Back in May, a white supremacist touting himself as a Heathen stabbed and killed two young men on a train in Portland, Oregon, when those two young men attempted to protect a pair of Muslim women from the supremacist’s attacks on them. Members all across the Heathen Community raised their voices in an attempt to educate the rest of the world on what we actually believe and practice, lest we get lumped in with the “bad Heathens”. I rarely get political, but it was enough to drive me to write a blog post about Declaration 127.
On August 12, 2017, violence erupted when white nationalists gathered for a “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia. Ostensibly organized to prevent the removal of yet another remnant of Confederate history–this time, a statue of Robert E. Lee–from a city park, it quickly became apparent that this “march” was more about making history repeat itself, than about defending history so that it doesn’t repeat. The white nationalists gathered around the site, “defending” it with Viking-styled shields. Don’t believe me? Check this out:
(You can find that photo here.)
The response of the Heathen community in the wake of what has been described by some as an act of domestic terrorism? Thus far, I’ve seen maybe two posts. And I’m not enjoying the silence….neither is Tyr.
As technically-a-person-of-color (I’m of Asian descent; Chinese, specifically) who happens to be Heathen, and also happens to be spending his afterlife inhabiting a white Southern woman, I find that once again, I cannot keep my mouth shut. I can’t keep politics off of this blog right now; to do so would go against every fiber of who and what I am. Before I proceed, you might want to thoroughly acquaint yourself with the beginning of that last sentence: I am not a white guy; repeat: I am not a white guy. I’m also devoutly Heathen. All set? Okay, that clarification completely out of the way, let’s continue:
As a group of people practicing a Reconstructionist or at least Reconstructionist-derived religion, Heathens, on the whole, are obsessed with history. We only know what we know about our faith–enough to actually have this faith and have it continue to exist–because of historians, and anthropologists, and archaeologists. Because we are so needfully well-acquainted with history, most of us are also very well aware of that old adage:
Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. ~Edmund Burke
Edmund Burke was an Irish statesman–a Dubliner, to be precise–as well as an author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher, who supported the American Revolution. It’s a great quote, and growing more and more powerful by the day in our modern age, but the truth is, there are absolutely zero corroborating sources proving that Burke ever actually said or wrote those words. That he said them first is a tradition. However, we do know of someone else who absolutely said something quite similar:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~George Santayana
So who the heck was George Santayana? He was a Spanish philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist who was raised and educated in the United States from the age of eight and identified himself as an American, even though he maintained dual citizenship. In fact, he spent most of his life not far from where I’m writing this: in Boston, Massachusetts, the birthplace of the very same Revolution that Edmund Burke so firmly supported.
Why is that so important for this discussion: that Santayana was of Latin/Hispanic descent? Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, you can likely arrive at that answer easily enough. A person of color, and specifically, an immigrant person of Spanish descent actually said the words that both sides of the present argument are constantly using against each other in the worst ways imaginable. Chew on that for a minute.
Michelle and I both have written numerous posts here and elsewhere in defense of not tearing down Confederate monuments, and not erasing the Confederate flag as a symbol of heritage (not hate!), largely based on the argument of Santayana’s famous quote. We stand by those arguments. However, on the other side of our arguments, which come from a very genuine place of standing behind that aphorism, there are people like those guys with the viking-style shields in Charlottesville, Virginia who are ostensibly defending the same things for the same reasons, but not really. And they proved that conclusively on Saturday, August 12, 2017.
Because those people wouldn’t “dirty their mouths” with a quote from a Spanish immigrant, if they had actually known that was who said it. It would be totally valid and “okay” if it had been said by the white guy from Dublin, but, oh my, the shock and disgust if they realized it had been said by a Spanish immigrant! (Who’s mother, by the way, was raised in the Philippines.)
This brief history of quotes (and the juicy irony involved) aside, the fact remains that the initial vision of those white nationalists (before the “real violence” ensued) is an image of a bunch of white, bearded dudes, standing in solidarity, behind a freaking Viking-style shield wall. The guy who actually drove the car that killed the one person who perished in this “debacle”–who, incidentally, was white, just like the two young men who lost their lives in Portland, Oregon, back in May (not that that should matter, mind you, but the tragic irony should not be lost on anyone, which is why I point it out)–also stood in that initial wall, holding a shield.
(Don’t believe me? Check out this photo. He’s the second from the left, in front of a poster bearing yet more appropriated Heathen symbols, as well as appropriated Christian symbols: the Algiz rune, and a Chi Rho, respectively.)
And yet the Heathen community stands largely silent this time around, and I would really, very dearly, like to know why? So would Tyr.
For that matter, why aren’t Christians screaming about their symbology being appropriated by these asshats? Because not all Christians are of the conservative, alt-right variety, anymore than all Heathens are of the white supremacist, neo-Nazi variety….
Plenty of people were out there screaming and yelling and having hissy fits back in 2015, when the outcry against the Confederate flag grew so loud that the General Lee, the car driven by the Dukes of Hazard, legit got a makeover, and resulted in the show (still in syndication) getting banned, even though most of its storylines that even touched on race relations in the South involved inclusiveness, rather than bigotry. (Though I never really cared for the show, I can honestly say it was a bit of a “redneck primer” on inclusivity, and I give it kudos for doing that way back in the 1970s.) Yet when it comes to actual religious symbols from whatever faith being bastardized, everybody’s suddenly mute? What gives?
Instead of an outcry on either side of the religious divide over such important matters, the one thing that everybody seems to be able to agree on is crucifying our current president for his statements in the aftermath of Charlottesville 2017. I am not a fan of Donald Trump. I try to largely keep my opinions on such things out of this blog, off of our Facebook page, and generally out of my sphere of discussion in general. Trump gets zero frith in my heart or mind, to the point that he’s so utangardh that he basically doesn’t exist to me. In other words, I put him so “far away from me” that I don’t let his energy touch my own in any capacity. I find that’s healthier for me. However, while I can understand people’s outrage that he did not single out the white supremacists involved (further proof, most argue, that he’s “in bed” with those people), that’s not the rhetoric being used by most people in opposition to his reaction to decry what he said. No, what he’s being crucified for is saying that there was wrong on both sides. Honestly, this is one of the few times in his presidency that he’s actually said something halfway honest or halfway correct.
So how dare I make such a statement? How could somebody–anybody–who is against racism and patently against Trump himself deign to say such a thing? Because we’re living in a world where everybody so desperately wants their side to be right that they’re willing to invoke violence to prove it, no matter how wrong they actually are, and even an imbecile like Trump can see it!
Don’t get it twisted: I am in no way, shape, form or fashion attempting to defend Trump in all this. What I am saying is that if what he actually meant in his statements is that “two wrongs never make a right“, then for one, brief shining moment in his presidency, he’s actually been right about something! And we should probably all take a moment to bask in the shock of that, before moving on toward cohesion.
Because I don’t know if anybody else has recognized this yet, but our country hasn’t had anything remotely resembling cohesion, when it comes to racial relations, since seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin fell to gunfire on a rainy February day in Florida in 2012. That was during the Obama administration, folks–long before Trump was even a glimmer in the eye of the American conservative right-wing; back when he was just some orange-haired loudmouth whose primary vocabulary consisted of the words “You’re fired!”. That was when we actually had a president of color! That was the tragic death that began both the “Black Lives Matter” and the “Thin Blue Line” movements, and yet, forgotten by most people in the ensuing violence, raging arguments on both sides, and subsequent hate crimes, the dude who actually shot Trayvon Martin was also a person of color, and patently not a cop: George Zimmerman is a man of Hispanic descent (specifically, Peruvian) who worked as an insurance fraud investigator while working towards an associate degree in criminal justice. Zimmerman shot Martin while “serving” as the head of the local Neighborhood Watch program: he thought Trayvon “looked suspicious”, pursued the young man, and subsequently shot him.
What color the people involved in a situation–any situation–are ultimately does not matter when innocent lives are being lost. The symbols of my faith and your faith ultimately do not matter when innocent lives are being lost, either. What ultimately matters is that we are all one family–the human race–and when we lose even one member of that family, we all lose. There are no sides in that; there shouldn’t be any sides at all! When someone dies innocently, everybody loses. Period.
If people are going to be building shield-walls around anything–any ideology–it should be that one! Yet, that isn’t the case, unfortunately. In fact, in most circles nowadays, if you have the cajones to say the words “all lives matter“, you’re instantly labeled as part of the racist scum! How the hell does that work out?
I became Heathen because faith, folk, and family was an ideal I could get behind: because, for me, treating other people honorably and fairly is the very crux of my faith, and the entire human race is both my folk and my family. Very quickly, I discovered this was patently not what these words represented to most other Heathens, thanks to the bastardization of that phrase by the white supremacists among us. To that subset, faith means guarding (white) folk and their (white) family from any outside forces seeking to “muddy” those waters with “other colored blood”. Gobsmacked really is too small a word to describe how I felt upon said discovery. I came to this Path because the core of it–that phrase, now bastardized–represented everything to me that I have believed my entire life, and now I am left with the astonishing realization that, like that famous quote from The Princess Bride, that phrase “does not mean what I think it means”.
And maybe that’s the main reason why people are so gods-damned silent in the wake of Charlottesville 2017, even when the bastardization of the symbols of our faith are so morbidly less hidden in this “debacle”, than they were in the crime committed against those two young men (and the Muslim women they were trying to defend) in Portland, Oregon, three months ago. Maybe it’s because the very foundation of our faith has become rocky ground on which to stand. Or maybe it’s because there are far too many would-be Vikings among us, and not enough faithfilled people. That “us versus them” sentiment was the very thing on which the Viking mindset rested, wasn’t it? I mean, after all? We see the thirst for it–that “us versus them” mentality–every time a member of our community says foul things about “those Christians”, lumping every follower of Christ in with the conservative crap-eaters; every time a member of our community talks about the Christian “weak god” or “dead god”; every time a member of our community types the letters UPG with hate and disdain as an expression of how “non-historically-accurate” true experiences of living faith are or possibly can be. It’s hard to cry out against people taking sides–no matter what those sides might be–when you’re a community divided in upon itself because people are so damned busy creating sides to take!
As a Chinese-American dead guy inhabiting a white Southern woman, I am quickly reaching a point where I am honestly afraid to wear my Thor’s Hammer in public or proudly show off any of the other symbols of my Heathen faith–runes included. I’m afraid that people will “get the wrong impression” and label me as a racist. I am just as afraid, at this point, of the “inclusivity-championing liberals” as many Muslims, Hispanics, and African-Americans are of certain factions of the conservative right-wing. And it patently should not be that way for either side of the equation! Yet, here we are. And silence by our community in the wake of Charlottesville 2017 only serves to perpetuate that climate of fear.
So I will not join in that silence!
My faith is in a Deity(s) Who looks down upon this human race and sees, without doubt, and for once and for all, that we are all the same family. My folk are those who will stand with me, against injustice: whether that injustice is due to race, creed, gender, or any other “dividing” factor. And my family is the human race. As Bruce Lee once said:
“Under the sky, under the heavens, Man, there is but one family.”
And I raise my own shield, not to defend some statue wrought by human hands in another time or place, or even some distant history which is too easily revised to suit the current political climate, but instead to defend that Truth which has always been with us:
We all matter. Every man and woman is someone else’s mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, child. And every mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, and child matters.
We will never enjoy true peace until we realize this. Hate will continue to grow, no matter how bright and shining the motives of those who decide to take the side of the Right and the Just. Until everyone is on that same side–so long as sides remain–we’re all living in No Man’s Land. And No Man’s Land is the place of stalemates, not victory.