Unpacking the white supremacy in my shop curation

This piece isn’t finished. A combination of white supremacy and general perfectionism (which is part of white supremacy culture) have had me dithering over this for more than a month. I’m publishing it today to get it out there, to get it said. It is a work in progress and I will continue to revisit, deepen and rewrite. For now, this is what I have.

I’ve been working through Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy with a small group of friends. Each week, we peel back layer upon layer of white supremacy, racism, conditioned beliefs, complicity, white solidarity, superiority, and more. We dig into the ways we uphold and perpetuate white supremacy. We journal, unpack, and share. I am deeply grateful to Saad for creating this workbook, and all the ways it is breaking me open and helping me to learn and more truthfully and with more integrity in the fight for race equality.

Recently, I peeled back a layer that revealed how white supremacy shows up in my shop, in my curation of this collection of tarot and oracle decks and books.

A friend recently sent me a link to a deck, asking ‘what do you think of this?’ It was the Kaleidadope Tarot by Krystal Banner, a deck created by a woman of colour I’d seen when published a few years ago, but didn’t stock. I told my friend I’d never properly checked it out.

Then I sat with that strange lie, and felt that weird mix of white fragility, discomfort, a little sick in my stomach.

I had checked the deck out. I’d read all about it, and read an internet-friend (of colour)’s appreciative review. I’d read that the deck is a fabulous and very cool celebration of popular culture, specifically Black culture and aesthetics. And I’d decided not to stock it. Why?

Because my white gaze didn’t get it. I didn’t recognise my own (white) world view in the deck.

I didn’t see what happy customers of Kristal’s see in this deck (“For the culture!”, “This is a well crafted deck and I appreciate the representation.”)

My white gaze is, well, white. And since I’m curating what I intend to be a ‘diverse’ tarot shop, that’s a problem. I’m conditioned, tuned, pre-determined to favour certain things – certain white culture -approved things. Where I imagine I’m simply selecting shop items based on my taste, and while I imagine that this ‘taste’ of mine is morally neutral, instead I’m playing out my conditioned beliefs, perpetuating a system that says ‘these cultural expressions have value, these don’t’.

It’s an uncomfortable feeling, noticing this. Naming it.

And naming it particularly in this role I hold, as the curator of a shop, of a gatekeeper who has the power to elevate artistic and spiritual creations, or not.

Especially since I’ve always prided myself on running a ‘diverse’ shop. My vision has always been for LRT to be a haven for decks created from the margins, decks that bring social justice issues to the fore. I’ve consistently looked out for and prioritised decks by queer and POC creators. Or I’d thought I had.

I thought about the POC-created decks I do stock. What was it about these decks that meant I’d seen the value in stocking them, but not this one?

Again, it’s about recognition. In the Melanated Classic Tarot I could clearly see the project of turning an entire traditional deck black. In the Shrine of the Black Medusa, I personally loved the aesthetic, ditto the Dust II Onyx Tarot (which I don’t stock, but have been chasing for years). In the Afro Goddess Tarot Arcanas, I loved deck creator Andrea’s story of how this deck came together.

So it’s like – even if I don’t feel personally represented in the deck, it doesn’t matter, because I’m recognising something that I personally value. As long as creations are presented in a form that my unchecked white gaze can ‘approve’ (recognisable aesthetics, ‘good’ story, ‘good’ politics), I can see its value.

But when my white gaze doesn’t – when I don’t – see that value, I perpetuate white superiority. I sideline, dismiss, devalue, and uphold white supremacy culture. Even right here in a shop I presume to call ‘diverse’. How can it be, if the single curator is a (very) white person living in sleepy rural Wales and whose cultural reference points are almost singularly western and white?

I’m not writing this to beat up on myself. Through working with Layla Saad’s book, I’m learning not to get stuck into the all-too-familiar guilt and shame loop. Though there have been a lot of *feelings felt* (because white fragility is very very real), I’ve tried to write plainly, just to get this down, to name it, so I can unpack it and understand it and work to change it.

Below this I had previously written a list of things I was actively going to do to change this. I’ve removed this list because the work is ongoing, slow, needing time and consideration, and I could see the insecurity and performativity in needing to prove I was on the case with my speedy to-do list. The proof of the pudding will be in the business itself, the community around it, the way it is received and the impact it has in the medium and longer term future.

Also reading: Beware of the White Gaze