Equality and Privilege

by bennybargas

I have been reading a few posts (e.g., Wildhunt, The Lefthander’s Path, The Pagan Grove, among others) around the blogosphere about a discussion that happened at Pantheacon about what’s been (painfully) called “Wiccanate privilege.”*

privilegeThe discussion centers on the idea that Wiccans and those neo-pagans who practice traditions that have been influenced by or are superficially similar to Wicca (“Neo-Wicca”) have privileges that the rest of the neo-pagan community doesn’t experience. What’s more, the discussion at Pantheacon touched upon a suggestion that this privilege is a symptom of an oppressive power structure within broader Paganism.

Let me first say that yes, there is a “slant” or bias in neo-paganism that does favor Wiccan or neo-Wiccan groups and it is an issue worth discussing, addressing, and redressing. As someone who practiced Kemetic Reconstruction, tradition that wasn’t influenced in the slightest way by Wicca, for more than a decade, I am very much aware of this slant. I know, firsthand, how frustrating it is that the overwhelming majority of publications, websites, and events are intended for Wiccan and neo-Wiccan audiences and participants. I, personally, know how irritating it is when someone assumes: your theology is a polar duotheism (e.g, “What God and Goddess do you work with?”), sacred space is defined as a circle, sexuality is a part of one’s religious ritual experience, or you follow the Rede and Threefold Law. I understand intimately from personal experience how this is inconvenient, unfair, and alienating. But let’s be honest: quite frankly, the assertion that this is privilege is ridiculous.

Yes, as I outlined above, there is a bias in the broader Pagan community towards Wiccan and neo-Wiccan groups but this does not equate to privilege, a very real issue faced by many, Pagan and otherwise. In fact, to discuss the issue of Wiccan/neo-Wiccan bias in modern Paganism with the very same language used to describe the social and political inequities and struggles faced by, for example, minorities of race and sexual orientation creates (intentionally or not) an inadequate comparison. And, what’s more, as both a sexual and racial minority–a person for whom issues of oppression and privilege are a daily reality that impacts my life, I think it borders on offensive.

Privilege is a part of a system of oppression in which the minorities are forced to participate to their own disadvantage. There can be no privilege without a system of oppression and there is no evidence that a system exists where Wiccan and neo-Wiccan groups are oppressing non-Wiccan groups. (Yes, indeed, there are a number of anecdotal examples many of us can recount where Wiccan or neo-Wiccan persons or groups have perpetrated discriminatory behavior but privilege necessitates a systemic problem.) For example, “white privilege” necessitates the system of racial oppression that has marred our history and continues to do so today just as “heteronormative privilege” requires a system of oppression based on sexual orientation. If Wiccans and neo-Wiccans are not oppressing non-Wiccan individuals and groups, then “privilege” is not the appropriate word to use. Instead, a more appropriate word might be “bias”.

The fact that there are more Wiccan or neo-Wiccan events (or publications, websites, groups, etc.) is not an example of Wiccan privilege anymore than the fact that there are more fraternities serving African-Americans than any other minority in the US is an example of African-American privilege. The fact that Pagans of any stripe need to organize their own events in order to be among like-minded peers is an example of (Christian) privilege, though. Likewise, the fact that the a ritual put on by Wiccans or neo-Wiccans is focused on their theology or praxis is not an example of privilege–it’s their event; you aren’t suffering their privilege if you are a willful and voluntary attendee of a ritual they chose to put on.

Appropriating the same language used to describe the hardships and injustices of minorities in larger American society not only fails to accurately describe the issue and adds complex baggage but also detracts from and hurts the already complicated issues of privilege and oppression they face.

And that helps no one.

* As an aside, I also think it’s pretty ironic that a movement that purports to want to spread awareness about marginalization can’t be bothered to use the word the other group uses as a self-identification but instead uses a word so insipid it reads as pejorative.