Appropriating other people’s pain is not a good look

Rachel Dolezal is not Black, and she is not “transracial”.

Nine million women did not die in the Burning Times.

What is the connection between these two statements? They are both a refutation of people trying to  appropriate other people’s pain.

Rachel Dolezal is stealing the identity of Blackness by pretending to be Black. By claiming to be “transracial”, she is misappropriating transgender people’s experience.

Black people are Black because they are descended from other Black people, and because the visible colour of their skin has given them a different life experience throughout their lives. They also often have a distinct culture.  Rachel Dolezal doesn’t have this experience. She may have experienced racist attitudes during her time of faking Blackness, but she chose to pretend to be Black, and even to claim racist incidents that didn’t even happen, and now she has even changed her name to something more African-sounding. (And is it just me, or is that fake tan she’s wearing?)

Transgender people have grown up with the feeling of being a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. Trans women have also been on the receiving end of transmisogyny, and trans men have been on the receiving end of attempts to make them more girly. Genderqueer people have also received negative comments about our ‘failure’ to perform the gender expected of us. So trans women are not appropriating the pain of other women – they have already been on the receiving end of misogyny because of their transgender status. Also, there are thousands of transgender and gender-variant people, and we have been around for centuries. Only one person is claiming to be “transracial”. Go figure.

People who claim that “nine million women died in the Burning Times” are trying to make the suffering of witches bigger than the Holocaust. The “nine million” number was arrived at by taking the number of witches who were burnt at the stake in the Bamberg area during a couple of years at the height of the witch-craze, and multiplying that number by the 150 years’ duration and the geographical extent of the witch-craze.  This “calculation” totally ignored the fact that the intensity of persecution, and the concomitant number of deaths, varied massively from one geographical area to the next, and from one decade to the next. It also ignores the fact that some men were also persecuted as witches (nowhere near as many as women, but it did happen). Furthermore, nine million women would have represented a really high percentage of the population of Europe at the time. And the people who were persecuted as witches mostly didn’t identify as witches or pagans, so we can hardly claim that we are the same group that was being persecuted. Claiming to be a persecuted group because of the Burning Times is massively disrespectful to the survivors and victims of the Holocaust.

This kind of appropriation of other people’s pain looks to me like some sort of attempt to  get off the hook of white privilege.

The only way to get off that particular hook is to get involved in the work of dismantling white supremacism and systemic racism. Faking a persecuted identity is not a good look. Stop it.

Here is a tiny violin playing Hearts and Flowers for your fake pain.

Here is a tiny violin playing Hearts and Flowers for your fake pain.
[Public Domain photo by Erika Wittlieb]

10 thoughts on “Appropriating other people’s pain is not a good look

  1. By all means stick to facts, but I must say this piece of writing is so full of hatred it made me wince. People are silly, yes, but not evil for “identifying” with some group they were not born to. Be a little kinder?


    • I didn’t say Rachel Dolezal was evil. She must have had some trauma in her life to feel the need to compulsively lie about her identity.

      I don’t hate her, but she has upset a lot of Black people, and I wanted to express solidarity with them.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for exposing the origin of the “nine million” women figure. I knew it had been refuted as ahistorical, but I did not know how it was derived in the first place. The method you cited would certainly produce an extremely bloated figure!


    • Thanks! If I recall correctly, the debunking of the nine million figure and the explanation of how it was arrived at was explained in Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Fortunately, the Burning Times trope has not had any serious currency in most Pagan circles for years now. Truth matters, and we can’t afford to fall into the delusions of “alternative facts”.

    At the same time, the correction of this particular fallacy in no way negates the reality of Christian persecution and intolerance which gave rise to the Burning Times myth. Since the time they achieved political hegemony in the Roman Empire, they have committed cultural and actual genocide on a vast scale on every inhabited continent on the planet. Pagans who inspire many of our modern traditions were among the victims, but so to in larger measure were Jews, Muslims, Africans and indigenous people. Then too some of the most prolific slaughters were perpetrated by Christians against other Christians over matters of orthodoxy.

    I’ve never been much interested in latching onto the Burning Times narrative as a way to establish some sort of “persecuted people” narrative. We have been and are the object of Christian persecution, but I don’t need to fudge casualty figures from the 14th Century to tell that story. We have much more recent and well documented cases.

    Again, I don’t see that as a claim to some pecking order on the victim hierarchy. It’s just one of many facets of a larger problem to solve. Despite my status as an “out” Pagan, of course I would tell people to save their tears and assistance for those much worse off. I’m Western, white, male, cisgendered, financially stable(ish), living in a secular northern state, able bodied with plenty of access to legal recourse and no qualms at all about telling any pushy Abrahamic of any stripe to go sod. I’ll live.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent comment. Yes, I wouldn’t like to exaggerate the degree to which “teh Burning Timez” still has currency. Though it may still do in some Goddess-feminist circles.

      And yes, there were and are real persecutions that people also erase by banging on about the Burning Times.

      I also tend to point out that in England, witches were hanged, not burnt, because witchcraft was classified as a felony, not a heresy, and was subject to civil rather than ecclesiastical law.


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