The big White splotch

Nice try, by Evelyn Berg

As a consequence of our current diversity profile, we’re likely to have some blind spots.

– by B. T. Newberg

Looking over our list of contributors here at HP, we have an imperfect, but not terrible, balance of the sexes: about 1/3 women to 2/3 men.  The GLBT demographic is fairly well-represented.  We’ve also got a respectable mix of theological views besides naturalism, from hardcore atheist to polytheist.  But there’s one glaring, gaping, slap-you-in-the-face void:

We’re damn White.*

Not entirely so, but close.  One author is Metis, a Canadian term for a person of mixed European and First Nations (Native American) ancestry.  We had an author who was Hispanic, though he had to remove his contribution due to employers google searching his name, unfortunately.  There are also many people of color on our Facebook friends list and Twitter feeds.  Yet, as far as contributors are concerned, it’s safe to say the list is heavily-weighted in one direction.

It’s kind of a big White splotch.

Blind spots?

I don’t mean to lament our near-homogeneity, per se.  It is understandable, perhaps, given the nature of the communities from which we are composed.  Paganism tends to draw most, but not all, of its adherents from White populations, and so does Humanism, atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, and so on.  Standing as we do at the crossroads of these communities, it makes sense that we’d pick up folks of similar racial backgrounds.

Nor do I think we should necessarily go out of our way to get authors of color.  That kind of tokenizing can be just as degrading as exclusion.

Yet, the natural consequence of our current diversity profile is this: we’re likely to have some pretty significant blind spots.

So, I’d like to open up a conversation by asking: What do you think are our potential blind spots?

To get us started, here are a few common themes I’ve encountered, linked to articles detailing the concern:

Race does not determine tradition

Some apparently assume, for example, that Black Pagans must be Kemetic or Vodoun, or that one with Native American blood must follow a native tribal practice.  By the same token, it should be clear that HP’s focus on Euro-Mediterranean cultures has nothing to do with who can participate here (everyone can!).

Some minorities may need special spaces

It would be nice to think that since we are all Pagans, we should all be comfortable at the same table.  That may not always be true.  Pagans are not incapable of racism or ignorance, and in some cases that might require extra consideration at certain events.  At HP, perhaps forum space might be a corresponding issue.

Not all minorities are equal

Pagans are a minority among religions, and naturalists are a minority among Pagans, but that doesn’t make us equal to other kinds of minorities.  You can’t tell we’re Pagan or naturalistic just by looking at our skin.  It’s not staring others in the face from the first millisecond of the first impression.  We have the luxury of not disclosing our religion or theological views.  That is a privilege others do not enjoy.  So, we may have some common ground as minorities of various kinds,  but that does not make us equal.

Also, it might be noted that since there are now more non-White American babies than White, the term “minority” may no longer be appropriate regarding race.

Inclusion may not be enough

We can open the doors as wide as we want, but that doesn’t mean what we offer meets the needs of all colors.  Now, on the one hand, there’s no necessary reason to try to meet the needs of everyone in the world.  Neither HP nor Paganism in general are out to get everybody into one tent; we’re not that kind of community.  Yet, on the other hand, it’s worth considering how our language and activities may be perceived by others.  For example, if we invoke Greek myths or Enlightenment science, how might these be perceived by those whose ancestors encountered them via Colonialism?

Further thoughts and resources

What other blind spots might we have?  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Meanwhile, here are a few resources to check out:

*White.  There’s controversy over whether to capitalize racial words like Black, White, etc.  Current APA (American Psychological Association) style capitalizes Black and White.  AP (Associated Press) style is not to capitalize these descriptive adjectives, but to capitalize proper nouns such as African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, etc.  Some argue that failing to capitalize is unintended racism.  Some capitalize Black but not white.  We follow APA style in this article.  Disagreement is welcome.

9 Comments on “The big White splotch

  1. This is an interesting topic. I also think we should consider how humanistic Paganism is an outgrowth of our white? middle-class? higher-education? culture. Not only may the “answers” that HP offers reflect our culture, but also the “questions” we are asking. To put it another way, does humanistic Paganism fulfill needs that are unique to this culture?

  2. >To put it another way, does humanistic Paganism fulfill needs that are unique to this culture?

    Interesting. What would you say are the unique needs of this demographic?

    • I’m hesitant to speak for the group, but I think some of your polls have explored this question. I know for me I define that need as a need for an emotionally powerful, even transcendent, experience (this is where liberal religion fails for me) which is both consistent with my commitment to reason and grounded in the immediate and tangible world around me (this is where traditional religion fails for me). This need is very much a product of my white, middle class, educated, Protestant background which has created the dilemma where I want but cannot find these two things in the same place.

      • Well put. Those are also my needs, to the T. I’d say Naturalistic/Humanistic Paganism is aiming right at those target needs.

        So, I wonder how this would compare/contrast with other racial/ethnic demographics with roughly similar situations? For example, middle class educated Jews? Middle class educated Blacks or Latinos?

        • Good question. That’s beyond the scope of my experience though. I’d love to hear the thoughts of someone from one of those cultures.

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  5. I see it all as a non issue, preferring to be ‘color blind’ as skin color shouldn’t be something that’s highlighted unless there is direct racism in favor for or against people of certain skin pigments. I really can care less about the color of someone’s skin. Its the customs and cultures that interest me, it just so happens that certain practices tend to cater to specific ethnic groups for what ever reason.

    With such a small pool of people being within a sub subgroup, I can’t see how anyone can accurately infer on why there are certain demographics within HP. Perhaps in the next three years there may be something to go on.

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