I am currently taking a class on American Mystics. The teacher is what I call a Pseudo-Liberal. Pseudo-liberals are those liberals who vote democratic, approve of being gay (as long as it’s not their son or daughter), approve of interracial relationships (with the same qualifier as previous), spew all the right catch phrases and can fit in seamlessly among most democratic/liberal organizations. The above should not imply that the pseudo-liberal cannot be queer or a person of color, I have run into both.
The Pseudo-Liberal would rather not delve into discussion of race, gender, class, sexuality… The usually adhere to the boring old axiom of “Why can’t people just be people?” (Answer: because it robs cultures of their individual experiences in a white supremacist heterosexist patriarchal society).
The Pseudo-Liberal when attempting to create a diverse environment will often do so by including one queer person (inevitably white & male), one woman (inevitably white) & one POC (inevitably male). The segment of society that gets completely ignored in this dynamic? Women of Color.
A Pseudo-Liberal is teaching my class. Out of 8 required texts, three are by women (all white). However of the three books only one is a personal reflection by the author on her own spiritual journey. Of the other two I have it on high authority that one falls into the Magical Mystical Negro category, the other is The Secret Garden. He’s not so good with race either. We have only one book by a POC and it’s also a novel and not a personal text. By robbing us of the personal texts of POC & women he is consequently robbing of our ability to hear their voices in the class or discuss that viewpoint within the class since it is never brought up in the texts at all.
Now there are three huge problems with the class.
#1 is that the two books that explore religion out of a Judeo-Christian context are both written by white men. Both the books are about religions that are predominantly POC religions, Buddhism & Hinduism. Both books are personal texts of how the religion changed their life and the difficulties of being white in this all POC culture. So what we have here is a complete and utter absence of POC centered religions unless they are filtered through the white male gaze. There is no absence of material written by POC on their religions so why must we view these religions through that particular gaze?
#2 Women’s spirituality is completely ignored altogether as well. We have only one personal text from a female POV and it concentrates on her & nature as opposed to her dealings with religion & sexism within religion. Given the explosion of women’s spirituality (and let me clarify by saying I’m not talking about Wiccanism, wiccanism can be included but is not the be all and end all of Women’s Spirituality) in the last 40-50 years there is no way to complain about a lack of sources. So why is it completely absent here?
#3 The utter absence of any kind of viewpoint from WOC on their own spirituality. Maybe not as extensive as the books on Women’s Spirituality in general there is a large library of literature by Women of Color within the Judeo-Christian church and without.
These three things conspire to make sure that we view Mysticism in America through the primarily white male gaze.
Like it or not, confront it or not race, gender, class, sexuality and more all have an effect on our religious beliefs and convictions. To try and explore Mysticism in America by cutting out a large segment of America is to continue giving us the skewed history we’ve always gotten. Where the only important people are white & male with the occasional POC, woman or queer thrown in to make sure we know the teacher is (pseudo-)liberal.