Cross and Pentacle: Two religions at the crossroads

I was a Jesus Freak, a passionate theologian, and a Southern Baptist minister. I worked hard to convert pagans. The pagans won.

Discovering magic as a witch with an intimate knowledge of western christianity I explore the juxtaposition of these two faiths. Christianity and paganism alike are undergoing dramatic changes with parallel trends, conflicting challenges, and a growing concern for interfaith dialogue.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Rachel Dolezal and the Appropriation of Oppression

It’s been a week since Rachel Dolezal’s false racial claims made the news and just a few days since the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. I’m just beginning to understand the depth of racism, what it means to have white privilege, and how I can unlearn the colorblindness I was taught and become an ally. My mind has a hard time wrapping itself around the reality in which People of Color live, suffer, and too often die in this country.

 

As I am trying to understand the horrors and complexities of racism, my thoughts keep coming back to Rachel Dolezal. It seems to me that her story holds a key to understanding and unlearning my own racism. When I first read about her false claims of being Black, I had the same reaction most people had. Why would anyone do that? I understand why someone would want to steal Black culture. Our colonial mindset has taught us to take whatever we want from whichever culture without asking permission. Cultural appropriation makes sense from the perspective of the colonizer and oppressor. But the appropriation of an oppression that isn’t one’s own?

 

Oddly enough it made sense to me as soon as I saw a video of Dolezal’s parents speaking out against her. As I watched it, I had a deep sense of something being wrong in a way that felt familiar. It suddenly felt as if it made sense for Dolezal to claim Black oppression. It felt less incomprehensible to me, even though it didn’t make it less wrong.  

 

Then I came across an article on Homeschoolers Anonymous that revealed Dolezal was raised by fundamentalist Christian missionaries and became estranged from her family. She was allegedly subjected to blanket training and other abusive practices common in those circles. I shared the article Let’s Talk about Rachel Dolezal’s Parents on my Facebook wall, and received a reply from a Christian writer saying we shouldn’t look to her religious upbringing for answers. “If it's as common as this essay seems to say why isn't there more of this?”

 

I actually think there is a lot more of this. The appropriation of oppression is more common than we think, but rarely as visible as in the Dolezal case. I have a German family member who strongly identifies with the oppression of Jewish people, especially their persecution during Nazi Germany. The star of David and a menorah adorn her house and any disagreement with Israeli policies is interpreted as an antisemitic attack, taken very personally, despite her own lack of Jewish heritage. She reads books on Nazi Germany and suffers with each Jewish character, scans the news for Antisemitism, and experiences it all as her own oppression.

 

And I have done the same. As a young teenager I came across the popular German author Karl May who wrote novels about Native Americans, portraying them as persecuted noble savages. I didn’t see the racism, colonialism, and misogyny in his writing. What I did see was the victimization and oppression of a people and an outlet for vicariously expressing my own feelings. A family myth of Navajo heritage on the American side of my family (now thoroughly discredited by DNA tests) provided all the excuse I needed. I bought moccasins, wore feathers, and gave my bicycle a (probably made-up) Navajo name, pretending it was a wild mustang (thank the gods I survived the way I rode that bike around town).

 

Both my family member and I engaged in cultural appropriation, using symbols and practices that were sacred to a culture oppressed by our own. But we went even further and appropriated the very oppression our own people and society has caused. I believe this is more common than we think.

 

I know I often felt suffocated and oppressed in my religion, but I couldn’t admit it, not even to myself. I was taught that I enjoyed greater freedom than non-believers because I was ‘free in Christ’. The punishment and discipline I underwent as a child was enhancing my ‘freedom from sin’. I was too extroverted, too smart, too loud, too tomboyish as a girl, but stifling my true self wasn’t oppressive, it was a means for gaining the freedom of Godly womanhood. Having my experiences and emotions invalidated meant experiencing the freedom of submission to Christ. The very system that caused my oppression was touted as my liberation. When I tried to make sense of why I felt so suffocated and oppressed, I looked everywhere but the actual source the oppression.

 

As a woman in a conservative Christian culture admitting to misogyny would have caused my religious framework to crumble, so I outsourced my experiences. I looked to other cultures whose oppression was acknowledged in my religion.  I found Native American oppression through my beloved novels. My family member found Antisemitism through books on the subject and discussions in the media. I’m not surprised that Rachel Dolezal found the racism experienced by her Black siblings. Those were oppressions openly acknowledged and talked about, and not sold to us as freedoms. They were acceptable oppressions, real rather than imagined, imposed rather than constructed by our impious, rebellious thoughts.

 

Thankfully my own appropriation of Native American culture and oppression faded after my teenage years. Once I took a hard look at my upbringing I slowly unraveled the layers of my own oppression, although it would take over a decade to identify its religious roots. Looking at one’s own oppression is hard, especially if there is a strong dependence on the system that causes the oppression, which is almost always the case in controlling religions.

 

The alternative, however, is devastating. In appropriating an oppression that isn’t our own, we are perpetuating it, adding the proverbial insult to systemic and perpetual injuries. We deem ourselves allies, while ignorantly joining the oppressor. And we even perpetuate our own oppression by not looking it in the face. We become deaf to correction, for as soon as our appropriation is called out, we dig our heels deeper into our own misguided sense of persecution. I can think of no way out other than to honestly face the mirror of our own oppression as well as the ways in which we perpetuate oppression, including through appropriation. 

Last modified on
Born and raised an evangelical Christian in Germany, I joined the Jesus Freak movement as a teenager and became a passionate evangelist and worship leader. No one was surprised when I went to the US at age 19 and came back a tattooed and pierced fundamentalist Christian, betrothed to a "Chrispie" (a Christian hippie, that is). I was a virgin the day we married. Five years later I graduated bible college with highest honors and post traumatic stress disorder. I deepened both my theology and trauma on the road by traveling the country in a big yellow school bus. For three years I lived as a nomad, playing music and leading bible studies, from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. I learned that Christianity in America encompasses a wide range of beliefs and practices, from Amish groups casting demons out of school busses to Roman Catholic priests breaking into government buildings. I saw Jesus in the oddest places. And then everything changed and I ended up a polyamorous Witch in a Pagan community in California.

Comments

Additional information