A couple of years ago, I was approached by writer Lucy Coleman-Talbot to give my input on the issue of race and how it relates to the varying experiences of Witches in modern times. Her goal was to write an article that would call for “white pagans/witches to consider the ways [they] appropriate culture in [their] magical practice“. As a woman that has a sincere passion for exploring the paths less ventured, the issue of representation of non-white participants in the communities of any modern sub-culture is an issue dear to my heart. I took a couple of days to ponder over the various questions in her email and responded with the information below in the format of an easy-to-follow outline.
Lucy was so elated with the content I provided that she decided to format the article to give my perspective prevalence as she provided her own perspective in tandem to exhibit how different we have both experienced witchcraft and paganism throughout our lives and through the lenses of our individual races. Once the article had been released, some aspects of my input had been re-worded in the attempt to format and revise the content to fit the space provided (as is expected when it comes to magazine submissions and the editing process), and it is because of this that I have mulled over whether or not to post the original thoughts I had submitted for nearly two years now.
I do urge you to go to WitchesMagazine.com and read the article. The article itself is an excellent glimpse at how different it was for two different races to grow up in Westernized societies as they practiced non-Abrahamic religions and belief systems in what have essentially been white-dominated spaces for ages now. However, I am posting my own essay of sorts from the outline I provided for that article I believe it is worth it to provide the original content in it’s entirety in order to allow the truth of my experiences the space and opportunity to be read without the restrictions and edits so commonly caused by the general processes of editing.
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I began practicing witchcraft in secret at the age of 12. Back then, in 2002, “witches” were stereotyped as Wiley-haired white women in long designer gowns that were designed to look ‘vintage’. Thank goodness for The Craft, Eve’s Bayou, and Beloved – as those movies portrayed black people with spiritual powers in a totally different way. However, even those movies made sure to represent alternative spiritualities with black characters as “taboo”, whereas movies like “Practical Magic” seemed to shine a more positive light on their white witches. So, “white witch = good”, and “black witch = evil”? You can imagine my confusion as a very interested and introspective child when I began to notice that black [people] only seemed to have “bad” magical problems in movies and shows.
Around the age of 16, I had more freedom and thus, was allowed to step-up the frequency of my research. I still had to hide it from my Baptist Christian family though, especially my father who was the pastor of our Church. [Once I turned 18], I dove head-first into my spirituality. My father had passed away and my family left me for the birds (so-to-speak), so I had the freedom to mold myself and practice what and how I saw fit. During the following 11 years (between 2008 and 2019), I went from casting spells alone for myself, to selling spells and curios, to coaching and teaching others, and back to focusing on my craft alone.
These details matter because: I had to assimilate to survive [while having little to no support system], and that is actually a rule that is still alive and well to this very day – even when it comes to trying to participate in your own ‘lost’ cultural ties. I mean… Have you seen the typical African Drumming Dance classes? White women in dashikis and headwraps abound. It feels insulting to even be around that when you know it’s just a costume to them, whereas the origins of the outfits, the patterns, the drums, and the dances themselves are purely spiritual.
I saw little to no representation of black witchcraft in my youth, even as a teenager. Witch-centric spaces were white. Anyone else was a token that had to behave as if they were glad to have been invited in the first place. As an adult, the most accessible teachers of the spiritualities and belief systems that my [black] ancestors practiced are white people – and that’s a problem that represents (and is borne from) some seriously problematic socioeconomic barriers.
And I still feel like a part of the “out-group”, all these years later. But things are changing for the better, that much is clear. Thanks to the internet, thanks to the bravery and passion of the oppressed who dare to voice their opinions against oppressive systems that have been in place for centuries, and thanks to the willingness of a few non-black people to read and watch and listen to what we have to say – things are changing.
Were it not for the changes I see taking place – the activism, the inclusion, the reclamations – witchy endeavors by black women wouldn’t even have an audience.
Oppressive captors removed our ancestors’ rights to practice our original Pagan spiritual belief systems. They also removed our right to be equal human beings, and then they replaced those stolen rights with an oppressive, secular Christian mindset of conformity and obedience. Whites in the 50’s adopted ancient Kemetic spiritual beliefs and practices and blended them with ancient European belief systems like Druidism. They had the freedom to do so because of the economic and social statuses their race made them privy to. People of color – black people especially – did not. Most Afro-centric neo-pagan circles were still heavily underground during the time that Wicca went mainstream (mainly via African Traditional Religions in places like New York and Miami). People of color had to continue to assimilate in order to climb the economic ladder.
Faux Intersectionality is a problematic factor as well. Witches of color who try to join covens or Witchcraft-related groups that are not ethno-centric often face heavy bouts of micro-aggressions and appropriation from their [non-black] peers. If these issues are pointed out, the black witch – who is already typically an outlier in the group – is labeled as a problem and is avoided or attacked. This causes so many witches of color to retreat back to the broom closet and [back to] solo-witchcraft due to lack of community.
The amount of representation has been severely lacking until recent years. The ideal look of a witch in America has always ranged from the kitschy, sexy white witch (like images seen from the 30’s through the 50’s), to the white hippy witch of the 60’s and [varying trendy white witches that have been in popular media from that time and] onward. The ideal look of a witch in America has never been that of a black human in their natural state, and for any black person to look like [any varient of popular stereotypical] witch, it always takes a significant amount of conformity.
When black individuals are seen in their most natural state it is typically seen as “radical” and thus “dangerous. When white individuals are seen their natural, unkempt state, the language is more positive, they are typically regarded as “peaceful”, “chill”, “hippies”. Because of this dilemma, feeling included as a non-white witch can become an issue when you fail to ‘look the part’. It’s the same in other alternative communities as well, like BDSM, Goth, and Punk. You often aren’t considered a part of the “alternative” community unless you look like the white stereotypes.
Because of the trickle-down effect of the aforementioned issues, black witches tend to withdraw and keep to themselves due to lack of inclusion, feelings of inferiority, appropriation of the spiritualities of our ancestors to the point that our voices are discounted, and often straight-up racism. That’s terrible for representation because we have withdrawn to the point that we are not present when the ranks of white witches get the opportunity to ‘represent’ witches in the media.
This leads to a cyclical effect where the cycle just continues:
- We do not see ourselves in the in-group, so we must not belong.
- We must not belong, so we stay away or create closed groups that we do not publicize for fear of abuse or appropriation.
- Our presence is not publicized, so our representation is limited, nonexistent, or otherwise downplayed.
- We do not see ourselves in the in-group, so we must not belong.
The present-day reality of growing up “witchy” seems to be elevating at a steady pace. Thanks to the internet and the rising economic status of black people in America, our representation is more apparent now than ever. Black witches are being centralized in mass media and ethno-centric witchcraft groups are popping up all over the web. I personally [believe that]once black pagans reclaim their spiritualities from appropriative oppressors that are still using those belief systems for exclusion and profit – the visage of the black witch is well on its way to becoming an archetype of primordial power and prowess.