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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.

Categories: Paganism, Privilege, Race

The West Memphis 3 and the In-Justice System

August 19, 2011 2 comments

CNN is reporting that the West Memphis 3 may be released soon, according to a source close to the case. This is absolutely fantastic news, despite the fuckery of the details surrounding the deal, if true. It’s likely a CYA move on the part of the State of Arkansas to pre-emptively block any wrongful imprisonment suits. Whatever gets these guys out of prison, I guess.

I won’t get into the details of this case; chances are if you’re reading a Pagan blog, you’re already familiar with this particular miscarriage of justice, but if you’re not, Wikipedia and WM3.org are your friends here. The HBO documentaries on the case are also available via Netflix streaming.

At any rate, anyone with an ounce of sense and knowledge of this case knows that those three boys never should have gone to prison in the first place, that they were convicted because they were misunderstood outcasts in an oppressive, conformist, ignorant-ass small Bible Belt town. None of that should be in dispute, period.

But, I do have to say this as someone who has followed this case closely for years and years, when the only people who knew about it were Pagans: I hope and pray that all of the good people who fought so hard for the WM3 remember that, were Damian Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin black, all three of them would have received the death penalty, and all three of them would have been executed years ago, quietly and with little fanfare.

I hope and pray that everyone who followed this case so closely understands that the WM3 situation is more likely the rule than an anomaly for black and brown people in the United States. The same small-town, good-ole-boy, kangaroo, star-chamber system that railroaded the WM3 in the name of mob justice because they were “weirdoes” has done the same thing to black and brown people for years and years and years, with no cause célèbre attached. Few HBO documentaries are made about these other cases (The Execution of Wanda Jean is the only one I can think of off the top of my head, and it should be obvious how that one turned out. Spoilers: she dies).

When I say that my heart bleeds for the WM3, I mean that in all sincerity, with no snark. I was a teenager when the case was first widely publicized in the original Paradise Lost documentary, and began to follow the case through Peg Aloi’s articles on Witchvox. It scared the shit out of me as someone who was first taking steps into both occultism and the Goth subculture, and while I hardly lived in a small ignorant ass town in the South, I experienced a lot of vicious harassment because of my lifestyle and beliefs. I imagine that’s why a lot of Pagans, and alt-subculture people such as goths and metalheads really latched onto this case, each of us saw something of ourselves in the WM3 and wondered aloud if it could happen to us. But more deeply, it also scared the shit out of me because I knew that if I lived in a town like that, and something like that happened, no one would make a documentary about me and come to my defense. Black people are presumed guilty as a matter of course, weirdoes or not, and rarely do people outside our communities care to fly to our defense.

I hope and pray that the WM3 finally receive justice, and that those murdered children finally receive the justice that has long been denied them by a corrupt and incompetent system that was hell bent on making examples of the local town “freaks” and that was more interested in getting an angry mob off their backs than in actually solving a horrific crime. But I also hope and pray that the energy and attention that has been put behind this movement to free the WM3 doesn’t vanish and dissipate, and that people who never gave a second thought to the oppression of the in-justice system until it impacted three young white boys will turn that energy and passion toward the many black and brown people who have suffered as much as the WM3 and never received any attention or help. The Innocence Project is a good place to start.

Update: They’ve been set free.

Categories: Privilege, Race Tags: , ,

Something about Christian Privilege.

May 26, 2011 Leave a comment

So I was thinking about this whole privilege thing, and it occurred to me that Christianity is never really looked at in this way, but–well, in the west at least, and particularly in the US, Christian privilege is alive and well and pernicious in the mainstream culture. It’s a part of the kyriarchal systems of oppression and one that rarely gets unpacked. So I did a bit of googling, and I found this checklist. Sadly, the original site seems to be down, but I got hold of it via the Wayback Machine. So, the following is the work of Dr. Lewis Z. Schlosser, a psychology professor at Seton Hall, who designed and conducted workshops on Christian privilege. It should go without saying that this is very much western/US-centric, as Christians obviously do not share these privileges elsewhere in the world. But just because Christians are persecuted in China, does not mean they are not privileged in the US (a bingo card argument if I’ve ever heard one). I don’t necessarily agree with every point on here, even as a Pagan, but the vast majority of it I can definitely understand and I think it’s good food for thought and discussion.

  1. It is likely that state and federal holidays coincide with my religious practices, thereby having little to no impact on my job and/or education.
  1. I can talk openly about my religious practices without concern for how it will be received by others.
  1. I can be sure to hear music on the radio and watch specials on television that celebrate the holidays of my religion.
  1. When told about the history of civilization, I am can be sure that I am shown people of my religion made it what it is.
  1. I can worry about religious privilege without being perceived as “self-interested” or “self-seeking.”
  1. I can have a “Jesus is Lord” bumper sticker or Icthus (Christian Fish) on my car and not worry about someone vandalizing my car because of it.
  1. I can share my holiday greetings without being fully conscious of how it may impact those who do not celebrate the same holidays.  Also, I can be sure that people are knowledgeable about the holidays of my religion and will greet me with the appropriate holiday greeting (e.g., Merry Christmas, Happy Easter, etc.).
  1. I can probably assume that there is a universality of religious experience.
  1. I can deny Christian Privilege by asserting that all religions are essentially the same.
  1. I probably do not need to learn the religious or spiritual customs of others, and I am likely not penalized for not knowing them.
  1. I am probably unencumbered by having to explain why I am or am not doing things related to my religious norms on a daily basis.
  1. I am likely not judged by the improper actions of others in my religious group.
  1. If I wish, I can usually or exclusively be among those from my religious group most of the time (in work, school, or at home).
  1. I can assume that my safety, or the safety of my family, will not be put in jeopardy by disclosing my religion to others at work or at school.
  1. It is likely that mass media represents my religion widely AND positively.
  1. It is likely that I can find items to buy that represent my religious norms and holidays with relative ease (e.g., food, decorations, greeting cards, etc.).
  1. I can speak or write about my religion, and even critique other religions, and have these perspectives listened to and published with relative ease and without much fear of reprisal.
  1. I could write an article on Christian Privilege without putting my own religion on trial.
  1. I can travel without others assuming that I put them at risk because of my religion; nor will my religion put me at risk from others when I travel.
  1. I can be financially successful without the assumption from others that this success is connected to my religion.
  2. I can protect myself (and my children) from people who may not like me (or them) based on my religion.
  3. Law enforcement officials will likely assume I am a non-threatening person if my religion is disclosed to them.  In fact, disclosure may actually help law enforcement officials perceive me as being “in the right” or “unbiased.”
  4.  I can safely assume that any authority figure will generally be someone of my religion.
  1. I can talk about my religion, even proselytize, and be characterized as “sharing the word,” instead of imposing my ideas on others.
  1. I can be gentle and affirming to people without being characterized as an exception to my religion.
  1. I am never asked to speak on behalf of all Christians.
  1. My citizenship and immigration status will likely not be questioned, and my background will likely not be investigated, because of my religion.
  1. My place of worship is probably not targeted for violence because of sentiment against my religion.
  1. I can be sure that my religion will not work against me when seeking medical or legal help.
  1. My religion will not cause teachers to pigeonhole me into certain professions based of the assumed “prowess” of my religious group.
  1. I will not have my children taken from me from governmental authorities who are aware of my religious affiliation.
  1. Disclosure of my religion to an adoption agency will likely not prevent me from being able to adopt children.
  1. If I wish to give my children a parochial religious education, I probably have a variety of options nearby.
  1. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence and importance of my religion.
  1. I can be sure that when someone in the media is referring to G-d, they are referring to my (Christian) G-d.
  1. I can easily find academic courses and institutions that give attention only to people of my religion.
  1. My religious holidays are so completely “normal” that, in many ways, they may appear to no longer have any religious significance at all.
  1. The elected and unelected officials of my government probably are members of my religious group.
  1. When swearing an oath, I am probably making this oath by placing my hand on the scripture of my religion.
  1. I can openly display my religious symbol(s) on my person or property without fear of disapproval, violence, and/or vandalism.