Empty Words Make Ugly Statements: A Response to the Covenant of the Goddess.

When I wrote about the death of Michael Brown in August, I wrote about my anguish at seeing yet another young Black man shot to death and my inability to do anything about it. When the grand jury decided that there was not enough evidence to send his murderer to trial, I stayed quiet on this blog. I also stayed quiet when the grand jury in New York decided there was not enough evidence to bring the police officer who murdered Eric Garner via an illegal chokehold, despite video evidence of Eric Garner repeatedly saying he could not breath while laying on the ground in said chokehold. I stayed quiet as witnesses to Michael Brown’s murder who testified at the grand jury have turned up dead and I have stayed quiet in the face of a rapidly expanding movement of police officers murdering Black men and women and not facing any consequences.

My silence has been because I am white and my voice is not the most important here. People with my skin tone are not being shot down for having a prescription bottle in their pocket, carrying a toy gun in the store that sells it, or standing in front of a police officer with their hands up. It would be a continuation of the systems of oppression that have driven this epidemic of state-sanctioned murder for me to be Yet Another White Person to express their outrage at these events. Outrage is a privilege these days, as it means I have the space to be angry, rather than fearful that my life will be taken from me because of the amount of melanin in my skin.

My good friend Caer pinged me this evening and asked me if I had read the press release from the Covenant of the Goddess regarding recent events, as she was writing a response to it. I had not, and I went and read it and found myself rendered mute by utter disgust and fury.

If you have not yet read this press release, this is the full text as accessed here on December 10, 2014:

We, the members of the Covenant, acknowledge and share the concern that many in our world and within our Pagan communities have voiced regarding inequalities in justice. We find that all life is sacred, and as such, all lives matter.

Today, we the members of the Covenant especially stand together with people who are not privileged by race and class and say to you: Your life matters. We stand with you and work alongside you in ending the systems that disenfranchise you. We encourage and support all efforts by those within our communities to explore the realities of racial inequality and to work to find ways to eliminate these injustices. We hope this will create a wave of introspection and reflection throughout our world, bringing about new levels of understanding and an appreciation for the unique expression of the Sacred we each embody. We stand together with communities seeking nonviolent means of safety and reform, for the unnecessary harm of any person is an affront to the Sacred and is in contrast to our central ethical tenet: An it harm none, do what ye will. May the work we do together today create a peaceful and just tomorrow.

To be blunt, this is a wishy-washy, mealy-mouthed, sunshine-and-rainbows, and utterly useless press release. You have failed, Covenant of the Goddess, and you have failed really, REALLY badly.

Instead of stepping up and making a decisive statement that the repeated murders of Black men and women is unacceptable, you speak with ambiguity. You don’t refer to ANY specific incident of ‘inequalities in justice’ and you dance on that neutrality as a way to avoid saying the nasty word of ‘racism’. In essence, you render these people who have been killed as invisible and you downplay the dirty reality of what has transpired…which is exactly what the court system has done and what the systems of oppression that support these horrible events dictates should happen. You have played the poker game just as you should, instead of upending the table that is populated by cheaters and card sharks and declaring that you will not support a system that seeks to subjugate others. You don’t even get an A for effort here.

Moreover, you make a terrible gaffe by saying ‘all lives matter’. That’s not even a heartfelt statement—it’s just another way to stand at the center of the seesaw without committing. Yes, all lives matter, but we are not dealing with all lives, are we? As the last few months have clearly shown without a shadow of any doubt, some lives matter more than others and not recognizing that is a literal whitewashing of the issue. Right now, as more and more Black people die in police actions, Black lives need to be paid much more attention because the inequality is astounding. Saying that all lives matter is a pretty way of trying to kumbaya your way through this and feel good about yourselves on the other side, and it’s sickening.

Further, you say nothing of consequence throughout your two paragraph statement and it is full of dead air. You say you support “all efforts to explore the realities of racial inequality and to work to find ways to eliminate these injustices”, but what does that mean? What is there to explore? Is there a question as to what racism means and, if so, why have you not educated yourself as an organization? You need to WORK to find ways to eliminate these things?

Here’s a place to start: make a definitive statement, period. While it would be nice if you came out as an organization that is appalled at the mistreatment of Black people in the United States, I’ll settle for any clearly worded press release that actually expresses something of meaning, rather than what you must believe is politically correct drivel that isn’t worth the space it takes up. If you want to explicitly say that the decisions of the various grand juries are correct and morally strong [because you have implicitly stated that you believe that, via not condemning either side], then do it. I won’t agree with you and I suspect many of your constituents won’t, but at least be brave enough to say what you really mean. Heck, even ‘we are making a statement because we believe we should but, really, we are afraid to have any sort of strong opinion as it might betray our own biases’ would be better.

Then, do something. Clergy of mainstream religious denominations are getting arrested for offering prayers for the souls of the victims and are participating in direct actions. Members of various pagan and polytheist religions and groups are showing up at rallies. Even those who support nonviolence are showing up with sandwiches and water for active protestors. As a group that bills itself as “one of the largest and oldest Wiccan organizations” and claims over one hundred covens under your umbrella, what are you doing beyond issuing empty platitudes? You list a variety of functions on your website, ranging from chaplaincy to law enforcement outreach to legislative activism. If you truly do all this work, it’s time to put your words into action and get out and aid those who could very well be your congregants.

Two things make this even worse. First, as I mentioned above, the inability to truly commit and say the word ‘racism’ or name the victims leaves the distinct impression that there is some significant part of your organization or governing body that believes the officers or the grand jury are above reproach.

Second, and perhaps more damning, I have heard unfortunate tales that originate within your organization saying that CoG was working on a statement that actually addressed the issues, but that it was quashed by some members in positions of power for fear of dissent in the membership. If this is true, shame on you. Afraid you’ll lose congregants? Well, if you’re worried about retaining members who believe shooting unarmed Black folks is an okay thing, then you have bigger problems than I can even comprehend. If you are a member of CoG who is a voice of dissent within your organization and you do not support the wibbly-wobbly statement issued by your governing body, speak up and support the experiences of Black people in the United States. A schism is a wonderful way to state your disapproval and moral outrage. As of this writing, I am told at least one coven has left CoG in response to this statement–good on ya, whoever you are.

Overall, I am disgusted and disappointed in you, CoG. Your words ring empty and taste of fear and they do not reflect the sense of justice you claim that your unnamed work embodies. You have failed to be a strong voice for your religion and your congregants, you have presented yourselves as unable to commit or address the reality of racism in the United States, and you have not even addressed the righteous dead by name. Instead, you have erased and smoothed over the fact that Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, John Crawford, Rumain Brisbon, and countless other unarmed Black men were killed by white police officers. Even if you cannot speak the word ‘racism’, at least lift up the names of those whose lives were cut short.

I affirm the statement that Caer makes in her most recent blog post. If you, CoG, wish to truly make a difference and work for actual justice, versus issuing statements that make you feel good, you will closely examine Caer’s words and look for your own failings there. You have a choice now, CoG—you can either issue a statement that is supported by your claims of social justice and advocacy or you can cement your legacy as a religious group that chose not only to erase the identities of the dead and whitewash the systems of oppression in the United States. It is entirely up to you and the ball is in your court while those of us on the outside watch and wait.

May your divinities guide your hands and touch your hearts and may your congregants push you to live your stated values of social justice, peace, and equality while accepting nothing less. May you speak the names of those who have died as a result of racist police action and may you bear their pain and the pain of those who loved them, if only for a moment. May your Goddess bless you with wide open eyes and a heart full of compassion and righteous anger. May you seek to empower those who society seeks to strip of their very lives and may you have the courage to speak a firm truth, even in the face of your organizational fear. In these things, may you find the blessings and peace not offered to those cut down by an unjust system.

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~ by Alex on December 11, 2014.

16 Responses to “Empty Words Make Ugly Statements: A Response to the Covenant of the Goddess.”

  1. As this is the Yule Tide, I shall seek to be as peaceful as I can. Tis not the seasons of war.

    Let me start by first saying that the color of your skin in no way affects the value of your voice. To say otherwise is to be engaging in an act of racism itself. All are equal, for to say that one is higher or lower because of their skin is racism. You may feel that your outrage is a privilege, but it is not. Outrage is your right in the face of injustice.

    But let us look to make sure that injustice is truly what is happening. We have had much talk lately of black men being killed by police. We have not had talk about just how many white people are killed by police, though from what I have heard there is in fact a parity of numbers in this. By insisting that we look only to the black lives lost to police brutality, we instead do a disservice to the dead.

    As one in service to Hel, all dead are equal to me, and I do not like to see them disservice.

    You say the CoG has made empty words that mean nothing without action. This is true, words without deeds are weak and do not mean as much as words backed by deeds. But what deeds have we seen to back up these noble words of justice by those who would act to redress the wrongs done. Towns, burned. People, murdered. In my own city, children have died because they could not reach the hospital for roads blocked by those protesting for Justice in the name of Brown. They are not alone, from what I hear.

    Brown, a man whose own deeds speak volumes. Theft and assault. Say what you will about white cops and black men, but when one man assaults another in clear view of witnesses, and that man kills his attacker in self defense, I do not care if cop or civilian a person has the right to preserve their own life as that Officer did. As the factual, scientific evidence states that he did. Or perhaps in the face of black lives matter, people should allow themselves to be killed. After all, what is a dead cop leaving behind a family? Surely his life as husband, father, brother, son, these things do not matter because of his race and his profession. Better that he die, so that black lives might live after assaulting. For as you say, a cop shooting in self defense is murder if his attacker is a black man. Surely, that is a better justice. What need have we for laws and evidence and trials if they do not suit us. Skin is the only criteria we need for justice.

    Because #alllivesmatter is a distraction, a false front. Saying that all lives matter distracts us from the issue. We should be resolute and silence our ears to the dead of white, Asian, Hispanic, or other communities at the hands of cops or others. It is the black lives that matter, because they are the ones in our media, they are the ones who are precious.

    Yes, these are the words and deeds that are strong. The CoG, with is placation is weak, as you say. Brown and those like him shall not have justice as long as the police stand, and who cares how many innocent people die in the pursuit of that justice. Or who die after that justice is fulfilled. After all…that is where those with the deeds act.

    Meanwhile, I shall remain with the dishonored dead, whose lives did not matter because of who they were and the color of their skin. I can at least protect in death what you would deny protection in life because you seek justice for only those of a certain race, regardless of their deeds.

    • While I respect that you have an opinion of your own, I can’t agree with it. All voices are NOT valued the same way. As a white person, my voice carries more weight than that of a person of color. As to what racism is, I invite you to read about the matrix of domination, systemic racisn, and the power dynamics in play within the culture of racial oppression in the United States.

      Outrage IS a privilege because I have the space to feel it, rather than be preoccupied that I will be shot on the sidewalk for the color of my skin. There is not a parity of numbers in regards to white men being murdered by police–every time that is brought up, it is a tactic aimed at trying to redirect the conversation away from the issues at hand.

      I don’t seek to only protect one group of people–I seek to bring a group of people up to pay with those of us who hold privilege that they don’t. Equality isn’t everyone being treated the same, it’s everyone existing on an equal playing field.

      As for what Hel thinks, far be it for me to be so self-assured as to speak for what She believes. However, She weeps especially hard for those down for who they are and I would like to believe Her servants don’t buy into the ‘we are all the same’ party line.

      If you are a person of color, it IS a season of war and I support people of color fighting for their lives in whatever way keeps them alive. If these are things you cannot agree with or you feel the need to wave the flag of ‘but white men, too!’, then I invite you not to read my blog.

      • So, let me be clear, you feel that based on skin color certain lives and voices have more value than others? That because of your skin color, and their skin color, more value is placed on another and less value is placed on you? I ask because I wish to be clear on this.

        And for your information, Hel and the vast majority of her servants do consider “we are all the same.” It is a bit of a hard line fact for all Gods and Goddesses of Death. Rich or poor, male or female, young or old, black or white or yellow or green, all lives end. In death, all are equal. We do not consider the lives of one group or person to be more or less valuable because the living feel that they are. If we did, well…

        Can you just imagine the imbalance of nature if we chose to kill more based on race, or age, or sex, or wealth. Oh I’m sure for a while the living would rejoice, “oh what wondrous justice, that those evil x pay with their lives,” but then, eventually, some would come along and claim that we were committing an injustice. Then people would realize that to do so, to discriminate regardless of who a person is or because someone is a thing over which they had no control over, is wrong. But Death does not care who you are, or what you are. All are Equal in Death. As it should be in life.

        You say I should look at matrices of privilege and racism, but I have need only to look at your own words to see it. You say this is a time of war for people of color, for them to fight until they have the equality they desire, but according to your line of thought and your systems of analysis, they either already have it (since your white voice is worth less than their black voice, placing them in a position of supremacy rather than equality) or they will never have it until they either take a position of supremacy or engage in a systematic extermination of those currently privileged above them in the system and take their place. Because that is exactly the zero sum point you have created by stating that not all voices or lives are equal. If the issue is black lives matter and any discussion of other people dying by the same circumstances is a distraction from “those deaths which are truly important,” then you have engaged in the act of placing black lives not in a position of equality, but in a position of supremacy, just as you have place black voices in a position of supremacy above all other voices. Further, in placing all black deaths at the hands of cops as acts of racism and murder regardless of circumstances you have created a situation in which the only solution is for black people to commit to the complete annihilation of law enforcement since the problem is systematic racism within the system, and as long as the system exists it will never be possible to eliminate said racism from the system. Therefore the only way to end it is to remove the system.

        Just as, eventually, the only way to remove the privilege from the system is to remove the privileged. And the only way to remove the privileged is with their annihilation until such time as the unprivileged are the privileged.

        You say that if I am going to wave the flag of “other lives matter too” I should not read your blog. Perhaps I shouldn’t, because your blog seems clearly intent in engaging in acts of racial supremacy, an ideology that has lead only to suffering, violence, and bloodshed. Be glad then, that I crush your hope that Hel considers some lives of greater value than others. Because in the end, at your death, it may be the one comfort you have that at least a Goddess considered you of equal value to all others, when even you yourself would not.

      • I am seriously having trouble believing you are a person of color because you so obviously do not get the issues in question. Like, at all.

  2. Nice post, Alex. I have to say that at this point I am relieved I am no longer in the broader Pagan community, as I would likely be running into those types of dancing-around-the-issue statements or the type of bullshit blame-the-victim responses like the one above, obviously written by someone with white privilege.

    • considering I’m not white, it would be hard to have white privilege. Unless of course by white/white privilege you mean I can look at scientifically verifiable facts and then judge a man’s fate by his deeds rather than his skin color, in which case, sure, white privilege. I’ll take that over being someone who makes value judgements over skin color any day. At least then I’m not a racist.

      • I have no way of knowing what you are, but your comments sound very similar to what many white people have been saying ever since Michael Brown’s case came to light.

        Judge a man’s fate by his deeds? So people should be shot for shoplifting, I guess. Strange how so many white murderers are actually taken alive.

      • except he wasn’t shot for shoplifting. He was shot trying to beat a cop potentially to death after attempting to take the officer’s gun and shoot him with it. There’s a difference, not that those who judge by skin color could see it apparently. As for white murderers getting taken in alive…most of them don’t go for the cop’s guns.

      • If you don’t want to educate yourself, that’s fine. I’m not going to debate you, though, regardless of how many posts you make or what you think is the truth. You can’t crush my hopes, you don’t speak for Hel or any of divinity who works in the black building, and ‘we’–those of us who interact with the divinities of death–do not agree on anything. If these are things you find difficult to resolve, then, again, don’t read my blog. These things are not negotiable.

      • Education is not the problem. I already know all that you would teach, and I know things beyond that which you do not know and seem willfully ignorant of.

        And maybe, just maybe, before you claim I don’t speak for Hel, you should actually find out who I am and who exactly it is that you are talking to. But then, I would not want to over burden you with facts or education. Clearly you have enough of that on your own. Which might be why you are where you are…and I am where I am. Clearly, there is no room at your table for differing ideals or the negotiation of things beyond your dogma, so I will bid you good day for now. I will see you at the end of all things.

      • I am of two minds here. The first is to feel deeply sad that some person on the internet so fully believes these things.

        The second involves giving in to the deep and satisfying sense of mirth that I feel having had a person who feels important on the internet do a ‘but you don’t know who I am!’.

        Regardless, I will leave this as a sign post to illustrate what happens when too much internet is put into play. Be well, and may your divinities deliver to you exactly to the letter what you desire.

      • Strange that for someone who was in danger of being beat to death, the former Officer Wilson has virtually no marks on his face. “Facts” in the Southern U.S. usually favor those in power.

    • Yup. I am so glad that I don’t have much contact in my day – to – day with folks who believe this sort of stuff or who want to toe what they believe is a PC line. There are few things I am unwilling to budge on, and this is one of the big immovable ones.

    • Also, gotta love the “more spiritually connected than thou” attitude. So condescending.

      • Right? And always unfounded. When I was younger, I did that stuff, too. However, I do get the giggles when someone tries to be all spooky at me because they want to be special.

  3. This is specifically the reason I have remained quiet on my own little blog. I have nothing of meaning to say as a middle-class woman of Irish and then some decent. If you have nothing of worth to say, don’t say anything at all. Otherwise, you’ll likely detract from the conversation.

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