#TarotsoWhite : Cultural Diversity in Tarot

Posted April 27, 2016 by Hazellie in Tarot / 2 Comments

#TarotsoWhite

There’s been a conversation going around the tarot community lately that Kelly-Ann Maddox has brought up, about #TarotsoWhite and the lack of racial diversity in tarot and oracle decks. She shares her views on it on her vlog Cardslinger episode 307 starting from about 25:11, and invites other people of color to share their views on this topic as well.

Benebell Wen has shared a thoughtful post on her perspective, and like her, the whiteness of tarot and oracle cards imagery does not bother me, but I have different reasons for why it doesn’t bother me.

The whiteness of tarot and oracle decks imagery doesn’t bother me simply because I don’t need my color to be represented in tarot decks. Kristen from Over The Moon Oracle Cards in her post about #TarotsoWhite says that cultural authenticity is just as important as cultural diversity, and I have to agree. I don’t need my color represented because the various systems of tarot that most of us practice today do not come from Chinese traditions.

Cultural Authenticity

Look at it this way, the I Ching is an ancient Chinese divinatory system, and I’m sure there are white people and other colored people studying it and practicing it, yet I’ve never heard of anyone complaining that #IChingsoYellow. Same goes for Tai Chi, acupuncture, feng shui practices, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, and whatever other Chinese traditional practices that come to mind for you.

If you’re interested in practicing a traditional Chinese practice, don’t then turn around and complain that #itssoyellow. That’s the whole point, it’s a traditional Chinese practice!

I am all for the evolution and modernization of traditional practices, no matter what they are, and if you are white and practicing Tai Chi, and decide that you’d like to incorporate some of your Western knowledge into your Tai Chi practice, go ahead and do that! I’d probably be curious about it and want to know more, but I wouldn’t feel the least bit obligated to incorporate your Westernized system into my own practice to make it less “yellow”. I might do it if I like your Westernized version, but I wouldn’t feel obligated at all, and I sure as hell wouldn’t do it just for the sake of being politically correct.

The whiteness of tarot decks doesn’t bother me, because traditionally there are no Asian people in tarot, and speaking for myself, I simply don’t need my color to be represented in tarot decks. Having said that, just because I don’t need it doesn’t mean that I don’t want it at all, or that I don’t appreciate it.

There are some beautiful Chinese themed tarot decks out there, and I think that the Ghetto Tarot, by talented photographer Alice Smeets, is simply stunning. I love that these decks are available (if you are interested in more diverse decks, Kristen has a great list of some of them over at her blog), and I would buy all of them in a heartbeat if I could, but having appreciation for beautiful tarot art is very different from needing diversity in my decks for my actual tarot practice.

Taking Actions that Matter

Having people of color depicted in my tarot decks won’t suddenly make a black client think, “Hey, there’s a black High Priestess in this deck, Hazellie is giving me the best reading ever!” or magically make an Indian client think, “There’s an Indian Magician in this deck, I feel like Hazellie is such a kind and compassionate reader who addresses all the issues I asked about”, or… you get the idea.

Sticking a person of color onto your tarot decks isn’t what makes you a compassionate, understanding, or tolerant tarot practitioner. What would make us better tarot readers, in terms of cultural diversity, is actually making an effort to get to know different cultures and the people of these cultures better. Or, if we are completely ignorant about the culture of the person we are reading for, being open-minded and accepting about the differences in general when it comes to upbringing and beliefs.

Yes, there is a problem with a lack of cultural diversity in general which needs to be addressed, but I often see political correctness taken too far and towards unnecessary (non)issues that end up masking the real issues. Talking about the whiteness of tarot cards imagery gives us the illusion that we are addressing the problem, and doing something about cultural diversity, when in fact, we aren’t doing any of the things that matter.

Fiona Benjamin shared her very passionate views about #TarotsoWhite on a Periscope recently, and one thing that she had to say about it was (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t remember her actual words) that it doesn’t matter how many people of color are featured in your tarot deck, the question is, are you supporting actual real life people of color by your actions?

I have to agree with her there. It’s easy to say that you support diversity, but do your actions support your words? For me, the problem with #TarotsoWhite is not in tarot *imagery*, the problem is in the tarot *community*.

Are we, as a community, giving people of color the support they need? The credit they earned? The respect they deserve? Are we including them in tarot conversations? Are we being inclusive and welcoming towards people of other colors and cultures?

Our Responsibility

Obviously, the issue of cultural diversity goes deeper than just within the tarot community; it is a problem for the global community and that conversation will be a huge giant one that we need to address eventually, but we all have to start somewhere, and being a part of the tarot community, let us start here.

The majority of people in the tarot community may be white, – and if you are white, please realize that your support and your actions can make a lot of difference for allowing for better cultural diversity in the tarot community – but the responsibility for allowing cultural diversity in the tarot community doesn’t rest solely on white shoulders.

We, as people of color, also have a responsibility to speak up and be heard. We have a responsibility to become more visible, because our hiding away and keeping our thoughts, knowledge, and wisdom to ourselves, does not serve the community at all. It does not serve other people of color when we do not represent ourselves, and it does not serve the work that we are trying to do.

I’ll admit that I hadn’t been as visible or as vocal as I could be for the tarot community. I felt that I had nothing important to say that hasn’t already been said, but I realize now that my voice is needed. All of our voices are needed, both white and colored, and we need to speak up.

This post represents my own thoughts and opinions on #TarotsoWhite, and I realize that everyone else have their own thoughts on the subject, so please share your much needed voice with the community. I would love to know what you think.

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  • http://jbluesblogobooks.blogspot.com/ Robert

    I’m not a member of the tarot community but I’m interested in this topic and wanted to say that was really well-written. Very clear with many good points. Thanks, Hazellie.

    • http://hazelliewong.com/ Hazellie Wong

      Thanks so much, Rob! I’m glad you enjoyed the post!