Where does one begin with the ever entertaining if rarely enlightening Patheos Pagan portal? If you’re Cyndi Brannen and you’re set on “Dismantling The Widespread White Advantage in Witchcraft” you might start:
White advantage is everywhere in modern witchcraft, from pop culture to the common Wheel of the Year. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it is problematic when all this whiteness blinds us to the problems it causes for those who are from marginalized groups. However, there are ways those of us who want a more diverse witchcraft can be true allies. Diversity strengthens us personally and witchcraft as a whole.
Jim Goad has spoken of “the Men who taste Jews in their sandwiches.” This paragraph is redolent with the cloying Velveeta flavor of Whiteness. The Wheel of the Year is not just a mid-20th century attempt to compile various solstice and cross-solstice festivals: it’s tainted by “White advantage.” And because Witchcraft — a 20th-century British tradition rooted in European folklore and England’s 18th-century Druid Revival — is overwhelmingly practiced by White people, we must seek to make it more diverse.
If you go to a mandir you’re going to find yourself surrounded by South Asians. If you go to a T’san Buddhist shrine the monks and worshippers will be overwhelmingly Chinese. I have been to both and at both I was received kindly. While there are White Hindus and White T’san Buddhists, they are the tiniest of minorities within their greater faith communities. These traditions are rooted within a Folk and a Culture and from those roots they draw their strength. Why are we surprised that our ethnic and cultural traditions call out primarily to those of shared ethnic and cultural heritage? And why is this evidence of their corruption rather than proof of their vitality?
Brannen asserts, in large bold letters:
White supremacism is so extensive in modern paganism and witchcraft that it is breathtakingly invisible.
One might note that many modern Pagans and Witches spend a great deal of time condemning racism, calling out racism and navel-gazing in search of internalized racist lint. But like the Emperor’s new clothes, this “White supremacism” is invisible to the insufficiently woke. Requests for evidence are only proof that you need to address your White fragility and stop crying your White tears. (We see this same pattern amongst the rabid Jew-haters. It’s plain to them that Jews control the media, own the government and sacrifice babies — and equally obvious that “Hasbara trolls” and “shabbos goys” are trying to suppress their message).
I should stop and note here that to Brannen this White supremacism is indeed self-evident. I question her premises, but I do not doubt her sincerity. Brannen truly believes her European heritage and culture — what she calls alternately “Whiteness” and “White supremacism” — is something toxic and shameful. She feels very bad about all the terrible things White people have done and this makes her feel very bad about herself. And so, after asserting “White guilt is useless to us and harmful to those who we want to help. None of us here today created the system of oppression,” she goes on to say “We need to accept that it exists. That modern witchcraft often reinforces it.”
Brannen offers some ways in which White Witches can fight this system. Some of her pointers are quite good. I am all for treating other cultures with respect: I encourage everyone to honor their Ancestors and to work toward uplifting their Folk. It’s always good to sit back and listen. Looking for a Little Brown Holy Person to fill your spiritual emptiness rarely ends well. Neither do we disagree on the importance of developing one’s own identity and figuring out one’s personal truth. (We admittedly differ on the best means of arriving at those goals). But two of her suggestions jumped out at me:
Check your privilege. Basically, asking ourselves if we are coming from a place of dominance over the individual or group with whom we are interacting. Also, if we believe that we are inherently better than another group or individual. In addition, having an attitude that we are the “chosen ones” can also be a sign of privilege. In other words, be humble.
Humility is a virtue: self-humiliation is a fetish. When dealing with the Woke White Left it can be difficult to tell where the first ends and the second kicks in. (To her credit Brennan is aware of this and cautions against melodramatics and virtue signaling). But amidst all this concern about “a place of dominance” I have to wonder about motivation. Does this make us allies in the struggle or simply remind us of our noblesse oblige? Does not our recognition of dominance also reaffirm our place at the top of the heap? Is renouncing our White privilege more comfortable than acknowledging the ways it is being stripped away from us.
Check the privilege of the teachers and authors you admire. Do they claim that their way is the superior one? Is there diversity in their followers? Have they ever denounced a group due to reasons of identity, for example TERF witches who decry non-biological women.
“No-platforming” has become of the most feared weapons of the Woke White Left. Being declared an unperson can ruin careers, end friendships and even subject badthinkers to physical violence. And because “White supremacism” is a great Shadow which covers Everything Bad, there will never be a shortage of reasons to silence inconvenient criticism. Questions about transgender athletes and prisoners don’t show your concern for female competitors and cellmates. They put you in charge of the cattle cars alongside all the other “White Supremacists.”
This results in a narrowing of both political and theological discourse. Not only are trans-exclusive rituals banned from public events and even from private spaces. Those who have attended these rituals, or who have expressed sympathy for them, are shunned. “White Supremacism” isn’t just saying White people are superior — it’s saying “boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.” The end result is a “fertility religion” where Gods and genitals alike are strictly metaphorical, and where thorny questions can be retconned away along with their querents.
To all this chest-thumping and rending of garments there is only one proper response. So I helpfully reassured Brannen, and her readers, that “It’s Okay to be White.” And because I am an inveterate shitposter I appended those five problematic words with fourteen that are even more controversial. The results, which we will explore in our next entry, are both predictable and amusing.