17 February 2015

Commentary on my PantyCon open letter

I have reserved this page for comments on my long open letter to the author of the PantyCon faux convention schedule, so that the comment thread there can be a place for people to co-sign the letter if they wish. I invite comment here, and if commentators have posts elsewhere — in praise, comment, or criticism — they can email me and I will linkback to their comments on this page.



Catherine said...

First off, this was not irony, it was satire--noun: the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

I disagree that they need to apologize. I think it's totally appropriate to call white pagans out on their awkward, clueless, racism. I'm sorry that any person of color was offended--I assume it was because they didn't know the CoG backstory, or didn't understand that this was satire.

I got it right away, felt slightly jabbed as part of the "target" for skewering, in a broad sense, but thought it was brave and brilliant. Knowing that racism (subtle or not) exists in some quarters is knowledge that I think it is important to know.

If I were a newbie person of color coming into the community, I would want to know where and with whom I'd be welcome, and who might talk a good talk about inclusiveness and diversity while their actions say otherwise. Any white people who had no idea what this about, probably do now. They have something to think about, and consider.

Pantheacon is a microcosm for what is going on in society, and it's been a year of messy introspection and heated debate regarding race and privilege--and here we are talking about it some more. That's a good thing. I'm proud of how my community, for the most part, is willing to do the work to understand, look at themselves, and reach out for help. One look at the real PCon schedule shows that #blacklivesmatter is a topic that we're facing head-on. We need to.

If it came as a shock to anyone to find out that this has been an ongoing issue in our community, I think it's better that they find out about the history, and see how we, personally and as a community, are wrestling with facing our hypocrisies, and trying to make things better. I'd love to hear firsthand from a person of color who was, or is still, upset about it. My opinion, as always, is subject to change with more information.

I think the role of the Fool is a sacred one, and necessary to keep any group of people honest and questioning their own assumptions. It's much easier to say "tisk-tisk" for hurting someone's feelings than to take a look at our own complicity in creating such a homogenous community. I'm grateful to whomever it is that writes PantyCon every year. It's a big ole mirror that keeps us all from taking ourselves too seriously and forces us to "keep it real." I'd hate to see that voice muffled by political correctness.

And now I will shut up in the hope that some pagans of color can weigh in, share their opinion, and say whether or not they would like an apology.

Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir said...

Catherine, I don't think your comments should be deleted. In fact if anything they should stay as a beacon for the exact kind of reaction that you think Pagans of Color (which I am) should have.

You seem to think that somehow, the author of this drek is supposed to be held to a standard that excuses their cluelessness and I am here to tell you that they do not get a "pass" for being wrong.

If I don't get a pass for being the wrong color, why does the author with their intentions get a pass on causing me pain?

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus made a good point at a discussion on this very issue when e said that satire is weaponized poetry. It was used in Ireland as a way to call on the "earth itself to pull away from an individual" (a total paraphrase and a full day removed from the discussion so I may be recalling eir's exact words wrong).

I'm a British Literature major. If satire is a weapon, it is a SCALPEL. This read like a cudgel being used to sever delicate capillaries. Messy and with damage spread all over the place.

So, in that interest a few points: stop telling PoC how we're supposed to take humor about black bodies lying in the streets or denied medical attention by police and let us make up our own minds on what we find "funny" and stop telling us that we're overreacting to a "politically correct society" run amok. It makes you sound churlish.

And actually, because we DID hear from a PoC who was attending their first Pcon: they DID feel unwelcome and would not have come back if it weren't for the fact that they saw how seriously both the staff and leaders for PoC and activists in solidarity with PoC were taking the situation.


One Very Exhausted With All This Bullshit Pagan of Color

Catherine said...

Xochiquetzal: (I just mentioned deleting the comment because I originally posted it in the wrong place)

Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience. I really appreciate you taking the time, especially since it was such a bad one.

To clarify: I don't want to tell anyone what they should think. I just wanted to share my perspective on it. As I said, my opinion is open to change, and I want to hear form People of Color what their opinion is. I've heard about this from various people, but your post is the first time I got the story of how people reacted to it directly from the source.

From my perspective, it makes a mockery of racists, so gleaning more info on how others read it (as you described very well), is most welcome.

I'm also a Lit. major, and a writer, and have a deep fondness for scathing satire. I admittedly get very prickly when people tell writers what they should write. I'm sure I'm not the only white* person seeing it this way, so hopefully this conversation can help other people understand the emotional impact of the piece as well.

Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir said...

(Yeah, the delete thing makes sense in the context of posting the comment to the wrong post. My bad on that, as well.)

Here's the thing with not telling writers what to write about: I know that there are ways to write about CoG and the Troth and their "statements" that can be scathing, biting, and obviously critical of their stance without bringing more harm to a community that constantly feels unsafe, unwelcome, and uninvited to the table. Especially as pagans where we are not just a minority, but a minority within a minority.

The whole world often feels like it's the personal playground of white people; and we're stuck having to carve out space for us by force of word (and yes, sometimes deed). But, as someone who struggles with putting into words my OWN experiences... this was just another marker on how much my work as a Pagan of Color trying to establish brave and courageous space for other Pagans of Color is considered unvalued, dismissed, and ignored.

Those are common enough feelings for PoC in general, but this is supposed to be our religious community; the one that we stand with against persecution from mainstream society and the one that we are stuck with.

And right now, it's a grossly unwelcoming place. And I have worked tirelessly with other PoC leaders to create ONE safe haven at ONE conference in ONE state of the US to have ONE hotel room in a large hotel for PoC. And that's still just for the PoC who can afford to show up to it. Imagine what that might feel like for PoC who aren't capable of being here; who don't know that we have this precious, fragile thing (because it's still SO new) and then to actually attend for the first time and hear this news? If I were them, I'd want to NEVER come back.

And I'm not saying that it didn't actually go after the right people; we all of us who read it KNEW that they were talking about CoG and (maybe) the Troth, but their execution of this "joke" fell FLAT.

Wizard Lizard the Magick Educator said...


I have great and deep respect for you and the work you do and are doing. I have co-signed your letter in the strongest way I can.

And, I have one concern. Concern, mind you: not criticism, not even critique, let alone disagreement or argument.

I should say first that this concern comes from a dedication to separatism (queer/trans*, particularly). This dedication has taught me things about situations in which I am a member of the oppressor group (I'm white).

One of the things separatism means to me is a devotion to dislodging the empowered and privileged classes from the center of my thought. Accordingly, while I think you are pointing (as usual) to something valid and accurate when you mention that this situation might have a chilling effect -- and certainly that must be addressed -- I have some concern about making it so central to your open letter.

As I said, that comes from a political decision I have made, rather than from any logical analysis finding your letter wanting or anything of the like. I honor and thank you for publishing this.

Wizard Lizard the Magick Educator said...

And, looking over it again, I find that I had skimmed the letter a little overmuch and discovered that the message about the effect on white people wasn't as central as I thought. You had, in fact, included a significantly-sized section on the effect the listing had on Pagans of Color. Thank you again for your work in writing this.

kenofken said...

There is nothing to apologize for, save for the fact that the white majority of Pagan leadership and the community has so disengaged from this issue as to require the cattle prod of something like satire to get moving.

I will not presume to tell Pagans of Color how to feel about this, but I will pose a question to you. Let's suppose we could turn back time and head off this satirical schedule before it ever came out. Would you feel more comfortable or more welcome at events and within the community the way it was dealing with race issues (ie NOT dealing with them at all)? Civility and sensitivity are great things. When they become their own ends above all consideration, they can become a bandage and numbing agent that allows us to continue walking on deeply and fatally infected limbs.

I cannot directly speak to the experience of People of Color in this country. I do, however, know white America from the inside for going on 50 years. I can tell you for a fact that white America (and white Pagandom), are simply not going to engage issues of racial justice so long as they have a comfort zone in which they can avoid doing so.

They are not going to address the root of injustices like Ferguson or the school-to-prison pipeline for young black men or poverty or education or the underlying architecture of privilege which drives all of the radical disparities in life experiences between white and minority America.

They won't do it because it's the right thing to do, and they won't do it because black families are marching in the streets. They will deal with it if and when the costs of not dealing with it exceed the perceived benefits of not dealing with it. I'm not even talking about flagrant bigots. The gut consensus of white Americans, even most of the really well-meaning ones, is that systemic racism was solved in MLK's day and it's time to move on. Accordingly, most of them will do anything to avoid giving offense, especially to the extent it allows them to avoid the deeper issues. In other words, if all you or we press for from secular or Pagan leadership is niceness, you will get niceness, and nothing else, ever.

As to the idea of the joke falling flat, I would suggest that satire is not meant to be "funny haha" or even witty. The humor aspect works by disabling our cynicism and mental armor just long enough to let us glimpse ourselves as outsiders. At the precise moment we start to chuckle, we realize "whoa, how f'ed up are we?"

Satire is not the only tool or the best tool in all circumstances, but it might be worth trying on a problem which has so far resisted most other methods.

Catherine said...

Well said, kenofen. The fact that it was pulled from everywhere and made unavailable strikes me as hugely hypocritical, when there is space in the hotel given to whomever to leave whatever literature they wish.

It being at registration or the info desk where it looks like part of the official publications goes a long way in helping me understand people's reaction to it. I doubt that mistake will be made again.

I see the group responsible has apologized on the other page. I hope we can all now take a metaphorical bubble bath, then get back to work on the more important issues re. racism in the pagan community and in our own communities at home.

PS: The "*" next to "white" in my earlier post is shorthand. My adoptive and biological families are multi-ethnic, but my personal experience of the world has had all the benefits of white privilege, despite how many boxes I can check on a Census form. How I identify in other contexts is subject to change.

The Artist Assena V said...

Catherine & Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir

You might be interested in my response, on the first comments page.


Wizard Lizard the Magick Educator said...

Artist Assena V,

I do believe your other comment likely got deleted. Jonathan did say he was going to delete any non-signature comments on that thread. Maybe you should repost here?


Since you originally identified as white, the sentence "I hope we can all now take a metaphorical bubble bath, then get back to work on the more important issues re. racism in the pagan community and in our own communities at home. " really struck me from your response. Though it seems that the reality may be different than I had been thinking -- and you may have much greater access to PoC sentiments than I -- I was taken aback initially because I (as a white person) would never dream of telling PoC what the more important issues are! That is not for me to decide! All too often, I have heard people of dominant classes tell people of subaltern classes how to seek their own liberation. Often, such statements come from earnest but erstwhile "allies", which has soured me as a trans* person on the entire concept!

Furthermore, there is a long tradition of telling the oppressed peoples of the world to suck up their pain, "man up" (I chose to include that very deliberately), and march without flinching or humanity to some imagined moment of equality, equity, or freedom. As a white person, I will say that PoC pain is as important and valuable as any other pain, that I am grateful for the chance to witness it, and that I will step up to hold space for it without comment, dismissal, or argument.

* this post less articulate than possible due to the earliness of the hour and the lack of caffeine in my system *

MontiLee Stormer said...

It's an anonymous no-pology.

If they'd just stopped with "We're so sorry." that would have been fine, but no - they continued with "we've been doing this forever, it's never been a problem before, and oh by the way, sorry you were offended."