Tonight I saw "Southside With You," the film about Barack and Michelle Obama's first date. It is a poignant study of the beginning of a relationship and an interesting time-capsule of American life 25 or so years ago, with the future Obamas going to see the Spike Lee film, "Do the Right Thing." At several points the two lead characters reflect on the divided, almost split-screen reality they live in, shuttling between the predominantly black American neighborhoods of the South Side of Chicago that they live in and the white-dominated corporate America in the downtown of the city that they go to work in each day. When the Michelle character reflects on how she has to continually perform and achieve at an extra-high level to win respect and status while being black and a woman in America, it made me think of how that has been true for Barack Obama as President. No white President was ever put through the kind of unrelenting scrutiny and vilification that he had to endure. Many people give him no credit at all for major achievements like stabilizing a downward-spiraling economy and not only restoring the stock market but bringing it to record heights, restoring economic growth and rising employment, putting in place regulations that will improve the safety of our air and water for generations to come, reorganizing Federal Student Loans to make it possible for borrowers to pay back on an income-contingent basis--truly a life-saver for those, like your author, with massive educational debt--and improving American's international reputation after the embarrassments of the Bush years. This is not to say the Obama record is perfect; far from it. In fact, I voted for the Green Party in 2012, but that does not mean I do not realize that things could have been much worse and that Obama did make many things better, despite incredible Republican obstruction. There are many disappointing things about his presidency, but to write it off as a nation-wrecking disaster when it was really more of a national Heimlich maneuver is to look at the last eight years through a terribly distorted lens.
Donald Trump is banking on millions of Americans endorsing that twisted view, and he may succeed. Why? There are multiple reasons, one of the foremost being that many economically struggling white Americans are responding to the old, old Pied Piper's tune of racial resentment, which provides scapegoats and rationalizations that many find comforting and reassuring. It is not the increasing power of global capitalism and massive, inhumane business corporations that are causing your declining income, status and job security; it is those nasty Mexicans and Muslims and Chinese. And all of this started when America went down the suicidal road of "political correctness" and voted a black man into the White House, a black man who is probably not even a real American, and who is probably a "Secret Muslim" though he claims to be a Christian. Don't forget that the Dunce-ald got his start in politics by gleefully endorsing the "birther" conspiracy theory that questioned the legitimacy of Barack Obama's presidency by casting doubt on the authenticity of his birth certificate. The birther show was quite a media circus, for a time, but in the end it produced nothing of value and only wasted America's time and attention. If the Golden One were elected, I expect that his presidency would achieve similar results.
The longer I live, the more people I know, the more classes I teach and students I work with, the more clearly I see how the real "birther" problem of America is how this country was founded in racial hostility, economic exploitation and bitter injustice, a nightmarish and haunted legacy from the extermination to the enslavement to the continuing disadvantaging and disrespecting of non-white people, and the more this sickens, saddens and angers me. This is the "original sin" of American life, and it never goes away. It affects all of us who breathe the air and walk the streets and make our homes in America.
And to turn to my own chosen spiritual home in the evolving religious framework of contemporary Paganism, I see how this haunted legacy poisons modern American Paganism too. The recent controversy over statements made by the new leaders of the AFA, the Ásatrú Folk Assembly, that suggest a desire to perpetuate Ásatrú/Heathenry/Norse Paganism for the sake of "our beautiful white children" is repugnant but unsurprising, as this has always been one of the threads women into contemporary Norse Paganism, especially, though not exclusively, in America. As I see it, the desire of these people to employ Norse spirituality in the service of creating a lovely all-white world for their darling pure-gene children is just the old racist American story all over again, if one that is charmingly decorated with runes and eddas.
I do believe that there are well-meaning, generally kind-hearted people who are not deeply or overtly racist who fall into this unawares, not realizing that lore is being used as a lure for the unwary, to gradually indoctrinate them with a racist view of the world. A deeper understanding of American history, including its ugly chapters of racial injustice and brutalized and terrorized populations, would serve them well, as would a visit to the cinema to see "Southside With You."
Hopefully, over time, as they explore more deeply and gain greater experience, at least some who have been lured into more racist forms of Heathenry will come to see that Yggdrasil, that mythical Ash tree that links together different worlds in Norse mythology, is the WORLD tree, not the WHITE tree! Hopefully, they will come to understand that just as the mythology envisions different "races" or types of beings living together in one interlinked universe, interacting and intermingling, combining and creating, so too can we humans of different ethnic hues and backgrounds, and that together, we can breathe new energy into originally Norse-based traditions to make them more vibrant and beautiful than ever.