To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Part 8: Post 9: A Winter's Conversation

“Well, it’s National White People Think About Race Day,” said Jahred, cynically. He is white, by the way.

“What?” I asked, startled. A group of us were sitting around the Great Hall. It was snowing outside, hard but very pretty, and I had been reading while the others played cards or talked. Joanna was telling one of the Ravens about her tarot deck while Willa looked on. This was just the other day.

“It’s Martin Luther King Day,” explained Jahred.

“Is it?” asked Ollie. “It’s what comes of not watching TV, I suppose. Not knowing.”

“And not being in high school,” I added. “No day off, and no thematically related lessons.”

“Exactly,” said Jahred, leaning forward, engaged. “No teachers to tell you to think about race, this day, as if they really thought it was important. But they don’t talk about it the rest of the year.”

“Martin Luther King Jr. has always been a relatively safe black man,” commented Greg, dryly. “Since he died.”

“Like Jesus,” said Andy.

“Huh?” said I. “Jesus wasn’t black, was he?”

“You’re talking like a pagan now!” crowed Joanna. “You said ‘was,’ not ‘is’!” I ignored her. The others ignored me. Ollie put down his cards.

“You’re right,” he told Andy. “Jesus was a radical, as was Martin Luther King, His follower. Neither of them were easy to deal with or "safe" politically. They weren’t domesticated. We forget that about them. I didn’t know you thought about that sort of thing.”

“I didn’t used to,” Andy replied.

"Tarot of the Cat People" Card
“Not thinking about race is a privilege of white people,” put in Greg, maybe steering the conversation back, trying to deny us that privilege. Or maybe he was just saying whatever came into his head. He didn’t look like he was in teaching mode. He looked casual, almost sleepy, with his feet curled up into his robes, his head leaning against his pale brown fist. I could see the falling snow reflected in his glasses when I looked at him.

“We are all white here,” said Jim, looking around. “Why?”

“Hey!” objected Oak, who looks, maybe, Indian. I mean, from India. I’ve never asked, though.

“You don’t count. You’re adopted,” Jim declared. Oak looked dumbfounded. “I mean, why don’t non-white people come here? As students, I mean.” He nodded at Greg, who never was a student, acknowledging him. “What about this place doesn’t attract people of color?”

“We do, in fact, have some black students,” pointed out Ollie. “Not many, but there aren’t very many black people in college, right? Maybe we just aren’t any different, in that respect, than any other school?”

Jim shook his head.

“Nationally, almost 12 percent of college students are black. Our student body is 102 people, and we have four black students. That’s low. Plus Hispanics, Asians...I haven't counted it all up.”

“Well, most of us are Wiccan,” volunteered Raven. “Are there any black Wiccans?”

“Of course there are black Wiccans!” declared Willa. “Two of them go here!

“I didn’t mean are there any, I meant there aren’t very many. Aren’t most black pagans into Vodou  or Santeria?”

“I thought Santeria was a form of Christianity? They worship the saints.” Joanna frowned a little as she said it.

“What is Santeria?” asked Andy.

“It is not Christianity,” asserted Ollie. “Even the Catholics don’t worship saints. They venerate them.”

“’Venerate’ from ‘Venus,’ same as ‘venereal,’” giggled Willa. “The original sacredness!”

“Whatever you say,” said Ollie. Will stopped giggling and frowned.

“In any case,” added Willa, “no, not all black pagans are in the African diaspora religions. Religion isn’t about skin color. You can be in whatever religion you want to be, however the gods call you.”

“You can’t always tell, anyway,” said Oak. “I’m mostly Pakistani, but my great-grandfather was British, or maybe Scottish. I’ve always thought that’s why Celtic Wicca appealed to me.” Raven was nodding.

“You can’t tell,” she affirmed. “And anyway, the color you are now might not be the color you were in a past life. I’m mostly Scandinavian, but I have strong past-life memories of being Greek. Even when I was being raised Christian, I was always fascinated by the Greek gods and goddesses. And, you know, there are people here who feel Celtic, or who feel Native American, no matter what their color. It’s probably all past-life stuff.”

“Does that even make sense?” questioned Ollie. “You’re supposing that race is directly linked to religious affiliation, and if it doesn’t seem to be, you must have a distant ancestor or a past life!”

“That isn’t what I meant!”

“Why can’t we all just focus on finding the truth,” asked Andy. “The truth is color-blind.” But everyone ignored him.

“Do you think religious affiliation should be color-blind?” Greg asked. “Should everyone be able to adopt Native American traditions, for example?”

“Why not?” said Raven. “You teach Buddhism to people whose ancestry isn’t Japanese.”

“Buddhism wanders. The Japanese do not own it. Anyway, I don’t think Japan has anything to worry about from imperialism.” Greg smiled a little as he said it. That smile the only time I've ever seen him express any hint of pride in Japan as a world power. It seemed odd, coming from him.

“I think it’s ok for a white person to become a…"Joanna paused for a moment, thinking, "--whatever you call someone with Native American beliefs, or a Vodouisant, or whatever else, but you’ve got to really do it. Join the tribe, or whatever else, whatever that tradition demands that you do. Hanging a dream catcher on your rear-view mirror isn’t a religion.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” said Ollie. “I wouldn’t like it if someone were running around saying
Rose Hips in Snow
they were Christian and they’d never been baptized.”

“Or didn’t really believe,” added Andy. “Except that’s all you have to do, is believe. Christianity isn’t for saints. Not particularly.”

“You know whose birthday is on the same day as King’s?” asked Jim. “Dian Fossey. Now there is another subsequently domesticated martyr.”

I looked out the window. The snow was piling up on the porch railing, covering the rose bushes, making them soft, white humps. I was drinking white cedar tea. It smelled good.

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