When I was in high school, we took one of those standardized tests one year. We had to fill out our name and other information, and we were asked our race/ethnicity. I marked “American Indian/Alaskan Native” and went about my day (while the paperwork was not complete then, I am now an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, as is my mother and her mother before her), but when we got our forms back for the second day of testing, my box had been erased and “White” was filled in.
I don’t remember all of the details, but the long and short of it was that my school counselor told me that I couldn’t mark American Indian because he believed that they meant, “You know, like, people who live on reservations.”
So…. those people, over there, who would never go to his school? Was it because my skin, a blend of my father’s German heritage and my mother’s mix of Native and Scottish and Irish, was too light? Or maybe because my hair isn’t black? Writing it now, I wish I’d asked him what he meant by that – was he spouting the same revisionist history taught in our history books each year? Or just so ignorant that he really thought there were no Indians in his community?
I already disliked this man before this test; I would grow to hate him after a later comment implying that women in general, much less anyone from our little town, were not big-name school material was directed at me when I asked about resources for applying to a specific school. So my guess is he was biased in many ways, and ignorant on top of it.
I’ve been reminded of this story lately – my little corner of the internet seems full of -isms lately – racism, sexism, ableism, classism, genderism (is that even a word?), people making snap judgements based on religion and age and whether you have children, whether you work out of the house or stay home with your kids, and on and on.
And it’s not just “those people over there” doing it – some of it is right here in our Pagan community.
Now, to be frank, I know I’m not perfect on this subject. I have privilege – a whole heaping lot of it. But at least I know it’s there, even if I don’t always know where it’s blinding me to the experiences of others, and knowing means that I at least look for it when these sorts of things come up.
Being on the receiving end of an -ism is a mystery, much like many Pagan faiths. You can read up on how it feels, learn about the history and how things really are out there in the world, but you can’t know how it feels to be that person on the receiving end unless you share their background, or a very similar one.
I know it’s hard to work past our cultural conditioning…but like so many other things, the paradigm of Pagan faiths is different than that of more mainstream faiths, and it still surprises me that more of us don’t at least make an effort to work past these things.