Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Folkish" does not mean "racist"

This post has been a long time coming, because I've seen over my many years as an Ásatrúar and Théodsman the same, sometimes unspoken, sometimes quite loudly spoken, assertion that to be Folkish is to be a racist. Speaking as someone who is Folkish myself, I can say that this is not true, but such a simple assertion is not sufficient.

Racism is defined as:
The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
Some have argued that racism is impossible without some sort of institutional or cultural power to enable expression of one's racist views. This is popular among the far left, and is nothing more than a political tool to redefine a term in order to achieve a predetermined outcome; i.e., that only white people can be racist.

This is a view that has been challenged in academia since it was first put forth, but Pooja Sawrikar and Ilan Katz of the University of New South Wales in particular destroy it as a useful prism through which the question of racism can be viewed in a sociological context:
By properly acknowledging the role of ‘prejudice’ in racism, and not exclusively focusing on the element of ‘power’, individuals can be better empowered to exercise their own personal power and choice to be vigilant on their racial prejudices, and all racial groups can be better empowered to take responsibility for protecting each of our human right to racial equality.
Like many things, Folkish belief is a spectrum. At its heart, though, is a belief that ancestry is relevant to religion. That relevance can take many forms - some might believe that those who practice Ásatrú should have at least some European ancestry, while others might feel that those with any non-European ancestry would be better off exploring the ancient faith of those other ancestors. Still others are more specific, looking to Scandinavian, continental German, or other more specific ancestral homes for relevance. It's most definitely not a monolithic block of belief by any stretch.

But the central point is that Folkish belief explicitly rejects the notion that one race is superior to any other. It celebrates the diversity of all races, and believes that each is unique and has a special connection to its own ancestral customs and beliefs. The Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA), which many people identify as the foremost Folkish Ásatrú organization in the world, puts it eloquently:
The belief that spirituality and ancestral heritage are related has nothing to do with notions of superiority. Asatru is not an excuse to look down on, much less to hate, members of any other race. On the contrary, we recognize the uniqueness and the value of all the different pieces that make up the human mosaic.
Boiled down to its simplest terms, Folkish belief is not racist because it does not hold that one race is superior to another.

In and of itself, that doesn't mean that Folkish (or non-Folkish, for that matter) people can't be proud of their European heritage (or a more specific national heritage). It doesn't require a belief in racial superiority to say Europeans have done some great things in the world, and continue to do so, and be proud of those things.

That, of course, doesn't stop the self-righteous "antifa" movement from jumping up and down hysterically every time the AFA is mentioned, linking them with neo-Nazis and skinheads as if they were all one in the same. They equate any expression of lack of shame in one's European ancestry with White Supremacy, most recently using their false equivalencies and shrill hyperbole to drive several bloggers from PaganSquare (myself included) because we dare to believe that ancestry informs religion and can realize that being a proud European does not mean one is anti-anyone else.

One wonders, then, why these stalwart foes of anything smacking of racial or ethnic uniqueness as applied to spirituality have nothing to say about...

And many, many others besides. 

I certainly don't think that adherents of such ethnic religions should be forced to open up their ranks to outsiders, and the relative silence of others on the subject seems to speak to agreement on that point. But when non-European religions and cultures are closed to outsiders or set a very high bar for entry (can you imagine the vicious reaction if some Folkish Ásatrú group required blood tests to get in, like some Amerindian tribes do without comment?), the otherwise-strident opponents of "racism" are strangely silent. Their silence is not so strange, perhaps; since most of them are white themselves, they feel a perverse shame in saying anything that would be critical of other races. Even when those other races are doing the exact same things for which they excoriate people of European dissent. Their hypocrisy is borne of guilt.

I am not saying that there are no people who call themselves Folkish Ásatrúar who cross the line into outright racism. There absolutely are. But so too are there adherents of Yorùbá (to take but one example) who rant about "white devils" and "Caucasoid interlopers" and who are quite racist by any objective standard. The mere fact that a relative handful of people misuse the label does not invalidate the label. 

And the Folkish label is one that is, and should be, distinct from the racist label. As far as I know, Hitlerblót is not on the calendar of the AFA (or any other Folkish Ásatrú organization) and is not going to be. The attempt to paint Folkish Ásatrúar as racists is contrary to the facts, it is hypocritical, and it is quite simply wrong.


  1. Joe, this is perhaps the best article I have ever seen on this topic. You have managed to express exactly my own opinion, and the stance of the AFA.

    Steve McNallen

  2. Good job! I have been working on the same topic with similar sentiments for some time. It's not an easy or safe task. - Allan H

  3. THANK YOU !!!! I too have dished about trying to write solidly on this subject. You took the words I did not find in my brain and wrote them!

  4. As far as I know it's no longer available, but I'll see about getting it posted someplace for public consumption, Jason.

  5. I lost my place wandering your blog and posted my previous comment in reply to the wrong article. By all means delete this and the last one if you'd like to avoid clutter. The blog is great by the way!

    1. No problem at all. And thanks to you (and everyone else) for the kind words about the post. It really is appreciated.

  6. An excellent post, hats off to you, sir!
    My own quote on the subject:
    "Folkism: Because we love who we are, not because we hate anyone else."

    -E. Salix, AFA

  7. Well done. I could not have said it better myself. I am curious as to these same other ethnic traditions you mentioned. What is their stance on exogamy?

  8. Well put. Thanks for the clarity on this issue from us newbies in the Folk as well.

  9. Noblesse Oblige; the duty of the superior to put with the faults and inconveniences of the inferior. When attacked, Epictetus did not say to turn the other cheek, but to consider what lesson you may teach an innocent observer by your response. If there be none, then what you can teach your attacker. If he be unteachable, then what you can learn yourself. But in any case, protect your body, which was made by the divine and may yet have further use for you.

  10. Not folkish myself, but when someone asks me what the word means, I tell them something very much like this.

  11. Part 1)
    I can agree that any given person's practice of folkish heathenry is not necessarily automatically based in racial superiority, and that most folkish heathens do not believe racial supremacy is okay. To that issue, I gladly appreciate and respect that we agree on.

    However, my own understanding of racism is somewhat different from the definitions you outlined. In short, I include systemic racism, prejudicial racism, and separatist racism in my definitions of racism, and I think this definition has historical support. I see your definition of racism as a bit outdated, and conservative. There's nothing wrong with conservatism per se, but for all the good it attempts to preserve, alas, sometimes it neglects to learn, grow, and change with the times when it would be appropriate. All theoretical vantage points have their shortcomings, along with their insights.

    You are right, the far-left has frustratingly co-opted the definition of racism to exclude (or make less important) prejudice and bigotry, and to boil it down to power dynamics alone (systemic racism). This view is sorely lacking in the understanding that resentment harbored by the oppressed can birth hatred in a people who have been harmed by another people. As an anecdote, I know of some white liberal friends whose children went to school in Hawai'i. The "locals" (a word they use to describe an ethnic group, not including white people born in Hawai'i), call their white children "haole" which means, without breath / without soul. Their one daughter ended up hospitalized due to bullying. They now home-school their children. The word haole is in reference to the evil actions of the imperialists who committed genocide against the native Hawai'ians and overthrew their government. The natives called these acts of violence, and the people committing them, "without breath." The resentment of that history is understandable, but it is a tragedy that the white children of liberal parents who moved to Hawai'i to help the locals become more prosperous and to advocate for them, are now sometimes the ones being treated with violence and cruelty. The power dynamic may be in favor of the wealthy, white, mainland family, but that doesn't mean the privileged group can't experience racism too. Is "Kill Haole Day" somehow less important than a white cop shooting and killing an unarmed black child, or for that matter, the hunger and poverty many Hawai'ian locals still live in to this day due to the hierarchy superimposed on them by colonists? Statistics and systems are not more important than human experience and human suffering, in my view. All of these examples are equally evil and wrong.

    So yes, I have a deeply painful example that informs my reason for why I agree with you that prejudice is definitely a part of racism. Including prejudice (and exclusion) against white people. We also have painful historical and present examples that explain why other definitions are also relevant.

  12. Part 2)
    As for your blood quantity measure within American Indian reservations example, I see this as comparing apples to oranges. Just this last summer, I took a three month Shamanism seminar led by a non-white, Peruvian shaman. Most of the fellow participants in the workshops were white people from North America. Clearly, while there are far-left natives too, there are also plenty of moderate, universalist natives as well. In my experience, there is more of the latter than the former. Religious practice should not be conflated with who is allowed to register as part of a reservation. First of all, reservations see themselves as a sovereign entity, that is enclosed within another governmental body. There has been a lot of struggle where the American government has purposefully ignored treaties that allow the reservations to protect their land and water sources from being bought and sold by the U.S. without their permission, or from being polluted on, often poisoning their water supply. I think it is fairly understandable why they are very choosy about which U.S.-American born people they allow to consider citizens of their reservations. These reservations are, ultimately, an attempt to replenish the drastically dwindled populations of Native American tribes that experienced genocide at the hands of the American settlers. Blood quantity is important to them, because the are trying to rebuild a dwindling population. A better comparison to the phenomenon of Native American reservations is refugee settlements, or even Amish communities that isolate themselves and do not participate in American civics (all of which are uncontroversial to most people). These communities are not comparable to a group full of civics-engaged and publicly involved members, attempting interfaith dialogue, as a religious organization that attempts to outline the rules that other people ought to follow if they worship or work with the same deities.

    Now, as for the matter of first amendment freedoms (religion, speech, assembly), please allow me to explain why I feel that attempting to dictate what people can or can not do, or can or can not think / believe, or where they are or are not allowed based on skin color or ancestry, is wrong. For two brief, but big examples, I'll simply list these two: U.S. segregation in the south, and South African apartheid. In short, separate is not equal.

    I find it fascinating, and frustratingly dissonant, that the folkish movement in heathenry is so at odds with the far-left on this issue of whether the Heathen practice should be open to all races... especially because on the far-left, they now have the notion of "cultural appropriation."

    1. One of the things about having written this blog for nearly nine years is that I've covered a lot of topics already. :-)

      I keep hearing that folkish people "attempt to dictate what people can or can not do, or can or can not think / believe", etc. But that's not accurate at all. In fact, we couldn't stop them if we wanted to. We just want to be able to worship with people who believe the same as we do. In fact, it's the people on the universalist side who are trying to stop us from worshiping with whom we want to worship. You might find this interesting:

      In regards to the question of Heathenry and cultural appropriation, I happen to agree (I think). Folkish religion means every race gets to have their own religion(s). The same principles that protect Asatru also protect Yoruba and Shinto. You might find this other post of mine on the topic interesting:

  13. Part 3)
    I see these two things ("cultural ownership" on the left, and folkish heathenism) as essentially the same thing: an attempt to divide people and stop the process of unifying humanity in a global process of cultural sharing and diffusion– simply put, this is isolationism. This ideology is at odds with open borders, open markets, and open ideas and minds (including ideas such as spiritual practices and cultural expressions).

    I feel this globally prevalent sense of division is ultimately rooted in populism and anti-globalism. On the right, this populism is an ethnic, nationalist populism which prioritizes the in-group over "aliens," foreigners / immigrants, and racial minorities (i.e. "patriotism"). On the left, this populism is rooted in a working class revolution that includes all racial groups and immigrants, but ultimately rejects global unity, exploration, and cultural diffusion with its anti-globalisation message on economics and trade. Both are isolationist, in economic and foreign / international policy. I see this isolationism as hindering global growth and the global fight against racism.

    On the micro-level, these macro-ideas manifest in very separatist groups and over-emphasis on identity. To be sure, cross-sections of identity are personally important and contribute to our political experience, but these are not more important than our common human identity.

    I will be perfectly transparent here: I am a fairly center-left liberal. I believe in mixed economies, I believe in using wealth redistribution to help those who are economically struggling, but I also believe that capitalism is no more evil than most other economic systems, and that ultimately globalisation will be good for humanity if we can overcome military entanglements and the unregulated / under-regulated multinational companies. I believe the only time "cultural theft" happens is when, for instance, an archaeologist or grave digger steals an artifact or family jewel. A black person dancing ballet, or a white person practicing Taoism is not "cultural theft." I believe that racism is nuanced, and that it includes power struggles, prejudice, and the influences of separation and exclusion.

  14. Part 4)
    As a devotee of Loki's family, a family that faced exclusion and persecution at the hands of well-intentioned, though prejudiced Aesir, I cannot ignore the ways that this "folkishness" seems to hearken to that old ancestral fear of those who are different from us being included in our own communities, be they physical towns and villages, or be they our religious communities. In order to untie the knots of that fear in our threads of wyrd, and the orlog of our future descendants, I think we need to go through the unsettling process of acknowledging the root of this racist attitude. For all the wonderful, beautiful things our ancestors accomplished, they were not perfect, or even ideal. Their burdens are as much our inheritance as their blessings, and those consequences extend to the human community, not just our blood kin. Our agrarian ancestors, as well as our old conquest-voyager Viking ancestors, both kingdom and city-state dwelling, turned their backs on their shamanic, tribal, hunter-gatherer, nomadic ancestors. As a result of this deep-seated shame of this older heritage, and sense of superiority over the "savage" and "dangerous" (the primordial and wild), they adopted prejudiced and racist attitudes towards tribal cultures. Hmmm... What kinds of tribal and nomadic cultures have been harmed at the hands of our ancestors and other genetic kin? The Jews and Gypsies maybe? Another attitude adopted by our ancestors was the fear of and disgust toward ergi (a taboo that had feminine magical power associated with it, a magic which also has roots in shamanic traditions around the world). Hmmm... What kinds of people were also persecuted by some of our ancestors and kindred? The gay and lesbian people who were persecuted during the holocaust, maybe? Perhaps this attitude has consequences, methinks!

  15. Part 5)
    My point is... though I acknowledge this is not the intention of many who are wishing to simply honor their genetic heritage and their blood-ancestors (an honorable mission, in itself), it is my belief that in our instinct to protect and purify our tradition from "outsiders," that attitude of exclusion naturally lends itself to supremacy. At some point or another, for too many people, the two concepts begin to bleed into one.

    I am not saying that all people who practice heatherny should have to have a universalist religion that practices syncretism with other religions and traditions. Nor am I saying that we should all steep ourselves in shame (just the opposite, in fact, we need to work through it in order to let go of it). What I am saying, though, is that I very much wish that people would not take part in the practice of policing other people's participation in religion based on race (or gender, or any other superficial criteria). As frustrating as it is for folkish practitioners to be told that they are being too exclusive (and therefore racist), I imagine it is equally frustrating for non-white and even non-Scandinavian/Germanic white people to be told that they can't honor the Norse gods, by folkish people. The Gods speak to whomever they speak to. It is not up to mere mortals to police who is allowed to answer that call.

    I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts in response to my points about the cultural appropriation / folkish heathenry dynamic, and the issue of separation as a form of racism that ties into other forms of racism.