Religious symbols in the workplace

Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association has written a helpful analysis of the latest European Court of Justice ruling on religious symbols in the workplace. It looks to me as though the new ruling does muddy the waters though.

Continue reading

14 characteristics of fascism

There has been a lot of talk of fascism, the alt-right, the New Right, the same old right, the far right, recently. This is because of  thirty years of austerity imposed by neoliberal economics, a surge of populism (Trumpism, Brexiteers, isolationism, Holocaust denial, and related movements), the economic slump which has been going on since 2008, and the perennial human urge to blame the Other for your problems.

Continue reading

Recommended Reading For The Resistance

Many people are expressing shock and dismay that a fascist government has taken over the USA, and at the rising tide of xenophobia in Broken Brexit Britain. However, if you are at all familiar with the rise of the Third Reich and the operation of oppressive systems such as the British Empire, the signs have been writ large for some time. If you need a crash course in recognising the oppressive atmosphere for what it is, then here’s a crash course. Why have I chosen mostly novels? Because novels try to describe how it feel to be in the situation, and to provoke empathy. And empathy for the persecuted is what we need more of right now.

Continue reading

“But I’m not racist”

Every time I see a friend posting about how they won’t put up with bigotry on their Facebook feed, I see comments from people going “but what about anti-white comments?” or “but what about anti-Christian comments?” or “why don’t I get to have an opinion as a straight white cisgender man?” or “Black people can be racist too”, or “not all men…” or “not all white people…”

This post is aimed at those people. I have no idea if any of them will read it, but I have to try.

Yes, humans are a prejudiced lot. Black people, LGBT people, Pagans, women, can all be prejudiced against people who are not in our specific identity groups.

But as a woman, I have to think about whether I can walk down a dark alley at night without getting assaulted. I also have to pick my male sexual partners carefully to make sure I have not picked one who will be violent towards me. I have to be careful what I post online so as to avoid receiving rape and death threats from hateful trolls. If you are male, you don’t need to worry about those things anywhere near as much as I do. Yes, I know men get raped and assaulted as well, but it is nowhere near as common as the rape and assault of women by men. Yes, I know that not all men are rapists, but nevertheless I have to consider the possibility that the next one I meet might be, in order to stay safe.

LGBTQ people have to make similar calculations about where we go, who we socialise with, and what we post online. I am a bisexual genderqueer woman married to a man, so I ‘pass’ as straight, but for those who are visibly LGBTQ, this is a real worry. Straight people can kiss and hold hands in public; LGBTQ people have to look around to check if there’s anyone nearby who might violently attack them for kissing or holding hands. Yes, we know that not all straight people are going to attack LGBTQ people, but we have to factor in the possibility in order to stay safe.

Black, indigenous, and other people of colour also have to make these calculations around white people. Will that white person attack them? Will the other white people around them fail to defend them in the event of an attack? They also know that not all white people are violent racist thugs, or people who will stand by while racist thugs attack them — but they literally don’t know which white people are going to help, who will attack them, and who will turn a blind eye. As to people equating the Black Panthers with the KKK — the Black Panthers were a resistance group fighting back against police violence; the KKK is a white supremacist hate group responsible for lynchings and systematic brutality against Black people. One of these things is not like the other.

Disabled people get beaten up for being disabled, denied benefits by the government because they were deemed ‘fit for work’ by a completely Kafkaesque and inappropriate test. They get ignored and marginalised by able-bodied people. How do they know whether or not the next person they meet is going to do the same?

Pagans, Muslims, Jews, and atheists have frequently experienced Christians assuming that we are all devil-worshippers, terrorists, part of an international banking conspiracy, or utterly immoral; so if we seem ‘prejudiced’ against Christians, it is because we have frequently been excluded from employment, discriminated against, and worse because of our religion. We know that not all Christians endorse these views, but for decades, the loudest voices among Christians have been those promoting bigotry and hate — sadly supported by the media only giving platforms to Christians with bigoted and hateful views. So, if you don’t support bigotry against Muslims, Jews, Pagans, atheists, LGBT people, and so on: then those attacks are not aimed at you. If you think that holding bigoted views is ‘religious freedom’, then you are part of the problem.

So if Black people, LGBTQ people, people of other belief systems, or women seem ‘prejudiced’ against you — ask yourself why that might be. If their entire prior experience is of people either attacking them, or minimising and ignoring an attack on them, why should you be the exception?

The invisible knapsack of privilege [CC0 Public Domain]

The invisible knapsack of privilege
[CC0 Public Domain – pexels.com]

It’s not that your opinion is automatically invalid if you are white and/or straight and/or cisgender and/or male: but if you are saying “calm down” to minority groups who are scared rigid by the election of an openly white supremacist anti-LGBT misogynist who has the endorsement of the KKK, then you are dismissing their experiences of being attacked by white supremacists, anti-LGBT bigots, and misogynists — and that’s why your opinion is being discounted, and why your straight white cis male status is mentioned, because that explains why you haven’t had the same experience.

Also, since when has being on the receiving end of negative comments about being straight and/or white and/or male and/or cisgender been anything like the experience of being afraid to walk down the street or use public transport whilst visibly Muslim, Black, Latina/o/x, disabled, female, LGBT, etc because of the likelihood that you might be violently attacked, either by police or fellow-citizens? Since when has having your opinion dismissed because you lack experience of oppression been anything like being denied decent housing, jobs, or access to justice or clean water? There is no comparison between being told that you don’t know because you haven’t experienced something, and being told that the discrimination or violence that you actually experienced wasn’t really racism or homophobia or misogyny. There is no comparison between systemic and violent oppression and your feelings being hurt because someone called you out on your privilege.

Sure, not everyone who voted for Trump or for Brexit was a white supremacist, or a homophobe, or a misogynist, or anti-disabled. But they were people who ignored the blatant misogynist, homophobic, anti-disabled, and racist rhetoric of the campaigns, and voted for Trump or Brexit anyway. If you did that, it implies that you don’t care enough about the concerns of minority groups who will be victimised by the far-right policies of Trump or the Tories and by the violent attacks by thugs who feel vindicated in their racism, homophobia, misogyny, or anti-disabled attitudes. If you don’t care about the effects of far-right policies and attitudes and violence on minority groups, then that in itself is a species of bigotry. Sure, you wouldn’t go out and beat up members of minority groups — but you didn’t care enough not to vote in a way that legitimised hateful policies and hate-filled rhetoric.

The safety pin: a reminder to resist bigotry

Just before the referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union, Jo Cox, a Yorkshire Member of Parliament was murdered by a right-wing extremist with a gun that he had constructed himself. Shootings are rare here because we have strict gun laws.

That murder did not happen in a vacuum; the shooter was part of a wider discourse of rising racial hatred and bigotry. The campaign to Leave the EU was particularly virulent in its racism, with posters of refugees labelled as a “swarm”, and claims that Turkey would soon be joining the EU, together with maps showing that it is next door to Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Many people voted to leave the EU because they thought it meant that we would be ejecting all the immigrants – not just people from the rest of the EU, but people from India, Pakistan, Africa, and the Middle East. The Remain campaign also mentioned the ability to ‘control our borders’ but said that we would be better able to do that if we remained in the EU.

It is hardly surprising then, that in the immediate aftermath of the vote, there was a wave of racist hate crimes. Hate crime increased by 57% in the first month, and 42% over the next three months. People started collecting incidents in a Facebook group and Twitter feed called Worrying Signs, and on a Tumblr site called Brexit, this is what you have done. The people who voted to leave the EU didn’t all do so because they are out-and-out racists; the main reason given was the desire to ‘take back control’ (also deeply problematic) and the second biggest reason was wanting to decrease the number of immigrants.

In response to this rise in racist and xenophobic attacks, Allison, an American woman living in London, suggested people wear safety pins to show solidarity towards EU citizens and other communities who are targets of racist abuse.

The safety pin idea was inspired by the “I’ll Ride with You” campaign in Sydney in 2014, which was to protect Muslims from a wave of bigotry aimed at them on public transport.

Similarly, in World War II, Norwegians wore a paperclip as a sign of resistance to the Nazis.

The safety pin campaign in the UK was criticised by people who have been on the receiving end of racist abuse, because no-one would listen to them before, and they were accused of exaggerating the amount of racism that exists, and they were understandably sceptical that it would make any difference. They felt that it was just there to make the safety-pin wearers feel they had done something. It was also labelled ‘the visual symbol of #notallwhitepeople’.

My immediate response was to think that the safety pin is not there, as it was originally described, just to say  ‘I am a safe space, you can sit next to me, you can talk to me, you can ask me for a help.’ That’s not enough.

What the safety pin should be for is a reminder to the wearer to do something if they hear or see racist, misogynist, homophobic, or transphobic attacks.

As Twitter user Hev (@SpareMeMary) wrote:

If you’re gonna wear a pin, make sure you’re ready to step in when you witness racism in public. Don’t you DARE wear it and stay silent.

If you don’t feel safe to challenge the perpetrator, at least move to be with the victim. Get them away from the perpetrator and to a place of safety.

The safety pin in the USA

In the wake of the election of Trump to the presidency, there was a huge wave of racist, transphobic, misogynist, and homophobic incidents. In response, people in the USA have started wearing safety pins too. The #safetypinUSA campaign comes with a pledge:

The Promise

If you wear a hijab, I’ll sit with you on the train.

If you’re trans, I’ll go to the bathroom with you.

If you’re a person of color, I’ll stand with you if the cops stop you and/or whenever you need me.

If you’re a person with disabilities, I’ll hand you my megaphone.

If you’re LGBTQ, I won’t let anybody tell you you’re broken.

If you’re a woman, I’ll fight by your side for all your rights.

If you’re an immigrant, I’ll help you find resources.

If you’re a survivor, I’ll believe you.

If you’re a Native American, I’ll stand with you to protect our water, your burial grounds, and your people.

If you’re a refugee, I’ll make sure you’re welcome.

If you’re a union member, fighting for one, or fighting for $15/hour, I’ll be there.

If you’re a veteran, a college student, a member of the working or middle class, I’ll fight against austerity measures and for more publically funded assistance for all.

If you’re sick or just human, I’ll take up the fight for universal healthcare.

If you’re tired, me too.

If you need a hug, I’ve got an infinite supply.

If you need me, I’ll be with you.  All I ask is that you be with me too.

People who are already wearing safety pins as part of the U.S. campaign have said that people of colour have thanked them for their solidarity.

Some other people have expressed concern that the safety pin may be worn by violent bigots to lure people into thinking they are safe.

The safety pin is just the beginning

Things have already been terrible for Black people, indigenous people, and other minorities in the US. Racism is far from over. For the next four years at least, the USA is going to be an even worse place to live for women, LGBT people, Black people, Muslims, Native Americans, Latino/a/x people, and other minorities.

When members of these groups tell you that they are terrified by Trump’s election, don’t just say that they are exaggerating or over-reacting. Don’t tell them to ‘just get over it’. Ask them what you can do to help.

When one of your relatives makes a racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-disabled, or misogynist comment over Thanksgiving dinner, don’t just roll your eyes and sigh inwardly. Challenge it, and make it clear that their attitude is not acceptable. Yes, I know that they will lapse back into their bigoted views the next day, once they start hanging out with their Trump-voting friends. But the failure to consistently challenge that kind of bigotry is one of the factors that got us where we are now.

If you hear a bigoted remark whilst out in public, challenge it. If you see someone being attacked (whether physically or verbally), don’t stay silent. If the perpetrator is too scary to tackle, try to get the victim away to safety, and make sure they know that you don’t agree with the perpetrator. In these situations, silence from bystanders is assumed by the perpetrator and the victim to be approval of the perpetrator’s actions.

It would be a good idea to set up a Facebook group, Tumblr, and/or Twitter hashtag where post-election bigoted violence can be collated.

Someone has already set up a website where post-election resistance actions can be collated: it’s called “And Then They Came For Us”.

ICAAD (International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination) reports that under the current Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), only 3% percent of all hate crimes are documented. The FBI has a victim assistance program, but I cannot find a simple way to report a hate crime to any central body, as there is in the UK.

If things get even more unpleasant, as I suspect they will, more organised resistance will be needed. Safe houses for Muslims and LGBT people, for instance, and maybe for women who have had abortions, and the doctors who carried them out, as well. Civil disobedience campaigns will be needed. Solidarity networks are being created (see Rhyd Wildermuth’s article on forming solidarity networks at Gods and Radicals).

The safety pin is a reminder to act. [Photo by Yvonne Aburrow]

The safety pin is a reminder to act. [Photo by Yvonne Aburrow]

Civil courage can be learned

Some people have commented that they don’t know how to respond in cases of racial harassment and violence. Fortunately, there are resources for those who find this difficult.

There is an excellent cartoon guide to what to do if you witness an Islamophobic incident (which would work well for any form of bigotry).

There is also an excellent workshop outline for developing civil courage available from Unite Against Fascism (and I have made a copy of it on the inclusive Wicca website, and added a new section called Resisting fascism, where I will add more links as they become available). I would strongly suggest holding this workshop in UU churches, Pagan camps, and wherever there is space available.

First they came …

Just about everyone who knows their history is aware of the First they came… poem by Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

They (in the form of vicious thugs who believe that the vote for Trump has given them licence to attack minorities) are already coming for Muslims, LGBT people, Native Americans, women, Black people, and other visible minorities.

We know how this goes. Let’s speak out against hatred and bigotry and violence now. Consider it a practice-run for if/when Trump sends in the highly militarised police and starts rounding up Muslims and undocumented immigrants; or if/when they begin to implement Pence’s horrible anti-LGBT ideas.

Further reading / resources

Gods in disguise

Every time an advance is made in people actually respecting and accommodating others’ bodily autonomy, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation, or other difference, you are sure to hear the cry “it’s political correctness gone mad!”. A similar cry, of “Alphabet Soup!”, goes up whenever a new letter is added to the LGBT+ acronym.

What you are hearing is the sound of the privileged complaining about a loss of privilege (otherwise known as ‘playing the game of life on a lower difficulty setting than other people‘, or ‘getting away with stuff that minority groups would not get away with’, e.g. Ryan Lochte, Brock Turner, and many other similar cases).

Examples of advances in respect for others include the word cisgender being added to the Oxford English Dictionary, having gender-neutral toilets, labelling food for allergens, providing food for people with special requirements (halal, vegan, vegetarian, coeliac, etc), providing electricity for disabled people to recharge their wheelchairs, implementing consent policies at Pagan events… the list goes on. You name it, someone will probably have exclaimed “it’s political correctness gone mad!” (or something very similar) in response to every social advance that has ever been made, right back to that dangerously radical innovation of giving the vote to women, or perhaps even further back than that.

Where does this insidious phrase come from? Its history is quite convoluted, but it has often been used as a pejorative term, and was fairly obscure (and a left-wing in-joke) until it was taken up by conservatives who were opposed to progressive educational policies. After George Bush Snr used it at a commencement ceremony at the University of Michigan in 1991, its use became widespread among conservatives to refer to anything they regarded as an “imposition of liberal orthodoxy”. It use rapidly spread to the UK, where it is used every time someone wants to do something inclusive and someone else perceives that their privilege will be eroded by being more inclusive.

One example of privilege is that non-disabled Pagans don’t have to worry about wheelchair access to venues, and expect public Pagan events to be low-cost or free, so when event organisers book a venue, they are constrained by these expectations to look for lower-cost venues, which often don’t have wheelchair access. When it is suggested that all public Pagan events should be wheelchair-accessible, even if it costs more, you are sure to hear cries of “it’s political correctness gone mad” – despite the fact that accessibility is actually a legal requirement for public events.

Similarly, inclusive Wicca advocates an expanded understanding of concepts like polarity, and a few tweaks to Wiccan rituals, to accommodate a more up-to-date concept of gender and sexuality. To hear the howls of protest from some quarters, you would have thought that inclusive Wiccans had advocated abolishing the whole of Wiccan liturgy, or something. (Meanwhile, many people outside Wicca are baffled that we are still having a conversation about this in the early 21st century.)

As Neil Gaiman wrote, however:

I was reading a book (about interjections, oddly enough) yesterday which included the phrase “In these days of political correctness…” talking about no longer making jokes that denigrated people for their culture or for the colour of their skin. And I thought, “That’s not actually anything to do with ‘political correctness’. That’s just treating other people with respect.”

(Yet another reason to love Neil Gaiman.) He goes on to suggest that people should try replacing the phrase “politically correct” wherever we can with “treating other people with respect”. And now, thanks to a New Zealander called Byron Clark, there’s actually a Google Chrome extension that does exactly that.

The latest version of “it’s political correctness gone mad” has emerged from some sections of polytheism: the accusation of “putting politics before gods”. It is particularly insidious because it implies that those of us who care about respecting the rights of our fellow humans (and of other animals) are somehow impious.

The central tenet of my religion is “only connect”: connect with other beings, respect their autonomy, honour their dreams and aspirations, and recognise the divinity within them.

I believe that divinity is immanent in everything; every being has the seeds of godhood within them. Some choose to trample on the seed, others choose to nurture it towards growth – but divinity is everywhere, however dimly reflected.

If I deny the divinity immanent in my fellow beings, then I am also denying the divinity of gods, who are expressions of the same divinity.

Therefore, in my world, treating other people with respect is honouring the gods. The ancient stories of gods and angels visiting humans disguised as mortals are metaphors to express this idea. You never know whether the stranger to whom you showed hospitality and respect was a god in disguise – so you may as well behave as if everyone you meet is a god in disguise. Because actually, they are.

 

Hospitality for the Stranger

Editors’ Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Immigration and Refugees. Read other perspectives here.

What does your faith perspective teach you about refugees? How do your politics and your religious convictions come together to inform policy and shape your attitude?

Every ancient pagan culture had very strong traditions of hospitality. These were often reinforced by telling stories of gods, goddesses, and angels disguised as mortals visiting people.

The Greeks had a strong tradition of xenia care for the stranger. This carried its own obligations and traditions. When Nausica found Odysseus washed up on the shore, her care for him was very much in the tradition of xenia.

Jacob_van_Oost_(I)_-_Mercury_and_Jupiter_in_the_House_of_Philemon_and_Baucis

Mercury and Jupiter in the House of Philemon and Baucis, by Jacob van Oost (I)Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Public Domain.

The Hávamál, which means ‘the speech of the High One’ (Odinn) also contains stanzas about hospitality, and the duties of both host and guest.

Ultimately, the two words, host and guest, are derived from the same Indo-European root word, and so imply that they were viewed as inseparable parts of the same relationship. I like to think of them as the two halves of a hinge. The relationship of guest and host is reciprocal, with sacred obligations on both sides.

The concept and practice of hospitality are very important in India too, which suggests that the practice is very ancient indeed. Both Pakistan and Germany (and other places too) have the tradition of the guest-gift, where a guest will give you a gift the first time they visit your home. People from Latvia have a tradition of giving bead and salt as a gift when you have a new house. The sharing of bread and salt are considered sacred in many cultures. Once they have been shared, the relationship of guest and host is established and sacred.

If we think back to the times when small villages were scattered among great forests, the arrival of a stranger with news from other places, new stories, new songs, and new jokes, maybe even new farming or weaving or metalworking techniques, must have been very welcome.

There were also great movements of people in ancient times: Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, and Alans; settlers from the rest of Europe and North Africa who came with the Romans; Angles, Saxons, and Jutes who fled the rising waters of the North Sea and settled in Britain. More recently, there were silver miners from Germany who settled in the Mendips; many African and Middle Eastern people; the Huguenots fleeing persecution in France; Sephardic Jews from Amsterdam, Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe, who began to arrive after the interdict against Jews was lifted in 1654 (it was put in place by King John in 1290 because he didn’t want to repay loans from Jewish bankers – who were forced to enter banking as other professions were closed to them).

Everyone in Britain probably has a refugee or an economic migrant in their ancestry somewhere, if you go back far enough. Even Kate Middleton is related to a prominent Huguenot family. And both refugees and economic migrants have contributed hugely to the UK by creating jobs and boosting the economy with their spending power and tax contributions (and if they are not from the EU, they have “no recourse to public funds” stamped in their visa – so they receive no benefits and no free NHS).

And in the US and Canada of course, unless you are 100% Native, you are an immigrant or descended from immigrants.

I feel instinctively that openness to other cultures, and welcoming the stranger and the refugee, are good things. What kind of civilisation would we be if we were not open and hospitable? One that was both ethically and culturally impoverished, would be my answer.

But I think that the gods and goddesses of Paganism – who frequently come to Earth to test the hospitality of mortals, and reward those who are hospitable, and punish those who are not – would agree that hospitality is a sacred practice and should be held in high honour.

Of course, in the case of migration to other lands, there is the point of transition from guest to resident. Here again, we see the process of reciprocity at work. The migrant has paid their tax, contributed work and money to the system, and in many cases their food style and folk customs to the culture, and so after a time they become a member of the community. In societies that welcome immigrants, such as Canada, this is expected and encouraged; and education has been geared towards welcoming diversity for the last 25 years. More xenophobic countries (such as the UK) go to extraordinary lengths to prevent the transition from guest to resident.

Both hospitality and reciprocity are Pagan virtues and have been since ancient times. Honour is also important in many Pagan traditions, and I think the honourable thing to do is to welcome the stranger. Hoarding wealth was frowned upon in ancient societies; wealth was displayed by the generosity of the ‘ring-giving lord’ who gave gold arm rings to his thegns, and the loaf-giver (hlaf-diga, the origin of the word lady). The social fabric was woven through the sacred practices of hospitality, fosterage, gift exchange, and reciprocity. We would do well to cultivate these virtues instead of xenophobia and suspicion. So I would definitely say that Pagan religions encourage us to show hospitality towards migrants and compassion for refugees.

See also:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2015/09/welcoming-the-stranger-and-the-refugee/
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2012/12/pagan-ethic-of-reciprocity/