Racial & Cultural Boundaries

On the surface, I appear to be a late teens to mid twenties, black female. In reality, I am a multi-cultural female knocking on the door of 30.

The fact remains, though, that I was raised black. What that means, in my particular experience, is that I wore black girl hair styles. My family was stereotypically black (hair, mannerisms, music preferences, slang and vocabulary use, etc.).

But from a young age, I didn’t identify with the “typical” traits of “blackness”. I didn’t reject anyone that did. But I didn’t.

Beginning with my extended family, I heard from a young age that I was “the least black” of all of them. Or that I was “white-washed”. All I knew at that time was that it meant I didn’t fit in; I was out of place in my family. I spoke clearly and didn’t use much slang. When I did it was words like “dude” and “cool”. I enjoyed reading and had a large vocabulary for my age. I was quiet and polite. Gentle, considerate, and compassionate. I was emotionally sensitive and didn’t take well to ribbing, teasing, or bullying.

I heard it again and consistently when I got to school. White friends would tell me how much more black they were than me because I didn’t know of this or that rapper. Or because I didn’t know anything about gang signs or colors. I came to take pride in being the token black friend in the group. I made jokes before anyone else about the lack of people of color at social gatherings. I wore jeans and screen tees. I read comics. I enjoyed pop music. I excelled in school and had no rhythm when it came to dancing. The only notches I could punch on my “black card” were my inescapable hair texture and my inability to swim.

Somehow these things could quantify how much I belonged – or didn’t belong – to my race.

Only just this year with the current climate of American society and what our present “leadership” represents, I’ve begun to really look at how that’s shaped me. I realized that I had allowed myself to be isolated from my own racial heritage.

I had a moment of crying out. This overwhelming grief overtook me and I felt the need to grieve for everything I had denied myself. I made a conscious decision to embrace those parts of me. I shaved my head to remove the processed and heat treated hair that I had clung to. I listened to music that I realized I had been refusing to listen to in fear of seeming “too black”.

And that’s where it stopped. What else could I do to “be more black”? 

I began looking at my beliefs. The magic I do, the Gods I worship – all of them are, pointedly, not black. While people of Greece and the rest of the Mediterranean are arguably people of color, it wasn’t what I was striving for. I was searching for my blackness and coming up a bit too pale.

I began researching African Deities, Haitian Voodoo and Folk Magick. Nothing pulled me. Nothing drew me in or made to embrace me.

The Greek Gods had called to me from childhood. Years before I ever heard the word Pagan I knew they were real and True. I simply assumed them long gone or otherwise inaccessible.

So why not the Gods of my ancestors?

Fast forward to a few months later when I discover that my maternal grandmother is half white. German from her mother’s blood. Something we don’t currently know from her father’s blood. She’s a quarter Cherokee. Again from her mother’s blood. And from her father, she gets blackness.  My maternal grandfather and my father’s blood seem to carry the rest of my blackness (my father’s blood may hold more secrets).

If magic is genetic, I get it from my mother’s blood. She told me stories of my grandma’s Voodoo when she was growing up. My aunt worked her craft in her own way. And here I am.

So, after all this, I find myself wondering. To what roots is my magic tied? Which of my ancestors calls me to Work?

I’ve accepted, at long last, that I’m black no matter how I speak, think, dance, dress, or wear my hair (though I’m determined to discover how the hell my natural hair actually works).

But I find myself frustrated. I look to the Pagan community for a reflection of myself somewhere and I dont see it. I find the same judgements from the Hoodoo sisters saying I’m disgracing my black blood by worshipping blue eyed Gods. The white women I know shout at me to embrace Osha in place of Persephone and Poseidon, to get to know Her. But does she want to know me? Is the power of my Gods lessened by O/our lack of physical similarity?

And now, I’m being drawn to answer the shamanic call that I keep putting off and I find yet again that it’s not born of African roots. Not even Native American roots like so very many others. It’s those far removed, Northern roots calling to me to pick up and finish the stang I made 3 years ago.

But my skin is dark. My hair is kinky and coarse. By all obvious judgements, I’m black. What place do I have in Northern Tradition Shamanism? And if there is a place for me, am I afforded the right to adapt the tradition to my own path? Or is my place so privileged that to make changes would be disrespectful?

I find myself in a position where I can’t accept the call without more clarification. But not accepting the call has it’s own consequences.

If this is the first dilemma I face in this, I might come to dread the ones that follow.

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