In lieu of a piece about difficult cards, today I’m writing instead about a difficult topic – race – as it relates to me and a not-so-recent discussion in the online tarot community.
I struggled with whether I would even write this piece.
It’s clear through my work that I’m willing to write my own rawness. That being said, the things that strike the deepest chords in me, I carefully meter, digest, or guard and just don’t talk about… yet. I have an emotional gatekeeper. It’s informed by my experiences as black, female, queer, femme, NOT femme, kinky, poly, crazy, NOT crazy, ill. The list goes on. While living with all these labels, discretion has done everything from keeping me safe in dangerous situations to keep me closed-minded and fearful. Even now I hear a voice within saying: ‘this is nobody else’s business anyhow.’
Now that I’ve had some time to process and some space, I’ve decided to speak up and trust that it will do some good, that when my peers in the tarot community and my readers say they want to know my opinion as a person of color, that they meant it, and that they meant it without putting conditions on what I would say. I’m trusting those things.
Back in April, Benebell Wen posted a blog in response to a video by Kelly-Ann Maddox addressing her perceived lack of representation of POC (people of color) in tarot decks. I felt many things in response to these two posts. Excitement. Sadness. Frustration. Curiosity. Hope. Chief among those feelings though was anger – an anger so thick and crippling that I decided against either exploring or explaining my feelings about the #tarotsowhite conversation.
I wasn’t angry about the race conversation in general. I manage to discuss race with my tarot peers all the time. Most recently during my final #rsstudio16 twitter chat. No, it was contents of this particular conversation that got to me. Both of the above posts, in each their own distinct ways, served as reminders that even though tarot bloggers inhabit the same space, we do not all agree.
The Bones of the #tarotsowhite Discussion
(At least the parts I am responding to)
I’ve taken these points below almost verbatim from the two posts I mention above. As you read these, remember that they are tiny snippets of sizeable commentaries on race that also contained some points that I agree with. It’s probably best to read/watch for yourself before jumping to conclusions based on my comments here.
I’m going to take this one at a time.
1.“There are very very very few people of color in tarot decks.”
I remember when this felt very true for me too. I’m sure this still feels true for many people regardless of their race. This felt true to me right up until I sat down to receive a reading from a mentor of mine, an older white woman, and she whipped out the World Spirit Tarot and I saw more people of color in a tarot deck than I’d ever seen. If it wasn’t for her diverse collection, if it wasn’t for her seeking out people of color in her decks, I would have never realized that they existed. I would have been one of those people hearing “there are very few people of color in tarot decks,” and nodding my head and feeling angry about it and wishing it were different. It is different. I won’t bother listing the myriad diverse options in the tarot world because frankly there are others more versed in this. I’ll link their work below.
2.“Call out publishers to let them know consumers are interested in diversity.”
Here’s a picture of some of the people of color in my decks:
I couldn’t really fit them all in the photo and this isn’t all of my decks, just the top 4 most diverse. (I’ll name them at the bottom of this post.) None of these representations are fetishistic or stereotypical. The people are everything from mystically fierce to doing average things. These four decks are each made by some of the largest publishing companies that exist.
Without even getting into the delicious world of independently published decks, of which my collection is woefully short (I’m working on it!), this looks like solid representation. Especially when I grew up during a time where there really was no representation other than that one 9 of pentacles in the Morgan-Greer. My collection consists primarily of diverse decks and it looks like this because these are the decks I chose, sought out, and purchased.
3. “We have to convince publishers & deck creators that it’s just economic good sense to feature boring racial diversity.”
I don’t think either publishers or deck creators need convincing. Not just because I discover more and more diverse decks every year. I don’t think they need it because they aren’t the ones that brought diverse decks to my attention. Consumers did. To survive, publishers meet the demands of their consumers. That or fail. I trust publishing companies, to an extent, to respond consumers. And where they fail, independent deck creators are excelling.
4. “I can never know what it’s like to support decks and see that I am not represented in them… but I can surely imagine.”
I disagree and this one is harder to address. It’s less about what can be imagined and more about the premise that, in order to take action, a person must understand or empathize with someone different from them. The truth is even a thoughtful and well-meaning person might very much want to understand the experience of another person and not be able to. And this is totally fine as long as the conditions for allied action don’t hinge entirely on empathy.
I deal with so many different kinds of aggressions day-to-day that the last thing on my mind is how many POC are in my tarot decks. Am I excited to see options that reflect me? Absolutely. And to begin to understand my perspective you’d have to be able to relate to the experience where there is so much trauma and so much to process, that in order to function it has been necessary to bury, detach, and set a good chunk aside and quickly in order to feel safe. Our realities are not the same and so no, you may not be able to imagine. And that’s ok. Let’s honor that even as we work toward a future where our realities are, at least, not so destructively different.
5. I’m not being given any diversity.
This goes back to the publisher thing. Is diversity something you receive? As a consumer, sure.
It definitely might be. But not as an ally. An ally actively pursues and promotes POC and decks with POC on their platforms, in their content, and in their giveaways. An ally educates people about the diverse options available. An ally fills their collection with diverse decks and educates themselves without burdening POC with the task of constantly teaching them.
Could there be more diversity? Absolutely. And to say there is none kinda feels like the diversity that exists got erased… It’s like when people tell me that there are no POC tarot readers. I exist. And diverse decks exists.
6. Seeing a POC doing something that is not stereotypical or fetishized is…so different that it can actually become a distraction.
This is obviously subjective. It depends how many POC you encounter in real life. It depends on what you expose yourself to. Even if the only POC you will ever encounter are in your tarot deck, this is why some of us sit with our decks before using them with others. Looking at the art. Processing. Feeling. Dialoguing. Before I had access to diverse decks, when all my decks were white only, this is how I dealt.
I engaged art that didn’t quite speak to me and I made the translation because I had to. I don’t have to do this with diverse decks. These decks don’t distract me because POC are already a part of my life. And while I can’t speak for white tarot readers, I’d hazard that maybe some of them aren’t distracted by POC in tarot either. I think if a person wants to use a diverse deck distraction-free, they can do so the same way they can interact with POC distraction-free: with practice.
7. Frankly, it’s not profitable right now for deck publishers to feature people of color, because even people of color don’t want to see people of color. Everybody wants to see white people.
Just who is everybody here?
Not me. Not readers I know. Not deck creators I know. I can’t claim to speak for publishers but from the decks I own, even they seem a little more interested in diversity than this suggests. This was painful to read. Because it made it seem like one of my favorite tarot writers might be writing for an audience that doesn’t include me or people like me. Or at the very least might not share the opinion that many people want to see diversity. It’s totally possible there are entire tarot communities that feel this way, and I’ve just been living in a bubble filled with radically progressive folks. If so, I’m grateful for it and that’s where I’ll stay.
The amount of POC in tarot is a reflection of a larger issue.
As Kristen says in her blog on this same topic: “When you create art or anything else, you create from what you know. The issue isn’t about simply putting people of color into every deck. The real issue is about getting to know real people of color in the real world.” I agree with this. I also agree with Benebell when she talks about it coming down to communicating wants through spending.
Tarot bloggers are in a unique position to dispel diversity myths, to explore & showcase different cultural perspective, and to start honest & needed dialogue, as Kelly-Ann has done with #tarotsowhite. Even if it means we get triggered or exhausted, it’s a conversation worth having (for those who feel up to having it and when they feel up to it). This and other ally actions are ways to effect changes to the face of tarot. That said, remember that even if it seems like the experiences of POC or other marginalized groups are accessible or relatable, or that a conversation will make us the same kind of angry or trigger the same kind of reactions, remember that that just might not be the case.
I have more to say, so I’ve continued this conversation over at my blog this week with 7 Questions for the Earnest Ally, and I’ll put up a walk-through of my most diverse decks sometime in the near future. Keep in touch to know when these drop. Share this post if you know someone who might benefit it. Thank you for hearing me.
What diverse decks do you own?
I’ll keep an eye out in case you comment using #tarotsowhite.
As always you guys are invited to comment below.
Places where diverse decks are cataloged:
Places where the #tarotsowhite conversation is archived:
Sources I like about allyship:
Diverse Decks Featured:
The Gaian Tarot by Joanna Powell Colbert forthcoming 2016
Tarot de St. Croix by Lisa de St. Croix Devara 2013
The Mary-El Tarot By Mary White Schiffer 2012
The Sun And Moon Tarot By Vanessa Decort US Games 2010
Siobhan (she/they) is a NYC-born writer, spiritual ally, and #radicaltarot reader living in central Texas. Her facilitative reading style is the blended result of over a decade of study of tarot, nonviolent communication, shamanic ritual, sacred sexuality, and alternative relationship. She geeks all those things in her newsletter and blog. She is also the creator of “The ‘Scopes,” the first-ever monthly collaborative tarotscopes which have featured over 40 professional tarot readers in the last three years.