Monday, August 16, 2010
Multiracial, anti-racism, and hermeneutics
Time for a long post on delicate topics. Sitting here on my blog is the wonderful button for Caorann, Celts Against Oppression, Racism and Neo-Nazism. A wonderful group they are, and I encourage all to explore any anti-racism group, no matter their religious orientation. Anti-racism work is for all.
At the same time, I live in a decidedly multiracial world, a world still unimagined in progressive Christian and Pagan circles. In my nuclear family, we have 3 of us with African American heritage, two with First Nation heritage, two with Polynesian ancestry, 5 with Celtic/Northern European ancestry, and one with Chinese ancestry. In my extended biological family, add relatives with Asian ancestry. In my lesbigay and adoptive family, add Indian and more First Nation and African American. I am with people of every color and multiple ancestries every day - not forgetting my own African American and First Nation ancestry as well.
The reality of multiracial life is complex. My darker kids face more daily prejudice than my lighter kids. I have dreads, but don't face the discrimination my darker dreadlocked friends face. It is fun shopping with my family and friends, and watching store clerks figure out which of us is the most dangerous and needs the most watching. In a lighter skinned group, storekeepers might follow me. Or they might follow my darker children. The majority of shoplifters in America don't have dreads and aren't dark skinned, but that doesn't stop many shops from being prejudiced.
On the other hand, my lighter kids have been asked to leave monoracial support groups, as their Asian ancestry was too mixed. A local Chinese American youth orchestra refused to give my daughter any music, for example. The administrative head of the orchestra, herself with a mixed race child, apologized and explained that most of the families there looked down on kids with multiple ancestries. My daughter's then advanced Mandarin skills weren't enough to cover her hair and skin color. (For a few years after this, said daughter used to tell me, "Mom, I'll just let people think I'm white." She has moved on from this, with lots of support.)
And back to Caorann. The group does a fantastic job addressing racism and theft in the Pagan community (not that the Christian community doesn't need to listen as well), and Caorann is especially active protesting the theft of First Nation beliefs. Since every pagan magazine across America has ads for "Native American shaman will teach you secret Lakota healing ritual" types, it is especially important to look at cultural exploitation and Paganism. Caorann lists fabulous links, go explore them.
One link I want to submit to some hermeneutical discussion, however. Caorann links to the Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism movement, including it's long FAQ. And in many ways the FAQ is a wonderful document. However, Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans, like so many other groups, have not addressed multiracial families.
I copy a section of the FAQ here:
Can I be CR and still worship non-Celtic deities?
Yes, but with caveats.
Worshipping non-Celtic Deities is regarded as outside the purview of CR, and should in no way be considered a part of CR practice. While it is acceptable for people involved in the CR community to have non-CR practices in their personal lives, it should be kept firmly in mind that they are just that — non-CR practices. The cultures and rites of non-Celtic Deities should be respected, just as we expect Celtic cultures and Deities to be respected, and these rites should be kept separate from your CR practice. If you worship Deities of other cultures, separate altars should be maintained for Them, and offerings and other rites should be undertaken in the ways of that Deity’s culture.
If you feel a particular pull to Kali, for example, it is highly recommended that you worship Her through a local Hindu temple, or at least in traditional Hindu ways, rather than attempting to bring Kali into your CR practice. She is not a Celtic Goddess and would probably resent being treated as such. She already has Her own formulated and traditional rites and practices, Her own preferred offerings, and Her own holy days. To ignore those things in an attempt to fit Her into a CR practice would be doing violence to both CR and Hinduism.
The only times when it might be acceptable to worship non-Celtic Deities in a CR format would be in the cases where long-standing, historical interactions betwen related cultures created a hybrid cultural environment that traditionally included these Deities. For instance, in the cases of some Highland Scotland and coastal Irish communities that adopted some of the Norse Deities and customs. If the cultures had enough similarity, and it is clearly evident that these two cultures did meet and mingle and create an historical tradition, it is often considered acceptable to continue to include these long-standing syncretisms as part of that tradition.
Well, if you've been reading this website for awhile, ya know I've been talking of Kali and Maman Brigitte, as well as Bridget and the Morrigan. The Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans are questioning this, rightly trying to address racism, and wrongly forgetting multiracial people, families and communities.
Why shouldn't someone with African American and Irish ancestry (hmmm, like my daughter) worship Maman Brigitte, Yemaya, and Bridget - all at the same time? Why shouldn't I write of Kali and Bridget, when my own LGBT family includes men and women from India? Why can't my Christian friend, African American and First Nation, hold a shrine to Buffalo Woman and Oya? This question goes back to one of the most fundamental of human questions about self and family. It also harkens to that endless question we bisexual people get about "choosing sides," as if human race or human sexuality is a question of opposing "teams."
I have brought my kids up knowing that it is a violence should anyone ask them to divide against themselves or against their own family. My dear moon sister, African American, womanist, First Nation, proud LGBT ally, mom of an autistic child herself, has run into this "opposing teams" concept her whole life. Activist Blacks will ask her if she is first a Womanist or first an African American. We laugh together about this question (what does she do? Cut out her vagina to be Black? Erase her skin to be Womanist?) It is a violence to ask anyone to ignore their sexual identity OR their racial identity.
Likwise it is a violence to tell multiracial people to choose a team. My kids can identify anyway they so choose: as multiracial, Black, African American, Native American, Polynesian American, Chinese American, Asian American, multiethnic. . . whatever they choose. After all, it is their lives and their bodies.
And no religious tradition should divide anyone from their racial identities either. My youngest has recently decided she wants to be Muslim, Jewish, Christian and also worship Bridget. Well, that is an unusual path, but it reflects her friends and our family. No one has a right to tell her this path is wrong. What the Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans are ignoring is that, well guess what, some of us are inherently syncretic. (By the way, one of my oldest multiracial family friends is a mom in Aberystwyth, Wales, who has African Caribbean and Welsh children. The Celtic world is becoming more multiracial, too. . .)
So by all means, let's as Pagans and Christians and Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists - let's all of address and confront racism. Stealing from cultures who specifically ask us not to is itself racism - whether it's Pagan "Native American cleansing ceremonies" or Christian churches using Dream Catchers to teach vacation Bible school. Some non-Aboriginal person teaching "Aboriginal secrets to dreamtime" is suspicious, as well as some non-native Hawaiian teaching "Hawaiian rune secrets."
But for multiracial people to explore the cultural customs of all our ancestries is a reality of multiracial life. You can't call it syncretic racism, because instead multiple ancestries are our bones, our families, our lives.