As I considered topics for my inaugural blog post, a topic presented itself today in a Rootworking group I belong to. The poster, being white himself, wondered about why many of the big names in Rootworking/Hoodoo (two terms I that I will use interchangeably in my blog) appeared to be almost exclusively white. He was wondering about the lack of Black practitioners in the public eye and was concerned about Hoodoo “loosing it’s connection to its origins.” This was my reply.
Unfortunately there are a few things going on here. The first problem is the commercialization of Hoodoo. There is money to be made, and money is and remains “the root of all evil” and corruption. Hoodoo is no exception. In this country, the scale of financial resources to commercialize something has, and has always been, in favor of white men. So that is why you are seeing the proliferation of it online. Secondly, many Blacks have forgotten their own history. In the rush to assimilate into mainstream culture, many subscribed to the idea that “white is right,” and anything associated with Africa was wicked and against God. I witnessed it in my own family.
My mother’s generation was the last generation that even spoke of the old ways, and they ignored many of the things my grandmother (pictured) tried to tell them. They either believed in the evangelical practices of their churches that told them that Rootwork was “evil,” or they gave up on the concepts of God and spirituality entirely. As a result, I learned very little from my grandmother and nothing from my mother. My mother’s generation paid the price for it dearly. You cannot un-know who you are. This can also be seen in almost EVERY aspect of Black culture. White people own the Jazz and Blues clubs. Most of our children cannot even name a Blues artist if you asked them too. We’ve avoided all things considered “country,” and unsophisticated and pray to a white God who tells us the very fiber of our being is wrong. It’s gonna take a hell of a lot to undo that.
The last part of this equation is that more Black folks practice Hoodoo than most people think. Even when they have tried so hard to distance themselves from the old ways, I’ve seen my very “saved” relatives cuss you out if you put your purse on the floor. They still live in fear of being “crossed up.” I heard about “throwing a root” on a man by putting menstrual blood in his spaghetti long before I knew what Hoodoo really was. My friend is taking Papa Matt’s class with me. When she and her mother came to me for a reading, she discussed just how much her mother knew. She asked her, “why didn’t you teach me?” her mother replied, “teach you? You were RIGHT THERE WITH ME. You should have PAID attention!”
You see, Black folks do not shout their involvement with magic from the rooftops. It was mostly because they would be condemned by their churches. Black folks respected the practice so much, that it was advertised ONLY word of mouth, least people learn the secrets of our culture that we hold dear. Why did they want to keep them secret? For the very reasons we are seeing today. People are doing all kinds of things in the name of Hoodoo, and most of them are not good. Trust me, I feel some kind of way about websites, groups and associations that put all of our “business,” (so to say) in the streets. Old school Black people never would put anyone’s personal business on front street for any reason. Those types of things were reserved for personal conversations in whispers. You can see it when Black people refuse speak ill of politicians (Obama), leaders (Jessie Jackson) and celebrities (OJ Simpson). We all know they are less than stellar individuals, but I will deny that I ever said that in public. Travis Smiley and Cornell West have been largely ostracized by Black folks because of the hateraid and venom they shoot Obama’s way. LOL! We all know OJ’s ass was guilty. It was not about that. It was the fact that a Black man beat the system of oppression. Right? No. Reality? Yes.
But then white scholars came in and found out our traditions. Now it is out there. And as with everything, people are trying to bastardize it and make it what it is not. For Black people who know the history of the tradition, it is not really an issue what color you are, as long as you honor the tradition and not try to make shit up as you go along. That may be permissible when there is no documented research on a practice. Such is not the case with Rootwork. Valid, historically backed information is there. As a Black woman, I feel it is my birthright to practice. Can I say that it is not for other races/cultures/religions? No I cannot. But what I can say is that ALL people of all races owe the tradition the responsibility to keep it going and properly teach it.
More Black folks are coming “out of the shadows” and reclaiming their traditions. To practice Rootwork, no matter who you are, it should be done in the proper manner in which it has been documented. There is enough consensus, even with all of the denominational variations, to have certain universal rules and elements that separate it from other traditions/paths and define what Rootwork/Hoodoo is and what it is not. It is now up to ANYONE, but especially Black people, to defend it against people who try to make it what it is not.