Myriad Maia

Behind every myth...

I am Just One Voice

Apparently Stephen Fry has quit Twitter (again) over the fact he said something some took as offensive and he felt they were overreacting. I had no desire to get into that debate one way or the other. Was saying a designer looked like a bag lady a slight to homeless people? I've never been on-the-street-homeless but I would wager than some would say yes and others no. It did seem that a lot of people who have never been homeless had an opinion.

Discussions of what exactly constitutes bigotry have been rampant lately. As someone who has been discriminated against and also accused of exploiting my privilege, these discussions both give me heart palpitations and intrigue me.

In Canada, racism against native people is so rampant as to be considered "normal" thinking and not racism at all. I don't think of myself as racist, at least, I don't try to be, but simply saying "native" once got me rebuked by a white woman who said, "Excuse me, they like to be called First Nations." I have also had a Cree woman tell me, "So long as you aren't trying to be an asshole, you can use whatever term you like." Was the white woman's rebuke an example of someone not of the group taking it upon themselves to speak for the group? Yes. Does the Cree woman saying I could use any term I liked prove the white woman is wrong in every case? No.

The level of racism in Canada is so absurd to me that I will sometimes make lame jokes about it. These jokes told in the company of some native friends have gotten commiserating laughter as we all ridicule the absurdity. In the presence of other native friends, they have gotten rebukes for being racist. (Never my intent, I swear!) Is one group wrong? No.

It isn't my right to tell anyone what should or should not offend them. As a white person, enduring racism directed at me isn't really a big issue. It happened once, in grade 8. Shows how little I have endured racism. I am also not in a position to enter discussions on LGBT issues. I have no personal experience to inform the debate. I have no right to claim what life is like for anyone in these groups.

I do try to listen but in terms of understanding it seems there is a lot of conflicting information for outsiders on what is and is not offensive. There is a reason this is so complicated and, sadly, it is often overlooked. When you look at all the narratives provided, it is almost as if these groups are made up of *gasp* individuals with different views. Maybe having people not in the group speak isn't helping advocate for them as much as outsiders like to pretend. I wonder, and often feel, that "They like..." is automatically bigoted in its own right. If that woman had said, "One of my First Nations friends really dislikes being called native," it would seem a lot more like advocating for an unheard voice than treating a minority group as homogenous. Trying to claim that certain comments are always offensive to everyone in a specific group is using people as exotic, easily-defined trinkets in a self-righteous crusade. I know in my societally-defined "groups" that things are never that simple.

I am a white woman. Some will automatically claim that gives me privilege and others will automatically claim that means I will be discriminated against. Yes and no. I have endured a male colleague yelling for all the office to hear that I am an idiot and lack any technical competency all because he found out I had been asked to learn the same programming language as him. This man knew nothing about my educational background or experience. We had never before worked together on anything at all. He had absolutely no information about my qualifications for the task but felt justified in making these claims in the most unprofessional manner possible. This man is known for his anti-woman rants so it wasn't hard to figure out why he acted like that.

I have also been the lone woman in a group of men, forced to endure their rants about women's rights and how women have it easy only too see one of those men run from a group of women later saying, "I don't want to be the lone guy in a group of man-bashing women." Yeah, that must be rough.

I have experienced sexism in 2016 but by very few. Most of the people I know are pretty decent and would never behave that way. It simply isn't a daily aggravation for me. As per the below TED talk, I don't look in the mirror and see a "woman" every morning. Some mornings I do but not every morning.

What I see in the mirror every morning, meaning the part of my identity that shapes me and for which I have faced real discrimination, is a pagan. I have been pagan for over twenty years. It is a huge part of my life; the single biggest. Despite how important it is to me, it is still the part of my life I feel I have to hide or "tone down" the most. Every comment, belief, even fashion accessory has to be considered. I feel like wearing my pentacle today, but it's a work day. I'll go for the non-descript pendant instead. Those little thoughts, when happening every few minutes, do a lot to reinforce being other.

I have been told by people who have never read the bible or gone to church that I am going to Hell. I have been told by my own mother that she prays for my soul (to be fair, she's become much more accepting in the years since). I have been detained by border police for hours while they scanned every page of my book of shadows and sketchbook and asked questions like, "What is a witch's ball? What is this spell for? Where did you find this spell book? What is this man doing in this drawing?" I now travel without any evidence of my faith, even wiping any pagan apps or images from my phone before I leave. I have been tricked into going to church because apparently a sermon would "fix" me. I have been given endless lectures by religious people and had Mormon missionaries visit me every week in their attempt to save my soul. I have been screamed at by atheists as much as evangelical Christians. I have endured people using the most foul, derogatory language about my beliefs as they claimed that burnings should be brought back. I tell my daughter not to talk about our faith at school because it could invite trouble. I have known pagans who have been physically assaulted on Whyte Avenue simply because they were wearing a pentacle. I have personally known pagans who were suspended from public school for wearing a pentacle or being caught with a tarot deck. One pagan had her ritual supplies confiscated by the police when she attempted to do a ritual in the river valley. I have been called a devil worshipper more times than I can count. I have been called a sexually deviant, baby eater. I have had my contribution to a time capsule defaced and thrown away because I wrote "Happy Mabon" on it. I have read stories about pagans in the US having their children taken away from them. I look at the rhetoric of hatred and bigotry espoused by the far right, think about my own history of discrimination, and worry policies like that could come here. Yes, I have been on the receiving end of bigotry. When it comes to my religion, I have no privilege.

Through all that, do I get offended when a comedy show makes fun of Wiccans? No. Because, frankly, I have known witches who match the stereotype and it IS funny. Do I get offended at the lack of accurate portrayals of modern pagans and wiccans? No. Sabrina was a goofy show that I am pretty sure no one in their right mind took seriously at any level. The Craft was an entertaining movie; Charmed, a fun show. Practical Magic is also one of my favourites. Any of that accurate? Not really. Have I met any non-pagans who thought they were? Only people who are crazy in many other ways and those people would never be swayed by facts anyway. Do I get offended when someone calls another person a "witch" in a derogatory way? Admittedly, a little, but they most often use the term out of ignorance of its implications not because they are actually trying to insult modern pagans. That Cree woman and I agree about one thing: what it comes down to is intent. Is someone trying to be a bigot? Are they deliberately, knowingly, and willfully directing hatred at me? If the answer is no, I don't fret about it. I try to evaluate everything in its own context. Pagans who see slight in everything exhaust me. I avoid them and I have many pagan friends who aren't like that. It is almost as if pagans are individuals!

I may be pagan. I may have experienced bigotry as a result but it doesn't mean I speak for all pagans. It doesn't mean a non-pagan should read this and then tell an offended pagan to chill out. My single story does not make the reader an authority on pagans. It doesn't give them a right to be an "advocate" for pagans. It doesn't give them the right to attack someone who says something a pagan might find offensive. It simply gives them a small taste of what it is like for one pagan, one individual. We all have our own histories, our own reasons particular things offend us, no matter what group we are in. We are all individuals.

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