Home > Paganism, Privilege, Race > On “Solidarity” and Privilege.

On “Solidarity” and Privilege.

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
  1. thalassa
    July 26, 2012 at 1:04 am

    For the most part, I completely and utterly agree with you…except (and this might just be from my place of what is admittedly white privilege) that I *have* seen white women (and, for that matter, a black woman with her daughter, by a nice Southern Baptist black family) harassed for the outward display of their religiousness in the US. Mennonite women, Orthodox Jewish women, Sufi men, and Muslim women. And while that harassment stops short of assault, it can be particularly viscous in that whole “race traitor” sort of way. Simply by choosing to so something outside of the mainstream, people make themselves a target…because people are universal in their desire to beat down the different, with words and with deeds.

    • July 26, 2012 at 9:32 am

      Yes, you’re coming from a place of white privilege and no, you didn’t actually agree with what I was saying, because I think you need to consider it again. There is a difference between harassment and institutional oppression. White women, by virtue of white privilege, do not experience the latter in this country regardless of outward expressions of religion. Even white female converts to religions that do experience institutional oppression. It is NOT the same thing. And for every instance of an individual being an asshole to them? It is that much worse for POCs, particularly women. White privilege is the great mitigator of circumstances. Being called a race traitor by a handful of rednecks is no fucking comparison to what POC go through at the hands of the government. People may be “universal” in their desire to beat down the different but some of us are more different than others and get it far worse.

      And it’s really sort of comical to me that you’d bring up Orthodox Jewish women as some kind of counterpoint. I am a native of Brooklyn, NY, home to probably the most Orthodox Jewish people outside of Israel. I live in a heavily Jewish neighborhood. No one in this city is harassing Orthodox Jewish women for wearing anything. Police departments are not actively spying on Orthodox Jewish women and in fact Orthodox people enjoy levels of institutional protection that Muslims simply do not get, to put it mildly. For all that their religious dress marks them as Other, Orthodox Ashkenazi Jewish people are STILL considered white in the US and receive the privileges therein. They are not considered potential terrorists (and treated as such) by the authorities simply by existing. In fact during the high holy days their houses of worship receive extra police protection here even if there is no known threat, since 9/11. Local officials are extremely sensitive to their needs and will advocate on their behalf. They are not considered a threat by anyone except anti-Semitic assholes who believe in blood libel and banking conspiracies. None of whom have the governmental power to put their beliefs into action. Meanwhile Muslims can’t even build a place to worship without politicians and pundits whipping up public outrage against them. After 9/11 every Muslim owned business in my neighborhood had the most US flags in the window because they were terrified of violent reprisal. Muslim college students are illegally spied upon by NYPD even outside of NY and the so-called Patriot Act means Muslims effectively don’t have 4th Amendment rights.

      White people need to stop equating having your feelings hurt with racialized violence and institutionalized oppression. Privilege means y’all can’t see the difference because you’ve never dealt with the latter. When Mennonite women are victims of home invasion and get burned up in their houses for wearing modest dress, then maybe you will have a point.

      • thalassa
        July 26, 2012 at 9:42 am

        I’m not saying that its the same thing, I’m simply objecting to your comment that “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.” I have, with my own eyes, seen a young (white) girl harassed, backed into a corner, and threatened, by a grown man that you think would have known better for the outward, clothing related display of her religion. I’m not saying that its epidemic, or that on a statistical level its prevalent…I’m just saying that it does happen, contrary to your claim otherwise.

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