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On “Solidarity” and Privilege.

July 22, 2012 3 comments

I know this blog has been awfully quiet, and I’m extremely sporadic about updates. Generally speaking, something has to really move me to get me to write a post. Fortunately (or not), I found yet another one.

I’ve been lurking around the edges of the recent debates regarding Pagan women who choose to wear some form of head covering, largely because a) despite being prodded back into service by one of the deities commonly cited by veilers, I have not heard a single peep about adopting this practice for myself from him and thus, b) it’s none of my fucking business. I have deep reservations about the practice, and side-eye the hell out of a lot of the rationales of it that I’ve read on various veiler blogs, but it’s not my place to tell other women that they shouldn’t do it. That’s between y’all and y’all’s gods.

What finally prompted me to speak up about this practice, however, was a post someone linked me to, from the most “prominent” group of women engaging in this practice, about a “Wear a Veil in Solidarity Day”.

I’m not going into people’s space with this because I don’t especially feel like being dogpiled by a bunch of butthurt white women. I know damn well what happens when white privilege is called out in majority white spaces. So I’m going to say it here, instead:

Hold the entire fuck up, madams.

The debate I’m seeing, even in the comments of that post, is less about the idea of a solidarity day and going back to the debate of whether or not wearing head coverings is oppressive. I am not even getting into that particular shit here. I do not believe any woman of any faith background wearing any head covering by choice is inherently oppressive. I believe in a woman’s right to choose when it comes to covering or not, for whatever reason–modesty, spiritual power, whatever. Again, what you do in your private spiritual practice is between you and your gods.

This post is not about that, even though I have my own deeply held and well-considered views on the topic. This post is about questioning how largely middle class USian white women wearing veils as a gesture of “solidarity” without examining and deconstructing the white privilege inherent to veiling on a white body accomplishes anything more than feel-good self-aggrandizement for the largely middle class USian white women engaging in this action. (Spoilers: it doesn’t.)

It brings to mind the “solidarity” actions where throngs of socially conscious liberal white people of all ages posted photos of themselves on social media outlets wearing hoodies for Trayvon Martin, in another well-meaning and equally clueless attempt by white people to express support for marginalized people. Completely fucking ignoring the fact that no white person in the history of ever has ever been or ever will be shot merely for wearing a hoodie.

“But Zaratha!” they might say. “Why must you bring race into this?! Their hearts are in the right place!”

I would say their hearts are up their asses, along with their heads (covered or otherwise).

The fact of the matter is that head coverings are deeply racialized in the US and most of the western world. It is not (white) Orthodox Jewish women or quiverfull women or any of the other small minority of white women being beaten and harassed in the street for covering their heads. It is brown and black Muslim women. The hijab is a potent symbol of the Other–brown, foreign, un-American, ignorant, backwards, “terrorist”. The French ban on hijab for instance, like so many other Islamophobic actions in European colonial powers, was as much about forced assimilation of brown immigrants into a mainstream white society as it was about the “oppression of women” (and arguably more). A white woman wearing a veil may be perceived as a threat on some level (most likely thought of as “brainwashed”–by some brown man at home, natch), but at the end of the day she can hang that bad boy up and everything’s fine. Brown and black Muslim women cannot hang up their skin.

“But white women are Muslim too!” Indeed, they are–and enjoy as much white privilege in that area as they do everywhere else. I have read enough and talked to enough black and brown Muslimah to know about the colorism they experience, the preference for white converts over black ones, the preference of any convert over a Muslim-born (brown) woman. As in every other area of life, White is Right.

A veil on a white woman, regardless of what you want to call it or how you wear it, will never have the same impact as a Woman of Color wearing one. It will never have as much effect on your life. The entire narrative changes. And it is damn near irresponsible for white women to grandstand and make a show of being in “solidarity” with women whose consequences for their choice to veil are 10000% higher than some white Hellenic blogger who was moved by Hestia or somebody. The stakes are not nearly as high for you. And lest you think I’m trying to say all Pagan women who veil are white–the stakes are also different for Pagan women of color who might choose to veil. Any physical gesture that sets a woman of color apart, marks us as Other, has harsher consequences for us because our race marks as Other from jump before we even make the choice. And we are far, far more likely to be perceived as Muslim for doing so, with everything that entails.

Pagan women who veil, let me ask you this one thing: if you want real solidarity with hijabi and aren’t just grandstanding to make yourselves look important, why don’t you enter into dialogue with them and ask what you can do to help? More importantly, listen. I follow a lot of Muslimah blogs, and not once have I ever seen a single hijabi call for women of other faiths to start wearing veils in solidarity with them, or even wear them at all. Ask yourself what your motivation is here. Pray about it if you have to. But don’t sit here and act like this foolishness is constructive. If you think it is, you have some unexamined privilege.

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Categories: Paganism, Privilege, Race