I’m doing some slow and challenging work around deconstructing Little Red Tarot and looking at how it can embody feminist, anticapitalist and anti-oppressive principles. It’s taking time, and it’s helpful for me to brain-dump from time to time. This My Business is a Garden tag is where I’m doing that openly, so that LRT readers have the option of seeing this process. If you read these pieces, please take them as works in progress rather than conclusions or statements.
This work takes place in community. Not one of these ideas is mine and I do not claim ownership of these ideas when I post them here. I am inspired, guided and/or supported in this work by numerous people and programmes, including but not limited to adrienne maree brown and Emergent Strategy, Jennifer Armbrust, Desiree Adaway‘s Freedom School programme, and Tada Hozumi‘s work on the cultural nervous system. I am also inspired, guided and/or supported by a huge number of folks who are part of or in relationship with our beloved and complex #witchyqueer community.
Six weeks ago, I heard about a conflict within what I call the #witchyqueer community.
I received various pieces of this conflict by email from different people who were either directly involved, or witnessed what happened. Much of this information conflicts and/or intersects. It’s a situation that involves white supremacy, racism (including anti-Black and inter-POC racism), abuse/manipulation of power, poor facilitation, performative allyship, and issues around accountability and non-accountability – along with, of course, a lot of pain, trauma, and anger.
And it’s nothing new. I believe this situation replicates the fucked-up power dynamics that arise directly and indirectly from white supremacy since forever.
I’ve been sitting with this particular situation since it reached me, letting it percolate in turn through my head, my heart, and down through my gut. Over this time I have moved from a very Knight of Swords-type reaction (“Urgent! React immediately! Judge! Bring the pain and the conflict and the most heightened, vulnerable feelings into LRT so we can deal with it!” without any consideration for how to hold that responsibly, or what would happen after this) …to something humbler and steadier and more honest.
I have witnessed my own reaction shift from one of performance to one of authenticity. From one of abdication (of power, responsibility, discernment) to one of consciousness.
This led me to ask what now sounds obvious:
What is the most progressive, most healing, most honest, most accountable thing I (both personally and as the owner of LRT) can do right now, in alignment with our values?
Here’s what I came up with:
My work, both as an imperfect individual in the movement and as the owner/holder of this space – a role that brings power and responsibility – is to figure out what the lessons are, and then to examine Little Red Tarot in light of those lessons, and then to take action to change what needs to be changed.
Being accountable means doing deep and honest reflection on the space that I control, and working out what needs to change so that we don’t endlessly replicate past mistakes.
It means understanding and learning from the mistakes being made in our community and the harm done by those mistakes and to whom, and the impact of that harm.
It means sitting with that awful feeling of “shit – that could have been me – I could have made that mistake”, then going beyond it. Why is it that I could have made the same mistakes? What do I need to learn and unlearn? To call out is easy. To cast stones would be to say “I/we have it all sorted over here” …and that is so far from the truth.
It means personal and collective shadow work.
It means allowing this work the space and time it needs to happen deeply, genuinely, and sustainably.
This work is both urgent, and painstakingly slow – but it will happen sooner if we can all get on board. And I believe LRT can play a role in getting people on board, by getting really honest about how white supremacy and other oppressions play out within the spaces we create.
We are learning. We have to keep learning.
Learning to move through fear and discomfort and look right into the heart, to the roots, of what happened here and taking responsibility for the parts where I/we can effect change.
Until we are able to do this – to reflect and change as a community – we will continue to operate in the very same way as the mainstream we are so enraged by.
This one conflict is incredibly painful – and it is a reflection of serious issues that bubble away within the #witchyqueer community. Even as we busy ourselves pointing critically to the wider world. Even as we congratulate ourselves for being inclusive, radical, progressive. We are so quick to shout about systemic oppression outside of our community. What we often fail to do is talk about how these things play out in our own ‘safer spaces’.
Within the #witchyqueer community, white supremacy still rules.
We have to get honest about that.
We still – consciously or unconsciously – perpetuate oppressive practices, often failing to hold ourselves accountable. We (white people) fail to notice that people of colour don’t have the same access to platform or reach (for example). We tokenise. We curate our social media pages. We work from a space of fear, rather than from true love of justice. We leverage our own privileges even as we talk about the evils of privilege and attempt to unpack it all. We go as far as we are comfortable going, and then we retreat when we reach our edges. I know I am not the only person who has used self-care or ‘pick your battles’ as an excuse not to tackle the injustice under my nose. I know that I am not the only person who has made important decisions from a place of guilt and fear, rather than from a passionate, grounded belief in what is right.
Perilously, we also allow our guilt to dominate our decision-making, and thus we (often unconsciously) try to give away our power in inauthentic or performative ways. Power makes us feel guilty and ashamed, so we pretend we don’t have it. We abdicate on making conscious, authentic decisions, which makes us prone to making irresponsible, non-conscious decisions. This does not ‘level the field’ as we would like. It just creates more mess. It is a privilege to abdicate, to ghost on the power and responsibility we hold in this moment. Allyship is about recognising that power, owning it, sharing it, becoming conscious.
Little Red Tarot aims to be an inclusive, far-left, progressive voice within the #witchyqueer community. We share stories, articles, experiences from a small but growing range of marginalised voices, and as budget and capacity allows, we seek to add new and different voices to this mix. We talk about politics and spirituality and the intersections of personal and collective liberation. Things can get very vulnerable and personal here, and pain and trauma are shared alongside stories of healing and hope. And it’s a work in progress.
At the same time, this is a space owned and run by one middle-class, cis, white, queer British woman. It would be ridiculous to suggest that white supremacy isn’t playing out in the way this site is run – because as a white person, white supremacy is within me. Regardless how I feel about it, it’s right there, contributing to my decisions. It has been put there by generations, it was put there by school and my parents and by tv and the internet and by walking down the street and by everything, everywhere. Despite intentions, decisions I make every day contribute to the upholding of white supremacy.
I know this to be true of all of my white colleagues. within this community, and beyond.
I know that it hurts us. I know that it causes us to live in fear, and to perpetuate harm.
I know that it offers me a choice. I can sit in my guilt, abdicate my power, cast stones and blame at others because it is easier than doing my own work, because it is safer to sit in the relief that it wasn’t me that got called out (this time). Or I can name it, talk about it, be ready to make mistakes, be ready to learn, to go deeper.
My white privilege has made it easier for me to create a platform that is widely read and valued. My class privilege has enabled me to live cheaply and work for little money whilst building this space – which has helped me to create a sustainable livelihood. My cis and able-bodied privileges have meant far fewer barriers have stood in my way as I have developed this platform.
White privilege has allowed me to be ignorant of deeper issues in our community. To feel that we have created a safe and inclusive space, not noticing that racism and other oppressions are continually played out all around us. Situations like the one I mentioned above seem to come ‘out of the blue’. “But I thought we didn’t have racism in this community? I though we were inclusive?”
(Where have we heard this before? We didn’t think Trump would really be elected. We didn’t think that many people would vote for Brexit. Right?)
We have to get real with ourselves. Until we do, we are destined to keep repeating the same old shit, perpetuating the same old pain.
I can’t change the privileges I have, and I’m far beyond sitting in guilt.
What I can do next is leverage my privilege – in the form of this platform – in order to amplify the uncomfortable conversations we need to be having and (I hope) move us forwards.
My commitment is to doing the groundwork needed to hold these conversations safely and responsibly.
By ‘groundwork’ I mean work such as:
- Recognising the limits of my own skills and knowledge as an individual, and bringing in the skills and knowledge of others. What ground rules are needed, what skills and experience do we need to craft truly safe containers for vulnerable, painful conversations to take place, and for them to lead towards accountability, justice and healing? Who needs to be at the table? Who makes decisions, and how?
- Giving care and attention not only to the moment of sharing pain and trauma, but to what happens afterwards. Who will support a harmed person or community once they have spilled their guts? Who will support the supporter? Who will tirelessly pull the focus back from performance and drama to the root issues, to the work, and how will they do that? Who will move things forwards so we can step out of the pain and guilt and shame and into accountability and justice and healing, and how will they do that? What needs to be in place before we do this so that we can go deeper, to learn more, to unravel more of the web of privilege and oppression?
- Considering and talking about what real healing looks like – for harmed people and communities, for the wider community, for perpetrators of harm. How do we move from callout culture, which has its place but falls so very short when it comes to progress, to a place where we understand that healing will only happen when we are safe to be our whole, imperfect, hurting selves?
I don’t have the answers to these questions yet. Answering them is my work. Little Red Tarot’s Guiding Values are my compass.
Once this foundational work is done, I commit LRT to holding space for writing that:
- Uplifts Black and other oppressed voices so that the harm perpetuated within our community can be witnessed and understood.
- Provides education for the whole community, so that we can recognise what supremacy looks like in practice, and can learn and reflect and show up to our work conscious, well-informed, more authentically committed to dismantling systemic oppression wherever we find it in our lives.
- Creates space for perpetrators of harm (meaning when this harm is done unintentionally, by folks who are within our movements and intend to learn and grow – not to give platform to those who wilfully harm) to step into accountability, to acknowledge and fully own mistakes or misjudgements, to own the harm they/we cause and explain how they/we will do better.
- Creates space for genuine healing – for harmed/oppressed people, for harmed/oppressed communities, and for the wider community. Because we only get free together, and as long as some of us are experiencing harm, none of us are free, and all of us are harmed.
This work is not happening/will not happen quickly. I want LRT to be a responsible, accountable platform. I want this to be a space where we do the work slowly and deeply, not quickly and without space to examine the roots of what we’re discussing. That is what this groundwork is for. That is why this very piece may seem waffling and non-specific. It is an attempt to articulate the enormity of the task.
[Note: At this moment I am questioning everything about LRT, including its structure as a top-down, privately-owned blog, and the ethics and implications of that when we step forwards into much more challenging and important conversations. I am questioning when and how I use “I” and when I use “we”. I am questioning who is at this table and who is making decisions and why and what that means.]
Allyship is an everyday practice and a learning curve, not a performance.
It’s not a blog post or a social media share or a ‘like’. It’s not a display of anger, it’s not a free pass to abdication. It’s not grabbing the mic and shouting. Opening up a platform and inviting in marginalised, trauma-informed voices is a vital part of our movement, but on its own this does not create a safe and progressive space – as the situation I mentioned has shown.
The accountability, the true allyship, is in giving a shit-ton of care and thought and attention to the crafting of a safe container for these painful conversations to take place. It’s ensuring that there are radically inclusive ground rules. It’s being deeply conscious of the voices that are participating and those that are absent. It’s in thinking about what happens next, and how space will be made for healing and accountability. It’s in being clear about terms, about payment, about expectations. It is about knowing what approach we are taking here at LRT and being committed to that approach, even as other spaces take different approaches. It is in remaining grounded in my own values and rooted in my own aims, whilst being flexible and adaptable and open and listening.
That is the role I’m stepping into. That is the work I am committed to doing. That is the work I will do.
I’ve hammered this quote pretty heavily lately. It bears repeating:
NO ONE WAY WORKS, it will take all of us
shoving at the thing from all sides
to bring it down.
Diane di Prima, Revolutionary Letters
Edited 19th July to clarify a couple of confusing sentences.