|Illustration from In an Enchanted Island (1889) by W. H. Mallock|
For those of us who still believe that this ship can be forced back on course toward a better future, there is work to be done. For those of positive intent who still believe in hope and change, there are tasks to take up.
The path to progress is both simple and difficult, but it takes clear vision and determined will to see it and to follow it. Here are three simple signposts to mark the way.
1. Choose diversity over inclusion
Within Ásatrú and Heathenry and throughout the wider modern Pagan world, the buzzword “inclusion” has led to much complacency and little fundamental change.
From the outset, focusing on inclusion has simply allowed the same old arguments to continue with new terminology and allowed the same cancers to spread and fester in new mutations.
What does it mean to be inclusive? It means to include people. Should we include people with different opinions? Of course. Should we include people with different politics? Yes. Should we include racists? Gosh, it’s so hard to say if someone is really racist or not.
There’s the trouble. Almost immediately, we’re mired in the same old muck of arguing over the definition of racism. Is belonging to an all-white religious organization racist? Is electing all-white leadership racist? Is programming an event with only white speakers racist? Is ancestor veneration racist?
When people start answering “no” to these sorts of questions, they’re playing on a field with goal posts controlled by racists – goal posts that are moved a bit farther back every time a question is answered in the negative.
The result is a community with racists in it. The result is a community where accusations of racism and denunciations of racists are considered far worse than promoting racism and being racist. If the definition of racism is always debated, the racists retain their seat at the table indefinitely.
The clearest way forward is to dump inclusion and embrace diversity.
Before a single positive step forward can be taken, though, we must be willing to question the assertion that all-white organizations are already diverse enough if they have white people with a plurality of abilities, identities, orientations, and relationship structures.
Yes, bless, this is fantastic! So many good people have been excluded from so many religious communities because of outright and/or sublimated bigotry over these issues for so many long years. It is only to be celebrated that we can all welcome each other in loving communion. This is positive and beautiful, full stop.
However, the cancer at the heart of these United States is, has been, and seemingly will always be racism. Diverting the issue of racial diversity to other avenues of identity again allows the racists to move the goal posts.
It’s far past time to make a stand and take action.
If our communities and our organizations are all white, we must ask what we have done in the past and are doing now that only attracts white people. If our community events are all white, we must ask what choices we have made in the past and are making now that exclude everyone but white people. We must answer honestly, and we must make immediate and radical changes of intent, direction, and action.
Diversity is not a box to be checked. It is not a meaningless catchphrase of political correctness. It is a value in and of itself. It is part of what really makes America truly great. It strengthens us all and opens doors to new ways of seeing, new vectors of relating, and new paths toward a better future.
When we build diverse communities, there will be no place for racists. When the discussion finally moves past debating racists over the definition of racism; when we accept that racism is the blistered disease of white America; when our communities, organizations, leaderships, events, festivals, rituals, and rites actually reflect the beautiful rainbow coalition that is America’s fundamental strength; then we will finally have built a space in which racists will truly be unwelcome.
2. Stop making violent threats
White America has an obsession with making violent threats. Not just the far right, not just the conservatives, but white Americans generally. In a time when there’s so much discussion of finding common ground, here is one thing with wide acceptance.
Don’t like how the governor is instituting lockdowns? Make a threat to kidnap her.
Don’t like how the legislature is handling the coronavirus crisis? Make a threat to storm the state capitol.
Don’t like how a business requires masks? Make a threat to torch the place.
Don’t like how the election turned out? Make a threat to assassinate the winner.
Don’t like how a journalist covered an issue? Make a threat to stab them.
Don’t like how a columnist wrote about your deity? Make a threat to smash their head in.
Don’t like how someone wrote a comment on social media? Make a threat to cut off their hands.
We have to resist the urge to deflect from this, to insist that it’s not just white people, to shout that it’s really the other side, to claim that it’s serious when they do it but just a figure of speech when we do it. That way of thinking is intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt.
American Pagans have unfollowed, unfriended, and unliked me over the slightest suggestion that maybe, perhaps, somewhere within the infinite realm of possibilities lies the smallest chance that there is even the most miniscule of connections between this nation’s obsession with (1) ultraviolent first-person shooter video games, super gory action and horror films, insanely macho misrepresentations of historical groups (Vikings, Germanic tribes, Greek warriors, American vigilantes, various militaries), and feverishly emotional attachment to private ownership of firearms as a determinant of white male identity and (2) the prevalence of violent threats by white Americans.
I’ve been told that violent threats are “just how my generation expresses itself online.” I’ve been told that extremely specific threats of extremely specific acts of violence directed extremely specifically at a specifically identified person are “just being metaphorical.”
This is patent nonsense.
Across political lines, a desperate neediness has taken hold of white Americans. An intense and unfillable quivering hole of want resolutely insists on devouring the public conversation and consuming anyone who dares suggest that we take a turn listening to non-white voices for a change. This nation is driving off a cliff at full speed, and the shaking hand of white America is clutching the steering wheel in a rictus grip.
|Photograph from California Highways (1920) by Ben Blow|
The knee-jerk reaction to demands for real progress – from white conservatives, white moderates, and white liberals – is to counsel patience, to advise a gentle march to slow improvement at the land-speed rate of a retreating glacial wall at the beginning of the ending of an ice age. Anything faster than that and the Right will demand the National Guard be sent in, while the Left will indignantly hashtag about it but stop well short of taking any real action to support any timely change.
To paraphrase Dr. King, I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the nation’s great stumbling block in its stride toward freedom is not the extremist or the terrorist, but the white citizen, who is more devoted to their own supposed unique specialness than to equality; who prefers the making of violent threats which promote a violent culture to the true ceding of privileged power, which is the real basis of societal progress.
If some of our neighbors, family, friends, and colleagues simply can’t refrain from making threats – whatever their twisted internal psychology may be – it’s up to the rest of us to shut them out of the public dialogue. If we care about this nation, that’s all there is to it.
3. Care about other people
Caring about other human beings sometimes seems to be an impossible ask in today’s United States.
The long line of American rhetoric about “freedom” may not always have been about personal selfishness and individual entitlement, but it sure as shooting is now.
What is freedom? Owning as many guns as income allows. What is freedom? Coughing in someone’s face during a pandemic. What is freedom? My way or the goddamned highway.
When did America go wrong in this regard? When was it ever right in this regard?
Our Founding Fathers waxed poetic about the beauty of individual liberty while they legally enshrined human slavery. As the great American historian Randy Marsh famously said, “The strength of this country is the ability to do one thing and say another.” And so our very concept of freedom was built on a quicksand foundation of lies and deceptions.
Yes, the people of this nation have risen up for good causes now and again. The Confederacy lost. The Axis lost. The Klan lost. Trump lost. But the hatred continues, on both the grand political and the small personal scale. How do we break with the hateful weight of this country’s history?
Care about other people.
That’s it. That’s the answer.
Simply acknowledging that other people are actually other people – simply allowing that they have the same claim to all the rights we demand and deserve the same privileges we expect – would go a long way toward fixing the mess in which we find ourselves mired.
Should the vote of a black woman on the South Side of Chicago be equal to the vote of a white man in rural Nebraska? Yes. Should a Latina owner of a small business receive the same amount of federal aid as a white owner of a corporation? Yes. Should a Native American teenager have the same access to higher education as the son of a real estate mogul? Yes.
We all know the answer to questions like these, though, is a quiet but firm “no” whispered in the ear of a congressman with corporate sponsorship.
We don’t really believe in freedom here in this land. We don’t really believe in equality. We believe in the self.
What does Odin – all-father, high one, bringer of victory – have to say about the self? He says the self shall also die.
|Odin and Quetzalcoatl on doors to John Adams Building of Library of Congress by Lee Lawrie (1939)|
Odin says a lot of interesting things. He says the wealthy man will lie dead before his door while the fire he paid for burns brightly within. He says generosity and friendship are mighty values and great responsibilities. He says the joy of the person is another person. He says that friendship is valuable and must be maintained.
Do we care anymore what an old god had to say nearly a thousand years ago? Do we care what words those old poets spoke and those younger scribes transcribed on a faraway island? Do those old verses still matter? Does anything matter?
Yes, gods damn it. It all matters. But even the one-eyed raven god can’t shake this country out of its selfish obsession.
Only we can, and we only can if we can get out of our own demented heads and accept that our neighbors are just as good, just as valuable, just as human as we are.
We need to get over ourselves and care about each other. We need to stop staring at ourselves in the mirror and start looking out the window.
Until we’re able to see each other as equally valuable, we’ll continue marching in lock step towards a darker future.
I choose diversity. I choose to reject violence. I choose to care about other people.
The rest is up to you.
An earlier version of this article appeared at The Wild Hunt.
Interview with Jason Aaron (Thor: God of Thunder), Part One
“And All the Generous Earth”: Ásatrú Ritual and Climate Change Ethics, Part Two
“And All the Generous Earth”: Ásatrú Ritual and Climate Change Ethics, Part One