Things have been really heavy, both ‘out there’ and ‘in here’ for me over the last couple of weeks, and I’m feeling the need to unpack some of it today. I am going to hone in on the ‘out there’ stuff. Please bear with me, because these thoughts are flying out of my fingers faster than I can think.
Out There, there are conversations happening about racism and cultural misappropriation that I have felt convicted to attend because I teach spiritual things. As a teacher of said spiritual things, I find it really important to address things like sourcing our spiritual modalities with integrity, with respect for the cultures from which we draw our practices. My personal stance has been to examine all of my practices, and ask myself if they actually belong to me. I even went so far as to have a DNA test so I could get a grip on my blood lineage. What am I made of? What were the pre-Christian practices of my ancestors? A lot of this work has been inspired by Leesa Renee Hall, who teaches expressive writing, and runs a ‘Decolonize Your Ancestry’ program on her Patreon.
My public posts about these subjects (mostly on Facebook) have resulted in a lot of push back, sometimes public, but mostly in the form of things landing in my inbox or PMs. Included amidst the push back are thoughtful messages in which important questions are being grappled with, and those aren’t the kinds of messages I’m talking about. I’m talking about messages in which people seem to want to debate me on my stance, point out how my stance is wrong, express anger or disappointment in me, or tell me how my stance is making them feel bad about their stance.
It’s been hard, and annoying, because I’m not the sensitivity police. I can’t tell anyone else what’s right or wrong for them. I can point out blatantly racist content or marketing, but I stay in my lane, by which I mean that I will arrive to back up the voices of BIPOC, but I don’t ‘go after’ these things on my own initiative. And I don’t ‘go after’ individuals who appear to be misappropriating culture unless they’re bringing it into my spaces in a way that harms or disrespects BIPOC. I don’t mean to be telling anyone what is or is not okay for *them*. I take a stance about my own personal convictions, and I establish what’s okay and not okay in my *spaces*, but it seems that taking that stance is interpreted as issuing orders or assuming I know about the contents of your character or your own soul.
I’m not the boss of you. Just because I think something is wrong for *me*, doesn’t mean I’m saying it’s wrong *for you*. I have no idea what’s wrong for you. I prefer to let you figure that out for yourself. Honestly, I have enough work to do over here in this little puddle of Effy flavoured goo without taking on other people’s work as well.
Sometimes what happens, I think, is people feel personally convicted by my personal convictions, and that is super uncomfortable. The thing I’m convicted about not doing – for example, smudging, using the word ‘tribe’ to describe my on line community, using the word ‘gypsy’ when I mean ‘free-spirited and colourful lifestyle’, or chakras, or deities from lands and cultures that have nothing to do with my ancestral lineage – is something they really enjoy, and so my eschewing it makes them feel bad about doing it. Instead of examining why they are feeling that way, people feel free to inundate my inbox with why I’m wrong and why I should continue smudging or using the word tribe or why I should just shut up about all of this political stuff and make art.
Like, I didn’t ask them. You know? I’ve drawn my conclusions on my own after much education from BIPOC. My stance is not up for tweaking or debate. I didn’t take it lightly. I took it after much personal examination.
But I’m not saying YOU can’t do whatever it is you want to do. I may have a boundary around what we share in the temple space I run (Moonshine), but it looks like this – “In this space, I’m asking for sensitivity around the use of spiritual modalities that belong to BIPOC. I don’t want memes about smudging in here. I don’t want discussions of ‘spirit animals’ in here. What you do in your own personal practice is none of my business, but in here, let’s keep our discussions to spiritual modalities that we can claim based on our ancestry. So if we’re white, we source our spiritual practices from our European ancestry.”
It seems this has set me up for a lot of extra work, because people get *pissed at me* for this, or they examine their own conscience around this and want me to help them untangle it (which is great, but it’s not really my area of expertise). I have a handy ‘you must do as your conscience dictates’ ready for these kinds of messages, which feels like good boundaries, but I’m not sure what to do with the people that *get upset with me* over my stance. Like, how do I answer those messages? What do I do about those? How do I say ‘you know, your stance and integrity are none of my business, and I’m not auditioning to be your Jiminy Cricket.”
There is a feeling arising out of all of this that when people follow my posts, or read my blog, and ‘reward’ me with their time, attention, likes, loves, etc. they feel a sense of entitlement about what I post in those spaces. If I’m posting about racism or cultural appropriation on my personal Facebook wall, and it upsets them, they feel entitled to ask me for my (unpaid) time in helping them resolve those feelings. Like, they want to continue feeling good about me, or good about themselves for liking my content, so they ask me to help them feel better about *me*.
But it seems like what they’re really asking is that I change my stance so they can feel more comfortable. It feels like they’re asking me to stand down on the cultural appropriation issue. “Let me smudge, let me ‘namaste’, let me ‘Aho’, let me ‘spirit animal’ without questioning it, without investigating my own right to do so…Let me feel okay with myself so I can continue feeling okay about you…”
Um…so not my job.
Because, first of all, I can’t ‘let you’ or ‘prevent you’ from doing anything, except in the context of what’s okay to share in my spaces. I have those boundaries in my spaces, not because I want to be the sensitivity police – good gods, y’all, I have enough to do without adding that to my job description. I have the boundaries I have because my personal stance has attracted BIPOC into my spaces, and their safety from racist rhetoric and cultural misappropriation in my spaces *is my responsibility* as a holder of that space. If I’m welcoming in BIPOC, and then I’m encouraging or condoning practices that disrespect them or cause them harm, I’m a shitty facilitator. I don’t want to be a shitty facilitator.
But it seems that some people in my spaces are now uncomfortable. I hear things like “I’m walking on egg shells” or “I’m afraid to say anything”. So I’ve failed somehow, and I’m not sure how to fix it. Like, how do I say ‘this is my stance, your mileage may vary, just don’t bring it in here, please!’ in a way that won’t alienate people? Maybe that’s impossible. Maybe I should just accept that people will be alienated and maybe my content isn’t for those people.
It would be really great, though, if they could decide that for themselves and just wander away, because I didn’t sign up for this part – this part where people feel free to ask me to help them be okay with me *when they are obviously not okay with me*.
Like, it’s okay to not be okay with me. Be not okay with me. Own that. Don’t ask me to fix it, because that is not my job.
It takes an enormous amount of self awareness and self-accountilbity to question your own sense of entitlement to the spiritual modalities of BIPOC. Why do you feel entitled? There’s a treasure trove of healing to be done around that question and I admit it isn’t for the faint of heart. That I ask people to do that in my paid content means I have to show up for the consequences of asking that. I admit I was ill-prepared for that. I blithely included these requests for self-examination in Moonshine expecting that the people who were going to be attracted to this program would have already made some headway in this area. It didn’t feel like such a big ask that we switch out misappropriated spiritual practices for practices that were not stolen from other cultures. It felt, in fact, like a no brainer.
I’m teaching art witchery. For me, that doesn’t include smudging or spirit animals or shamanic journeying or anything else that’s been sourced (stolen) from lineages that are not my own. I, personally, have no desire to end up as a thread on this forum, where plastic shamans are called out and examined. I have no desire to steal culture when I have so much of my own rightful ancestry to explore and indulge. I have a primarily pre-Christian European Witchcraft based practice that uses art as its primary method of raising energy toward the attainment of my desires. That’s what I’m trying to present. That’s my area of expertise.
But it seems that because my witchcraft, which doesn’t include practices sourced from spiritual modalities I believe I have no right to use, bumps up against witchcrafts which include whitewashed, misappropriated spiritual practices, I’m now in an awkward position. I’m having to field a lot of ‘who do you think you are’ type ‘nobody tells me what to do’ style push back.
And I guess this is what I signed up for when I designed this program with requests that people respect BIPOC. Because in this time, and in this political climate, asking that people respect BIPOC is, apparently, super controversial (WTF?). Which makes me sick, because it really should be a no brainer. We are sourcing our energy from this land we’re living on – land we stole from First Nations. Let’s have some respect. We are sourcing our energy from this land we’re living on – land cultivated by and built on the backs of People of Color. Let’s have some respect.
Why is this so radical? Why is this such a big ask?
I don’t know, but I’m here, showing up in all the ways I can, answering the questions – even the ones that are insults in disguise – and I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for this. I’m here to keep asking this ask. I’m here to design content that asks for respect for BIPOC. I’m here to help you create a spiritual modality that can enrich your art journaling practice, to help you create an art journaling practice that can energize and inform your spirituality. I might be failing, but I’m listening, and I’m trying. And if you’re not interested in sourcing your spiritual practices in a way that respects BIPOC, my work is not for you. And it saddens me that there are those of you who feel that way, but that’s okay. I can deal. I know there are just enough of you *that are* interested in that, so I’ll turn my attention there in the certainty that what I do serves *you*.
Thanks for listening.
P.S. This post would be incomplete without this list of links to BIPOC who have contributed to my education in these matters. If you are grappling with all of this, I highly recommend these resources. They are *way better than anything I have to offer* in the area of cultural sensitivity and dismantling white supremacy. (In other words, go pay them. They are the experts.)
Torrie Pattillo – www.patreon.com/TorriePattillo
L’Erin Alta – www.lerinalta.com
Leesa Renee Hall – www.patreon.com/leesareneehall