There’s a lot of unrest going on right now in the US. In several different cases around the country, unarmed black men have been killed by white police officers. None of these officers will be tried in a court of law for these deaths.
I haven’t been commenting on this much. I’m about as white a white girl as it’s possible to be, and the cops aren’t nearly as likely to respond violently to me as they are to a black person. There’s really nothing I can say on this topic that isn’t being better and more appropriately stated by black people. Because of that I’ve preferred to simply hold space for those who are unfairly targeted, showing my support by promoting black voices above my own.
Tonight the Covenant of the Goddess, a well-known Pagan group, issued a statement regarding these events. Here’s the statement in its entirety:
“We, the members of the Covenant, acknowledge and share the concern that many in our world and within our Pagan communities have voiced regarding inequalities in justice. We find that all life is sacred, and as such, all lives matter.
Today, we the members of the Covenant especially stand together with people who are not privileged by race and class and say to you: Your life matters. We stand with you and work alongside you in ending the systems that disenfranchise you. We encourage and support all efforts by those within our communities to explore the realities of racial inequality and to work to find ways to eliminate these injustices. We hope this will create a wave of introspection and reflection throughout our world, bringing about new levels of understanding and an appreciation for the unique expression of the Sacred we each embody. We stand together with communities seeking nonviolent means of safety and reform, for the unnecessary harm of any person is an affront to the Sacred and is in contrast to our central ethical tenet: An it harm none, do what ye will. May the work we do together today create a peaceful and just tomorrow. “
And this response is useless. It’s actually worse than useless, because the mealy-mouthed way it’s written allows people to feel like they’re taking a stance without requiring them to actually understand why a stance is necessary.
The first paragraph refers to “inequalities in justice”. Which ones? It’s never specified. That’s a shame, because we’ve got quite a few to choose from. Is this addressing the refusal to try police officers for killing unarmed black men? Is it referring to the recent Native American land-rights issue before Congress? Both? Something else? It’s never once explicitly said. Quite a feat in an official statement. As Pagans and polytheists we know the power of names. Why not invoke them in an official document of all places?
The first paragraph also specifically uses the phrase “all lives matter”, simultaneously referring to the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and pointing out how utterly clueless the authors of this statement are. Because while yes, all lives matter, all lives are not being systematically and disproportionately targeted by our justice system. Black people are MUCH more likely to be killed by police officers than white people are. Saying “all lives matter” as an alternative to “black lives matter” has been pointed at, again and again and again, as yet another attempt to disconnect the inequalities in our justice system from race and thus derail the conversation.
The second paragraph then goes on to say absolutely nothing of importance or use in a grandiose way. It’s like politician-speak. Which systems disenfranchise those who are not privileged by race and class? What realities of racial inequality? A wave of introspection and reflection about what exactly? How does CoG, a Wiccan organization, distinguish between necessary and unnecessary harm? What kinds of safety and reform would CoG like to support or help bring forth? What are they actually going to do, besides make mouth-noises?
Nothing is specifically called out. Nothing is addressed or pointed to as a problem. Nothing is named. This statement is as devoid of meaning as the blank screen it was originally typed on.
I decided these problems needed to be addressed. So I rewrote it. Here’s my statement:
“I, a proud polytheist and member of the larger Pagan community, acknowledge that modern American society is sadly rooted in racial discrimination. In the wake of recent events – the very public deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Akai Gurley, Rumain Brisbon, and the many other similar cases now coming to light – denying, dismissing, or ignoring the racial bias in our society,and especially our justice system, is unconscionable. I believe that it is our sacred duty to stand up to and speak out against injustice wherever we may find it, and even more so when that injustice actively harms other people.
Today, I especially stand with the black community, a community treated as lesser by our shared justice system because of the color of their skin. I say to you: Black Lives Matter.
In support of that belief I will work to end racial injustice in the following ways:
I will hold space for you to share experiences I will never experience myself solely because I am white.
I will listen to what you say and learn from your stories how to be a better ally in the struggle against racism. Furthermore, I will not rely exclusively on members of the black community to teach me about racism and its effects on society – I will do my research and teach myself all I can about it, because I too have a responsibility towards ending it.
I will share those experiences and lessons with other white people who might not understand that these things happen, and are real, and are a problem, because they have never themselves experienced them.
I will speak out against racially-driven injustice privately, publicly, and in the voting booth.
In doing these things I stand with every other person fighting against racial injustice. Only by working together to understand the realities of race in America can we hope to eliminate racial injustice entirely.
We are all interconnected with and dependent on each other by the ground beneath our feet, the blood in our veins, and the Powers with Whom we engage. May the work we all do today lead to a more peaceful and just tomorrow.”
There. That’s better. That’s a damn statement.
Ending racism isn’t a fight we can win by making grand gestures and empty promises. We’ve tried platitudes, and we’ve tried fuzzy feel-good statements, and still a disproportionate number of unarmed black people are getting gunned down in the streets. Or in stores. Or apartment stairwells. That’s not ok. It’s just not. It’s been 60 years since the Civil Rights Movement – have we learned nothing?
The only way we can win this fight is to actively engage in it. We must commit. As above, so below. As without, so within. We can’t just say the words and make the gestures and leave them both hanging there, unsupported. That won’t accomplish anything, brings us no closer to our goals. We have to acknowledge the problem, clearly state our intent, and we have to move from problem to goal by actively doing something.
That’s why the statement I wrote is written the way it is. That’s the kind of thing we need from our leaders and our Elders. Please, give us fewer platitudes and more plans. Give us less kumbaya bullshit and more uncomfortable truths. How can we work on improving ourselves if we can’t work on improving our world, and how can we possibly expect to learn from the Powers if we can’t first learn from each other?