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Why this white chick cares about black tarot decks

Dust II Onyx Tarot

Yesterday I unboxed the beautiful Dust II Onyx Tarot by Courtney Alexander. It’s a black tarot deck, created by an African-American artist. The images are striking, haunting, and captivating. It’s an amazing deck and from the moment I saw it on Kickstarter, I knew I had to have it.

But why? some of you might ask. For me, this deck is about much more than adding to my tarot collection. Yes, I’m a collector. Yes, I love indie decks. No, I don’t just buy decks because they’re independently produced, nor do I keep every deck I buy. I’m looking for something special in every deck I own.

I’m looking for growth. I’m looking for new interpretations of familiar cards. I’m looking for art that challenges me as a tarot reader to reconsider, reevaluate, and re-imagine readings from a different perspective.

Over the last few months, Layla Saad published several posts talking to spiritual white women about white supremacy and calling on us to do our part in dismantling it. The Dust II Onyx Tarot was funded on Kickstarter in October 2016, long before Layla’s posts. But the deck’s arrival this week still got me thinking about discrimination, intolerance, and ways to combat that kind of ugliness.

For me, tarot is a way to try to understand other people’s stories–even when (ESPECIALLY WHEN)–their stories and perspectives differ from mine. It’s a way to say, I see you, and I even though I may not share your experience, I want to understand and support you on your journey. Black tarot decks, queer tarot decks, and decks with artwork that vary from traditional gender roles and interpretations play a huge part in that.

They tell a different story–but that story is rooted in something familiar, which can help provide an accessible starting point. For the most part, we begin our interpretations of the cards with what we know–while they’re based on archetypes, our personal experiences shape our perceptions and interpretations of those archetypes.┬áLet’s look at the Lovers card as an example. Let’s simplify and say it represents romantic love and sexual partnership. How do your thoughts and feeling about sexuality and partnership change if:

  • you are a white heterosexual 16-year old girl with happily married parents?
  • you’re a mixed race 14-year old boy in a home with a single mother?
  • you’re a 75-year-old woman married to her high school sweetheart?
  • you’re a 40-year old man married to a female rape survivor who has been unfaithful to you?
  • you’re a gay man in a healthy long-term relationship?
  • you’re a single bisexual black woman?
  • you’re a trans teenager who has been abused by various family members?

These different starting points shape our notions of the card… our families, role models, and environmental factors have a profound impact on how we interpret the Lovers. Here’s the other thing: All of those interpretations can be “right” because they reflect different realities. So why shouldn’t the cards we use reflect those realities? Showcase our different aspirations, fears, hopes and obstacles? We need more decks that reflect the experiences of different groups–especially those who have been silenced, marginalized, or ignored.

That’s why I care about decks like the Dust II Onyx Tarot or the Slow Holler Tarot, a collaborative deck by Southern, queer, and Southern queer artists. Because the more people can see themselves in the cards–the more they can say, “this is my deck. This deck gets me,” the more they can tap into the power of tarot as a tool for growth and transformation. And the more (white, privileged) readers can look at cards and say, “wow, I never thought of this card that way–there’s something new and complicated there,” the better we can understand and relate to one another–and make choices based in that new understanding.

It’s an important step.

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