Why Representation In The Spiritual Community Matters

After suffering a mysterious number of injuries, Amanda Michelle Jones had a spiritual breakthrough. "I landed in the emergency room three weeks into my first year of my PhD program," she says. "Later that year, I got hit by a truck. A year and a half later, I was hit again. And a year or so after that, I was in another accident on a bus. I was like, 'Okay, something is going on.'"
Rather than feel resigned after this series of calamities, Jones saw this as an opportunity to expand upon her spiritual practice. But as she started working more with tarot cards and readings, it dawned on her that most mass-produced decks were illustrated with exclusively white characters. This was what prompted her to found Brown Girl Tarot (BGT), an online community for spiritual practitioners of color.
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Jones explains that, although spiritual work is personally fulfilling, it's extremely difficult to get a business off the ground without the proper funding and promotion. This is especially true among people of color in the spiritual space, who, Jones says, work mostly on a "grassroots level," crowdfunding the publication of their tarot decks and selling their work independently.
Jones intended the BGT Facebook group, which launched this past March, to be a hub for people to seek out resources they might not otherwise have access to. Through BGT, people can network, discuss their practices, and, most importantly, support each other as tarot readers and designers.
We spoke with Jones about her personal spiritual practice, and why representation matters when it comes to spirituality.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was your spiritual practice like before starting BGT?
"I started my spiritual practice very simply: I had a little altar, and I would sit and meditate or burn incense, not really knowing what I was doing, just feeling it out. I’m a big mind-wanderer. I’ll be trying to concentrate or meditate or whatever, and then I’ll start thinking about other things. I wanted to improve my practice, so I asked myself, 'What can I do to stay awake at this altar? Oh, I can shuffle some cards.' Tarot became another way for me to meditate and pray. And it just kind of grew from there."
When did you decide to start BGT?
"When I picked out my first couple of decks and was like, 'Why don’t any of these decks look like me?' One day, I was doing my thing, going through the cards, and the idea just came to me, it would be a really great to have a deck with some brown girls in it."
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What are your thoughts on the visibility of people of color in the spiritual space right now?
"Historically, tarot came out of Europe as a form of entertainment and amusement — that's why the cards are mostly white. Artists draw who they see, who they know, who’s around them. But nowadays, we’re out here, too. There are artists of color who have been drawing tarot forever. The issue is access to resources. Just like when we talk about who’s in corporate America, when we talk about politics — who are the main faces we see? It's the same [in the spiritual space].
"People of color are interested in this work and they’re doing it at a grassroots level. We don’t have $25,000 to get a deck published. Or, if we’re creating tarot cards, it’s on the side because we have to work. We’re not independently wealthy. How are we going to get this artwork out there if we don’t have the resources to get it published? If you go on Kickstarter and just type in 'tarot,' you’ll see a bajillion tarot decks. There’s also lots of stuff on Etsy. All of these online avenues that help independent artists get their work out there have been great, and when somebody gets a whiff of something, they spread the word.
"Being able to fundraise thousands of dollars over the course of a couple of months has really changed the playing field, but it depends. You can start a Kickstarter, but people need to pick it up. You need to have the network."
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Tell us more about the network that's cropped up around BGT.
"So far we’ve just been talking in the Brown Girl Tarot Facebook group about decks created by POC and decks with POC in them. We’re having conversations around card meanings and the difference in the art work. We're talking about which decks really resonate with us and which ones don't. Part of my mission for this community is for everyone to know what decks are out there, to understand where they came from, who’s behind them, and then also start creating our own shit."

There are artists of color who have been drawing tarot forever. The issue is access to resources.

Amanda Michelle Jones
What does your personal spiritual practice look like now?
"A lot of my journey has been about learning to be still, leaning to listen, learning to communicate with spirits. That’s what I try to do, even if it’s just a minute every day. I tend to carry my cards with me. I never know when I'll want to shuffle and pull out a card. People think being spiritual means big rituals, ceremonies, and pomp circumstance. And, sure, it can be that, if that's what you’re into, but I don’t have time for all that. I'd much rather do the simplest thing to acknowledge that I am part of this grander creation."
What's your advice for people who want to fit a spiritual practice into their everyday lives?
"There’s a book called Finding Soul on the Path of Orisa by Tobe Melora Correal, and in it she says, 'Make every breath a prayer,' meaning that whatever you do, you are always communing with spirits — whether you are actively thinking about it or not. Sometimes you’re just sweeping the floor, fixing yourself a plate, or driving down the street. It starts with a little moment. You don't have to build an altar right away, and it doesn’t have to be some grand creation. It can just be a glass of water and a lit candle. Just start simple. Don’t overwhelm yourself."
What changes do you want to see in the spiritual community?
"I’d like to see the diversity of spiritual practices become more at the forefront of people's minds. There are still a ton of people who think that America is a Christian nation, which it’s not officially. We should have a space where people can do what the hell they want to do and not be at risk of death or imprisonment, or any other horrible things, for it. But I’m glad to see that folks are interested in getting connected with the practices of their ancestors. That’s happening across lots of different communities. I don't want to see that stuff parodied in the media or even just falsely represented. The minute you say 'Santería,' people think I’m sitting here chugging animal blood. That’s not what we do. I just want to be able to see people explore and practice without fear of persecution and without people shutting them down. And that whole cultural appropriation thing — that’s a whole other conversation, but I need that to stop, too (laughs)."
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