Expert Witness

Expert Witness

As a bisexual woman of African and Cherokee descent, from a working class background, I am an expert on my oppression. There are others in this room who may be experts on the various facets of racism. I will share my personal insights and strategies. During talk back, other experts on racism will have an opportunity to share their insights as well. At times our statements will appear to be contradictory. Our challenge as allies is to find the common within the dis-similar, the pearl of truth within the contradictions. To be an ally is surely not an easy role, you must learn to trust the eyes, ears and heart of another person. A person with whom you may have nothing in common or just about everything in common save one aspect. You must believe what you can not see, hear, touch, taste or feel. It is a lot like faith. This is surely the reason why we are gathered in this sacred space.

Prejudice versus Oppression

I need to make a distinction between prejudice and oppression. We all have prejudices. We usually understand and accept differences amongst people like ourselves, and for convenience sake categorized the other into easily remember stereotypes. Tall people play basketball, blonds are dumb, fat people are jolly, women are weak, men are strong, Asians are smart, Blacks are dumb, Southerners are slow, Jews are good in business, the Irish drink too much, and bisexuals are promiscuous. But if you are from a family of tall people you will probably know at least one tall person lousy at basketball. Most Swedes will attest to the wide range of ability amongst blondes. I know plenty of depressed fat people, strong women, weak men, Asians with average SAT scores, blacks with doctorates, and innovative southerners. Jews fail in business sometimes, not all Irish people drink and I as a bisexual wish I could be promiscuous. A prejudice, no matter how foul on its own is not enough to be called oppression.

No oppression, requires something more. It requires the state apparatus or its equivalent. When your personal prejudices are backed up by the military, the legislative and judicial branches of government, as well as industry, academia and religion it becomes more than just being impolite or ignorant or rude or displaying poor taste. It is oppression. When entire classes of individuals are denied access to areas of life routinely allowed for others, it is oppression. When elaborate justifications are offered to explain a simple denial of rights, you are on the road to oppression. Oppression is more than just having a bad day, a personality conflict or a simple misunderstanding. When oppression becomes symptomatic of an entire system, entire countries, entire cultures it warps the whole structure to serve its own end. Oppression has its own logic, rhythm and laws. If you are oppressed it is for your own good, you deserve to be treated badly because you brought it on yourself, the opportunity is denied because the oppressed person is incapable of handling the access.

Oppression is systemic discrimination, prejudice, hatred and devaluation of a class of individuals. The system breeds it, supports it, nurtures it, transfer it, enforces it and rewards it. Oppression is a denial of humanity, a denial of selfhood, denial of self determination, a denial of freedom, culture, history, language, self definition and self love.

Working Definition for racism: Oppression based on race, in the US it is historically rooted in the genocidal attacks on native americans for land acquisition and the slave trade. It has been expanded to include all people of color and the 2/3 world.

But what is everyday racism? Everyday racism consist of the daily manifestation of racist oppression. It is something people of color encounter on a daily basis. It can be interpersonal, internal, institutional, or in any combination. These manifestations serve as a reminder, in case we forget, that our very lives are perpetually in danger. It is a survival issue. I contend that it is the silent killer, the leading cause of stress amongst black people. Because of racism, we are denied access to proper health care, given poor care when get any, and die from preventable diseases. We receive too little care to late, have a shorten life expectancy as a result. Infant mortality rates for blacks in some areas rival that of our brethren across the seas. We are incarcerated for crimes for which whites are given verbal warnings. We are charged higher rates to receive substandard goods and services. Our unemployment rates are higher, and our college retention rates are lower. And every day of our lives we suffer untold indignities at the hands of individuals representing the system. One could argue that all racism is everyday racism.

Posted in

Submitted by katrina on Thu, 12/08/2005 - 8:33pm.

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Recent comments

  • Nephthys (not verified)

    I've been with Firefly for a number of years, I recently left my position at The Firefly Community to pursue other dreams but to be clear how much I was involved before I address the statements made, I was a teacher, Priestess, member of the Inner Circle of the Council of Elders, Course Contributor, Clergy, Delegate and Divination reader so I was quite involved with Firefly on many levels.

    I am offended by your statement that Firefly is cultish. Given my involvement as listed above I can safely say that Firefly members are not cultish in behaviour nor is Firefly cultish in of itself. I am no longer involved with Firefly in any strong capacity other than that of a student so I can also safely say this is not coming from a blind faith position. I will be the first to admit that part of the reason I left Firefly was because I did not agree with some of the changes Lady Iris intended to make, that being said, I don't support the idea that abuse should be turned into a political statement.

    I don't know Sean and I am not close to Lady Iris (I live in a different country) and have not commented on the situation with her marriage but some of his behaviours are reprehensible. If a President did this he would be impeached and booted so I fail to see why it should be ignored and relegated to 'personal marital issues' when behaviour like this is indicative of larger psychological issues. If Sean Bennett is allowed to use and abuse women in this fashion, eventually he would work his way through the single ladies in the OHF and what would you be left with?

    2 years 2 weeks ago
  • Virginia Carper (not verified)

    I for one have been pondering this question. Iris did highlight a valuable point - how are checks and balances established to prevent potential abuse and to air concerns. These are hard lessons that groups need to learn.

    Without denying people their agency, how do you set up a system that will prevent abuse by other members? How far does a group go to ensure the mental and emotional safety of the adult members?

    For example, I know with my disability (brain injury), I would deeply resent being told that the group is looking out for my best interests. It would seem to be paternalistic on the group's part to assume that I cannot fend for myself. But because of my disability, I can be easy prey for a con-artist. How do you solve a dilemma like that? Can this be encoded or is this sort of thing too nebulous to pin down?

    2 years 3 weeks ago
  • Virginia Carper (not verified)

    I have a traumatic brain injury.

    That being said, I got caught in the cross-fire in the Firefly Campaign, since I did not get with the program - i.e. Firemoon was abused by a sexual predator, who for the sake of the community had to be removed. I was shocked at how this mantra was repeated over and over everywhere it could be. I was shocked at how the Firefly folks did not identify themselves as they sought to achieve their goals. It left a poor taste about Firefly in my mouth since I started to regard them as "cultish", incapable of independent thought or discussion. Also it disturbed me how the Firefly folks who had nothing to do with DC, carried water in the campaign as well.

    Since I had lot of free time, I researched the consistent posters and everything I could find, and an disturbing picture arose. The one you described of a one-sided campaign to achieve a stated end, without proper identification or perspective.

    As for the brain injury - I got raked over the coals for making light of the issue from an avowed healer, who thought my injury was a ruse. That scared me into thinking that perhaps my impression of the "cultishness" of the Firefly group was true. (I know cult is a loaded word, but I cannot think of the word that would indicate a group of people, emotionally inflamed with one mission in mind, and not allowing any dissent.)

    2 years 3 weeks ago
  • Kali Firemoon (not verified)


    I am so sorry that we have not met yet since it so obvious from your comments that you are a close personal friend of Iris’s and know all there is to know about the situation from a front row seat. I mean, after all, one who has seen a woman four months pregnant, losing weight and physically appearing to not be pregnant would of course understand the emotional, and yes, physical stress she was under. But of course, since you were there I don’t need to remind you of that. So lets move on to the rest of the story, you know where her husband chose to have unprotected sex with someone else, who I am sure was a complete virgin and posed no risk to mother or child, and then husband went home to engage in carnal activities with his wife, confident that his unborn child was never at risk. Yes, I am sure that all of your female students understand why you are firmly in the husband’s court. After all, it’s always the woman’s fault when marriages go bad. Or at least that is what I seem to glean from your article. Yes, I am Firefly, and I was one of the one’s chosen to help this woman after she was victimized by this predator who seems to have persuaded the pagan community that it is acceptable to treat not one, not two but at last count four woman as though they were simply a means to his end. And BTW I know she attempted to alert the community to her situation and apparently no one felt it worth even a cursory investigation. Oh yes, one more example of us not wanting to rock any one’s boat. I will tell you that in response to her story, several other pagan women have come forward with similar stories of abuse reported to the male members of a community met with similar disdain and an obvious desire to hide this type of behavior. Do I believe it happened this time, yes; do I believe that this community is willing, no matter the cost, to hide this type of behavior, yes. No one wants to call attention to the pagan community because we already have an undeserved stigma. But that does not mean we should allow behavior none of us condone simply because we are afraid of controversy. If one of us needs be sanctioned, then we either stand and sanction or accept the stigma so many would place upon us. We need to “police” our own. When four and probably five women come forth and tell the same story of predatory behavior against women we either act or fold the tents and go home. So I suggest you talk to all of them before you post any more pontifications. I also realize you can never post this but we both know you will have read it.

    2 years 3 weeks ago
  • Cara Schulz (not verified)

    Hello Katrina,
    Although we know one another, mostly online but also when we met at Sacred Harvest Festival, for your readers let me note that I'm the Managing Editor of PNC-News and the Co-Editor of PNC-Minnesota. I was the primary author of the PNC-News statement that you are writing about.

    The persons who contacted me asking when PNC would cover this were not Firefly members. Most were not local to DC, but were Pagans and polytheists in other parts of the country who had donated to the Pagan community center in DC and naturally had an interest in it. Why would they contact me? Because I'm the Managing Editor and people often contact me to ask if PNC is covering a story or to request that we cover a story. That's how we get many of our articles - through our readers.

    As for why PNC-News put two different situations in one statement, it's because they are related in nature and both needed to be addressed promptly.

    If anyone has any questions, we encourage them to contact us and ask them.

    2 years 3 weeks ago
  • Kat, Emralde (not verified)

    Thank you for this perspective. I very much appreciate the voice of the elders as I struggle with my own (not-voiced) feelings about this situation and its outcome.

    2 years 5 weeks ago