Monthly Archives: December 2011

Post the Forty-First or On Magickal Anti-Racism

The neo-pagan movement has seen an amazing resurgence in the belief of a Goddess or even the belief in many deities. It has inspired many to break away from traditional and oppressive forms of worship and find their own way to relate to the divine. This resurgence has also created a space for the revival of the magickal traditions from all over the world. The magick of many of the institutionalized religions have lost their power. Either because those branches have been erased or because the mainstream nature of the religion make magick largely inaccessible. Whatever the reason, more and more people are turning to witchcraft and paganism for their spiritual and religious needs.

One of the things that I really love about magick is that, historically as well as presently, it gives access to power for the powerless. Magick allows oppressed people get ahead, whether through casting a spell to get a job or calling upon a spirit for justice, it makes life easier. I know that in my experience, magick has helped me a lot and I don’t think I would be where I am today if I hadn’t relied on it. And I know countless people who have used magick to do anything from escaping an abusive john to healing the wound that was caused by rape. And these were things done by those who don’t have access to the “mundane” channels of power. In many respects, it levels the playing field.

But despite this, it seems that the neo-pagan movement as a whole is mostly white. When I enter pagan spaces, it is predominately white and a white person is usually leading the ceremony. What’s worse is that many times these white pagans will appropriate deities and ceremonies from magickal traditions that are not only still alive but also practiced by mostly people of color. For example, I was at a ritual where the mostly white circle were invoking the loa without context or understanding as to what they were doing. They seemed to fail to realize that the reason the loa came to be is because of centuries of colonialism, diaspora, and religious persecution. I’ve also been in space where white people were invoking Native powers and traditions without acknowledging that they were occupying stolen land. Not to mention the fact that there are no authors of color in the mainstream neo-pagan movement, which I know for many is their only way to access this knowledge.

It’s no wonder that people of color are turned off by it because their is no space for them and many times the rituals are actively racist.

Moreover, since we live in this diasporic context it’s sometimes very difficult, if not impossible, to have access to the traditions and magickal practices of our ancestors. In many cases, those traditions have been erased or so bleached of their power that they no longer work for us. Speaking for myself, as a first generation American, I don’t have access to the ancestral land of my foremothers nor their spiritual traditions. However, the need for this sort of practice is needed, if not vital for my well being.

How, then, do we create a space for anti-racist magick? How do we practice our craft or transformation that has at it’s roots principles of social justice? If magick gives power to the powerless, how do we give the powerless access?

The first step, I believe, is to start talking about it. I think it’s important that we start having conversations on the legacy of colonialism and its very real impacts today. White folks need to start owning their privilege and their part in appropriating the cultural traditions of those that they have colonized. They need to realize that by appropriating those traditions, they are furthering the cause of cultural imperialism.

But beyond that, we need to start making a space for ourselves. We need to develop our own magickal practices and traditions. We need to take what fragments we have and create a system that is relevant to us today. We need to build collectively a system that serves our interests and our needs. We need to call upon and explore the powers that we have to create a community that not only learns together but also thrives together. We all need to pool our magick together to create something beautiful and healing and energizing. So that we can continue the work that we do.

The time to create something that can heal our wounds has to be now.

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Post the Fortieth or On Horizontal Oppression

Yesterday, I was at the bus stop doing what most people do at the bus stop. I was waiting for the bus. As I was waiting, a gale of laughter ripped through the air. I turned and saw that it was a group of teenage boys and that they were pointing at me. They were laughing at me. They yelled, “Hey, tranny!” I had the sense to ignore them but they persisted. They continued to laugh and some of them even took out their phones and began to take pictures and videos of me standing there. In hindsight, I wonder if some of them will frantically whack off to them or wish that they could some how inhabit the space that I was inhabiting. I wonder how much their jeering and laughter was really projected sexual desire. At the time, I felt humiliated. Like a freak on display. I felt like some grotesque aberration. And that my freakiness, my queerness, gave them license to do, act and say whatever they wanted. I wondered if that was going to be it. The time where I get beaten and bashed for daring to be freaky. And while it isn’t the first time I’ve been harassed, it was the first time in quite some time.

But despite all this, I could feel nothing but sadness and despair. Sadness because this was still happening to me. Despair because I wonder if this world will ever get better. If the wounds inflicted upon us by colonization, capitalism and patriarchy are ever going to heal. Because you see, these were young men of color who were harassing me. Young men who I know have been some of the gravest victims of the system that we live in. Who experience an alienation from themselves that I will never know. Who are marked almost from birth to live out their lives in prison or locked in poverty. Who do not even know how they are participating in their own oppression.

Because harassing me and humiliating me will not make their lives any easier. It will not change the amount of their brothers and fathers and uncles who are incarcerated. It won’t take them out of poverty. It won’t improve their opportunities for a decent education or a fulfilling job. It won’t alleviate that suffering and alienation of the soul that is a part of the wound that colonialism and diaspora inflicts on all of us. It only keeps us all divided.

Because these young men should be my brothers in arms. Instead of inflicting oppression on each other, we should all be working in concert to dismantle those systems that keep us all oppressed. Because that is the oppressor’s secret. The oppressor keeps us oppressed by keeping us divided and estranged because then we spend precious energy fighting one another and we fail to organize against the true source of oppression, namely white patriarchal colonialism.

And this division goes two ways. I can’t tell you how many headaches I’ve gotten by white queers thinking that the struggle for “equality” did not involve indigenous rights or labor rights or rights for people of color and poor communities. For them, the only issue they need to worry about is their queerness and getting “equality” for that. All the while not understanding that by fighting for “equality” they are just assimilating into the class of the oppressor and they actually aren’t facilitating any sort of systemic change. They are keeping themselves oppressed (because lets face it, liberal white colonial heteropatriarchy can only tokenize queers) and by refusing to acknowledge their brown, poor, differently abled, sisters and brothers they are only furthering the cause of oppression. Their unwillingness to see that our liberation is all bound up together will on keep us all oppressed (I’m looking at you HRC).

Sisters and brothers, I say to you now. United we stand a chance in bringing about a fully equitable world. Divided, there is no chance at all.


Post the Thirty Ninth or On the Importance of Labels

Labels are the way that we communicate with other people about ourselves. They save us time and processing power when we are telling others of our experience. Its much easier to say that I’m queer then it is to explain all of the things that are involved in that word. Labels are the maps that we can show others so that they can see where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. But, like a map, the label does not fully convey the essence of the person. It gives a general outline but if one is going to truly see and know what is there, one needs to be on the ground exploring. And I feel that folks forget that labels are just tools or maps to be wielded and that our actions don’t need to always “reflect” those labels. The terrain doesn’t need to match the map exactly and in fact such a project is impossible. Not only do labels act as maps but they also act as boundary markers. When I assert that I’m queer, I am making space for my experience and narrative. I am rejecting the normative narrative of heterosexism and say that I am not that. I am defining myself in relationship with what I am not.

Moreover, labels are empowering. This is because by owning that part of your self, you come to a greater understanding of who you are as a person and you are able to love yourself on a much deeper level. By seeing that part of yourself for what it is, and embracing it, you are rejecting the normative and oppressive ways of being that need your complicit thoughtlessness to continue. By being thoughtful, you are better able to reclaim your power and take action against those systems of oppression.

The other interesting aspect about labels is that many of them aren’t chosen by us. They are placed on us by how society perceives us. For example, the fact that I have brown skin makes it so that people perceive me as a person of color. Regardless if I identify with that label or not, that is still a label placed on me and that is apparent by the way that people and society treat me. Another example is being trans*. Nine times out of ten, I can pass as a cis woman. It is only when I out myself as trans* that folks treat me in a different way because of the way that they perceive me.

It really frustrates me, then, to hear folks say things like “I hate labels. I’m just me.” More often then not, these people are white, straight, upper-middle class, cisgender etc. They usually hold many privileged identities and labels. And they reason they can just “be themselves” is because the labels and identities that they hold are the societal norm. They have never had to think about their identites and labels because they don’t need to define themselves against the norm. There is no need to delineate that space because society has already given them that space. Moreover, it is very invalidating to people with oppressed identities because it says to them, “I can just be me. Why can’t you just be you?” And the fact of the matter is, I can’t just be “me” because of the history of oppression that surrounds and defines my existence as a human being. The me that I am is informed and created out of that oppression.

Not only that but saying that “I’m just me” reinforces the false idea of individualism. Put in another way, it says that we all exist in alone in a vacuum and that we don’t effect one another. It insists that there are no greater systems of power at work in our lives. It says that we are the sole mover in our lives and that our success or failure relies only on how hard we work. It also downplays the individual’s role in upholding and perpetrating systems of power and oppression. But that isn’t the case, is it? The fact of the matter is, there are systems of power and oppression at work that make being successful easier or more difficult depending on the kind of body that you possess. The world is much more complicated then just individuals moving through the world. Society takes and forms us and we have more agency in this world if we are white, rich, male, straight, cisgender etc. Individualism, and by extension the denials of labels, fails to see that.

Saying that you “Just want to be me” is one of the biggest sign of privilege and lack of awareness as to how the world works. It speaks to an absence of recognition of one’s relation to the world. And it’s just plain ignorant.


Post the Thirty-Eighth or Essentials

There are two things

An activists needs

In spades

Intelligence

and

Compassion

Intelligence

To perceive and understand

The vast and complex systems of power

And oppression

To see and comprehend that

Monstrous dark machine

Whose gears grind you to dust

And set that dust to work

Intelligence

To detect and know

That this machine is

Subtle and invisible

Compassion

To see all that great monstrosity

And still have the strength

The wisdom

To love the world anyway

Compassion

To stolidly stand up

To that machine

And say

No

I want a better world


Post the Thirty-Seventh or On the Nature of Protests

Protests, by their very nature, are violent. From the words being chanted, to the speeches being given, to the emotion of the crowd (think to the last protest you were at, did you feel angry or passionate?), to the very gathering of the people, protests are violent. Regardless of whether or not they partake in physical violence, protests are still violent. This is because their raison d’être is to destroy whatever it is that is being protested, and in turn create something better in its place. This is an inherently violent act.

But just because it is a violent act does not necessarily mean that it is a bad one. Destruction of old systems and ways of being is necessary for new forms of being to take their place. Just as the forest needs to burn in order for new life to grow, so too do the old ideas need to burn so that new ones can take their place.

Not only are they violent because they seek destruction but also because they are so radical and subversive. The systems of power in place are constantly telling us to keep our heads down, to not rock the boat, to accept the status quo as it is. But in protesting it, in protesting capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy, we are reclaiming our power and that is a violent act.

It really frustrates me, then, to see people talk about and glorify Gandhi and Dr. King as if they were these non-violent saints who “fought” for their cause through peace and serenity. That they had this mystical power to win their struggle by turning the other cheek. When, in fact, the Indian Independence movement had many more players then just Gandhi, many of them who used strategies that involved physical violence. Gandhi did not win independence alone and he certainly was moved by anger and passion, just as any activist is. Dr. King was another proponent of non-violent resistance and again, he was not the only player in the Civil Rights movement. Moreover, the Civil Rights movement failed on many counts, not the least of which is that racism still exists.

These two people are remembered by Americans mostly because they are the ones written in the history text books. It is the victors who write the history and the reason that they are in them is because they were not threatening enough to the status quo. One doesn’t read about Malcolm X, who did much to advance the Civil Rights movement, because he was a true threat to the powers that be.

Now, I’m not saying that we should be going around fighting willy-nilly. It is important to be strategic. Resorting to physical violence without resources or momentum is suicide. However, there comes a time when physical violence is the strategic key to victory. Moreover, the powers that be will not, and does not, hesitate to retaliate with violence if they feel that their control is being challenged. This is apparent from the police crackdowns on the Occupy movement and the policing of black and brown, especially male, bodies. In the words of Fredrick Douglass;

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Why, then, would we hesitate in using the most effective strategy to achieve equity?

Let me repeat again; violence is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. Like any tool, its goodness is determined by the will of the wielder. If we are using violent resistance to create a truly equitable world, then it is not a bad thing because it is working to end centuries of colonialism, genocide and injustice. If using physical violence is the most effective way to achieve our collective liberation, then we have the moral obligation to do it. Not only to end the suffering the oppressed but also to make right what was their original wrong.

This is all very scary to most people, I know it was for me. And these aren’t things that can’t be done today or even tomorrow. However, we all need to be ready to do what must be done when the time comes.