This would probably be considered a companion post to the role we can play in improving the image of Heathenry.
We know Heathenry has a racism problem. Anti-racist Heathens, myself included, consider this a significant problem that needs to be addressed. Our religion continuing to be hijacked by extremists, violent gangs and white supremacists is a really big deal.
But I am conflicted about the way journalism portrays Heathens. Racism seems to be all anyone wants to focus on, even though there’s a whole lot more going on. Most of the time I find a news article about a Heathen that’s not from a specifically pagan-geared source, it seems the writers go out of their way to mention–or talk to–the racist Heathen contingent.
Take Dylan Sprouse, who may very well be the most visible celebrity Heathen. Here’s an interview about when he started a mead brewery.
Somehow the writer thought it was necessary to drag in a mention of Stephen MacNallen, even though Stephen MacNallen has nothing to do with brewing mead. The writer openly admits that Sprouse satisfactorily addressed their concerns, and still brings it up anyway.
And sure, Sprouse citing his ancestry as what drew him to the faith can signal a cause for concern. It’s certainly one of the doors where racists get in, and we should be mindful of that.
But there are plenty of decent, inclusive and perfectly safe Heathens who are drawn to Heathenry by that, or who discover it after the fact–including Heathens that are as anti-racist as you can get. That is a very different phenomenon from saying only people with the “right” ancestry are allowed to participate. The former is an interesting coincidence, the latter is blatant racism.
These things warrant further investigation, not leaping to formulaic conclusions.
In the spirit of investigation, I scoured Dylan Sprouse’s social media for this post, using the same metrics I use for evaluating whether any other heathen is “safe.” I like to think I’m pretty good at picking up on signs of danger like that, and I turned up absolutely nothing. The only troubling thing I found was that he loves Hidden Valley Ranch dressing way too much.
And that’s not even harmful, it’s just…odd. Like, I checked. Ranch dressing isn’t a known dogwhistle for anything. He just really, honest to gods, loves ranch dressing.
Journalists approaching Heathenry also seem to give more text and time to folkists and white supremacists. That one recent New York Times article (“Who Owns the Vikings?”) was a particularly infuriating example. It failed to even answer its own question about who Heathenry belongs to (though I recognize that it is usually editors, not writers, who choose the headline), and spent most of the article length talking about the nationalist Heathen group. Somehow the article had room for an unfinished tangent about recruitment in farmer’s markets (?), but not enough for more than a few token paragraphs about Forn Sed–the vastly more progressive group of the two mentioned in the article.
I am angry about it.
Inclusivist and anti-racist Heathens exist. Often loudly. We go out of our way to educate people on why racism has no place in our faith, and to drive the point home that Heathenry is wide open for anyone willing to do the work. We have exhaustively explained, time and time again, exactly why Heathenry is open. The bolder among us take it upon themselves to confront racist Heathens more directly.
We don’t do this for our health, and we sure as Hel don’t do it for fun. We do it because it’s important, and it’s unfortunately necessary.
So why aren’t they talking to us?
The things that scare us also tend to fascinate us. I suspect that is what drives that tendency to bring up or focus on extremists, no matter how irrelevant they are to the actual subject matter. Journalists are human, and racism is frightening. Rightly so. Nobody should be comfortable about something that is objectively dangerous.
But journalists are also professionals with a responsibility to tell the truth, or at least be sincere about their biases, and to be fair and balanced in their coverage.
When journalists fixate on interviewing nationalists and supremacists, they amplify those voices. They help that agenda spread, and they do this at the expense of progressive voices actively working against it. This is in spite of inclusivist Heathens actively reaching out to journalists to provide fact-checks and guidance. When journalists mention racist Heathen organizations and gang activity apropos of nothing, they actively participate in conflating our religion with violence and destruction.
Heathens do not have the benefit of widespread social acceptance. Nor do we have strength in numbers, with a diffuse worldwide total in the lower tens-of-thousands.
I hesitate to say that Heathens are oppressed. In the US, there are no laws that meaningfully restrict my religious practice. My neighbors know of my faith, and don’t feel compelled to cause me trouble. Nobody has physically assaulted me because of Heathenry’s association with racial terrorism. My family and friends have not disowned me. Your mileage may vary on that last one, because it’s a surface-level form of aggression, and very easy to do.
We are, however, definitely marginalized on the basis of numbers, and the lack of awareness and acceptance that go with it. Actively perpetuating a stereotype does nothing for us, and works against us.
Failing to do the research and make the effort is irresponsible.