Diverse communities are less racist

A recent sociological study has shown that white people become less racist when they live in ethnically diverse areas, which is a very encouraging finding.

A diverse group of friends

Image courtesy of shutterstock.com

I have always lived in ethnically diverse districts. When I was a student, I lived in a terraced house in Lancaster, in an area that was home to many people of different ethnic backgrounds. In 1988, I went to southern Germany, and was bewildered by the sea of white faces. I think I saw one Black person the whole time that I was there, and a few Turkish people. I missed the availability of food from different cultures, and I missed the diversity of clothing styles.

After I graduated, I moved to Cambridge, and lived in the Mill Road area, also very ethnically diverse. Here is a photo of a mural on the railway bridge, celebrating that diversity.

I lived in South Gloucestershire and North Somerset for ten years, and they were less ethnically diverse. Sadly, Black and minority ethnic friends and colleagues reported a high number of racist incidents, such as being more frequently stopped by the police, finding unpleasant items on the doormat of one’s house, and an assumption that BME people don’t live in the region (except in Bristol). This tends to bear out the findings of the sociological study.

I now live in Oxford, which is very ethnically diverse, has a thriving interfaith body which organises events (and includes Pagans), and has a Christmas tree and a Hanukiah in Broad Street, and has a liberal mosque where the sermons are in English. On the street where I live, in a small suburb, there are two shops run by Muslims, a Polish shop, a hardware store run by a Sikh, a post office run by a Hindu couple, a chip shop run by a family of Italian background, a Caribbean cafe, and a Polish shop. The residents of the houses are equally diverse. Other shopping streets also have many different shops and restaurants, and there are Moroccan, Turkish, Italian, Chinese, Libyan, Russian, Thai, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, and many other restaurants only a bus ride away.  On my bus ride into work, there are people of many different ethnicities on the bus, and the same when I arrive at work.

I love living in a diverse area, where I can see faces of many different colours around me, both in the city centre and in the suburbs, where I can chat to people from different backgrounds and cultures and get their perspectives on things, and where I can easily buy food from all around the world.

As Pagans, we should be aware that people of all ethnicities are manifestations of the divine (or however your theology would express that concept).

Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.

~ Black Elk, quoted in Black Elk Speaks: being the life story of a holy man of the Oglala Sioux (1961), as told to John Neihardt

Where there is acceptance and welcoming towards Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Buddhists, there will eventually also be acceptance and welcoming towards Pagans. If we participate in interfaith dialogue, we can build friendships and alliances with people of other religions.

The subjugation and oppression of Black, Asian, Latino, and First Nations people is part of the dominionist, capitalist, exploitative approach that says that the Earth is there to be exploited and subjugated, and so are other people. it is part of the worldview that claims that industrialisation and mechanisation will lead to increased human happiness, whereas in fact it has led to destruction of habitats, eradication of indigenous people and their life-ways, oppression, and alienation – and the view that any culture that does not buy into the myth of progress and the cult of consumerism is somehow more primitive and less civilised than the over-consuming West. I cannot see how any of this can ever be part of Paganism, and yet there are many Pagans posting racist comments on blog-posts about systemic racism, Ferguson, and the Black Lives Matter protests.

To those of you who do not understand the deep systemic connections between exploitation, capitalism, and systemic racism, I do not know what to say, except, may you gaze deep into the mirror of your own soul, and find a way out of the abyss.

We need to get angry, and we need to get active. We need to value the lives of our fellow human beings as much as we value our own. We need to see all the colours of humanity as sacred, just as Black Elk did. To do this, we need to build bridges between different communities, and learn about each others’ traditions – not force people to live in separate enclaves, ghettos, and barrios where they can never meet.

Black Lives Matter

I support equality. That means I support equality across the board – Black, Asian, Native American, white, lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, transgender, queer, genderqueer, cisgender, people with disabilities, older people, people of all religions and none.

The thing about equality is that it is not enough to say, in a vague and woolly manner, that you support equality for everyone, or that “all lives matter”.  Specific groups of people are being persecuted and killed in specific contexts, and there is a particular historical context for that persecution. That means that we have to understand the particular struggle in the particular context. That means we have to do the work to get involved; and to be good allies, we need to listen to the people who have been engaged in the struggle, and use our privilege to promote their voices and agendas, not talk over them and erase their voices. Ignoring the fact that Black people are being disproportionately targeted and killed is adding insult to injury. The reason we are focussing on the fact that Black lives matter right now is that there are large sections of society, most of them armed and dangerous, who seem not to agree.

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So that is why I want to add my voice to the statement, by millions of people, that Black lives matter. Black people are significantly and structurally disadvantaged by the system in the United States of America, and in other majority-white societies too. Black people are getting killed and attacked in large numbers. That is the result of systemic and ingrained racism.

We are focusing on Black lives right now, because they are the ones getting killed in huge numbers. LGBT people, women, and people with disabilities are much more likely to be killed if they are Black. Black men, women, and children have been shot to death by police. There is a full list here, going back to 1999. These deaths are completely out of proportion to the crimes committed by some of those killed; there is no death penalty for shoplifting, for example. Many of the people killed were innocent of any crime. None of them deserved to be killed.

It is hardly surprising that faced with the massive injustice of these deaths – 14 teenagers have been killed by police since Michael Brown’s death (and half of them were Black), including 12 year old Tamir Rice – people are driven to riot. It is hardly surprising that when a peaceful protest is faced by tanks and  guns, people start rioting. When the authorities are doing everything in their power to destroy your community and take away your well-being, of course you are going to riot.

Why have I been silent about this issue since 14 September 2014? Because I am so horrified by what is going on that I couldn’t find the words. I have hardly posted anything on this blog since that post – but I have been posting numerous articles on Facebook about Ferguson, systemic racism, and other killings of Black people, trying to change hearts and minds, and reading stuff myself, trying to get educated. I have joined a Facebook group that is campaigning against racial inequality, and involves real dialogue between Black people and white people. If there was a #BlackLivesMatter protest in England, I would join it. (Mindful of the issue of allies not speaking over the people we are trying to help, I am not sure it would be helpful if I organised one.)

Here in England, anti-racists and allies are busy campaigning against the racist bigotry of UKIP and other far-right groups. There are significant concerns that their anti-immigration rhetoric is being picked up by the mainstream parties. I am also engaged in a campaign – Movement for Justice by any means necessary – to prevent LGBT asylum seekers (the vast majority of whom are from Africa) from being sent back to countries where they would be persecuted. The asylum and immigration system in Britain is deeply unjust, and members of the MFJ mailing list (including me) write to the government to ask them not to deport people. Also in the UK, there is a massive backlash against people with disabilities and a rise in homophobia and transphobia, all triggered by the rhetoric of the neo-conservative ConDem coalition.

If I was in the USA right now, I would be out there joining in the protests – but using these 5 tips for how to be an ally by Chesca Leigh. As I am not in the USA, I am trying to figure out what I can do to fight racism here at home, and trying to raise awareness about the issues via Facebook and Twitter and everyday conversations.

As a Pagan and as a human being, I believe that all people are equal, but that different oppressions arise in different contexts, and therefore we must address oppression and inequality in context, and we must engage in the struggle for equality, using all the tools at our disposal, because nothing is going to be handed to us on a plate by the powers that be – every right that we possess has been struggled for by generations of activists. The right to vote in Britain was gained by riots in the 1830s, and the protests of the suffragettes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The rights to fair pay, maternity leave, health and safety at work, equal pay, limited working hours, and all the rest, were gained by the efforts of trades unions. It is a myth that we get these things by waiting patiently.

I will finish with a quote from Rosa Parks:

I’m tired of being treated like a second-class citizen.

Patheos Pagan on Ferguson and Police Brutality

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