, technology, and “freedom.” This means knowing of and celebrating spaces specific to Pagans of color and respecting that the “all-inclusive” fests do not meet the same needs for these magic-users. This means knowing that those places are not meant for me. I have to understand that the dynamics of a person of color following a deity or path not of their racial culture of descent means a much different thing than a white person adhering to a non-white practice and that practices like this amongst white people are much more problematic. Most importantly, this means not getting defensive and evasive when I’m called out for being racist.
As a white person, I am accountable for the continuation of racism in the states of America and around the globe. I can call myself “anti-racist” and be able to point out some of the racism white friends and strangers do, but as long as I can’t speak up in the moments these transgressions occur, my silence is approval. I have to speak up. There’s such a violent history of whiteness in the Americas that underscores the fact that I need to be understanding and supporting BlackLivesMatter (#BLM / #blacklivesmatter) and the variances I’ve seen like “BlackAndTransLivesMatter” and “BlackWomen’sLivesMatter” as well as other movements like “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” (#MMIW) in Canada and the states. I need to be familiar with how other religions like Islam and Judaism experience violence because of race-based assumptions. I have to be a resource for what racism looks like and how to begin to dislocate it.
For white Pagans, there are at least 250 words that you see yourself in. Add this to your creeds and notes, Chrome Books of Shadows and handbound journals. Put yourself in the center. Recognize your role in the universality you’re living out.
Just remember that accountability is not absolution.
In the meantime, there have been no visible repercussions on Tumblr for white supremacist users. The best option we have is to block them, but they’re still there. And now there’s evidence that these same people are using Discord, a group gaming app, to recruit and spread their filth. This is ridiculous.
Is there really something so mindboggling about respecting another person?