Sunday, 22 August 2010

Discrimination, Discretion, and Presentation

I was linked via email to this YouTube video of a young man who experienced religious harassment in his workplace, and it's worth the ten minutes of your time to hear his story. I am sympathetic, because I too experienced workplace bullying that was most likely of a religious origin, but at the same time I have to wonder if what he experienced--and what I experienced--was even slightly self-inflicted through lack of discretion.

(I just had an enormously strong flash of deja vu as I typed that; but then, I've been awake for less than half an hour, so I'm enclined to discount all weird brain phenomena until I'm fully conscious.)

What happened to me, over a decade ago now, isn't too hard to figure out. I trusted someone in the office who turned out to have a big mouth and not as open a mind as I'd thought; my web site became known to people with the ability to make my life very uncomfortable, and they did. I found a better job and I left. Could I prove that their behavior was religiously motivated? No; but the timing was suspicious enough that I can think of no other reason. Even had it been absolutely blatant, I would have been disinclined to try to press charges, for how on earth could I have proven anything? Plus, it wasn't like people ganged together to perform an exorcism on me at lunch time, or came round anointing my cubicle with holy water. They were just bitches to me, and when they started falsifying reports to make it appear that I wasn't producing (when I was in fact the department's top producer), I walked. And as much as I blamed them for being bitches, I also blamed myself for forgetting the cardinal rule of trust no one and thinking I worked with intellectual, tolerant people who could handle difference. (There was a transwoman who came to work there, too, and she lasted maybe a week; before she quit she sought me out and told me I was the only person at the place that talked to her like a human being. That makes me sad, and angry, to this day.)

As for the young man in the video, I am sympathetic, but only to a point. Some of you are probably going to accuse me of victim-blaming, but honestly, don't we all have at least some culpability in the way our actions impact our existence? (And shouldn't witches of all people be more cognizant of that than most?) He lives in Birmingham, Alabama of all places; is that a town you associate with religious liberty and tolerance? He has a wicca-focused YouTube channel and states that his tormentors knew of it; how did they find it? Did he speak openly of it at work? Did he wear ostentatious pagan jewelry? Was he an out-and-proud pagan in places where being one of the Hidden Children would have been more prudent? The old saying Discretion is the better part of valor is extremely applicable in these situations; knowing when to speak, to whom, and what the potential costs might be are difficult lessons which all of us on magical paths will eventually face. I don't fault this young man for his learning curve; I can only hope that he'll emerge from his experience stronger and wiser for it.

Lastly, let's talk about presentation, because this has become a big issue with me. I often cringe at the way my ostensible coreligionists present themselves: little attention given to clothing, questionable hygiene, unhealthy behaviors, bad grammar and spelling, etc. In short, an overall lack of professionalism. Pagans won't be taken seriously until they behave seriously--you know, like adults? Just a little? This video opens with bad spelling, then shows us a young man in clothing that says "I don't care how I appear to you." I understand that impulse; I followed it myself for years, with a splendid defiant disregard; but it handicapped me, and I can admit that now. He's got a two-liter bottle of soda in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and those things say "I don't care about my health, or about how I appear to you." And he frankly lost me when he stubbed out that cigarette on the ground (he is speaking in an outdoor setting) and left the butt on the ground. That says "I don't care about my health, I don't care about how I appear to you, and even though I say I'm a member of an earth-centered religion, I don't really care much about the earth, either." I scanned through some of the rest of the video after that, but I was disengaged. And I can guarantee that other viewers who are even less inclined to be sympathetic to a pagan cause than I will have checked out for those or other reasons as well.

If we--all of us who for whatever reason cluster beneath the umbrella of "pagan," willingly or grudgingly--cannot present ourselves effectively, our every effort is doomed to failure. A subculture cannot operate independently of its larger culture; and if it attempts to do so, it has to be aware there will be consequences, and accept them as inevitable. If we want fair and equitable treatment, we must present our case in a way that the larger culture will understand; we need, in short, credible witnesses. (I don't know that I come across that well myself, because I'm obnoxious and obtuse and sometimes insufferably pompous; but the other extreme isn't any more effective.)

No comments:

Post a Comment