Racial Diversity In Tarot

Let’s talk about racial diversity in Tarot. There are absolutely other elements of diversity that can show up in Tarot, but today I want to talk about this topic that comes up in the Tarot community.

Have you ever seen photographer Angelica Dass’ work to match skin tones with Pantone colours? If you’re not familiar, Pantone provides a standardized database of colours. This database is frequently used in fashion, interior design, graphic design and other creative fields. 

Although I haven’t heard it said this way, I believe the increased calls for diversity in Tarot deck art is coming from dialogue on unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias means that we all come into the physical world without ANY beliefs or biases. And that as we grow, we ALL develop unconscious assumptions and beliefs based on what we observe around us. 

Unconscious bias is a key factor in discrimination and barriers, to be sure. Note to mention our personal empowerment, but that’s for another day.

By including people who reflect a range of diversity in art and media that we consume – shows, advertising, books, Tarot – we transform our unconscious biases to remember that diversity is normal and healthy.

An issue that arises in Tarot

I’m happy that more decks are being produced that help to transform our unconscious biases.

However, one problem that can happen, is an assumption that diversity can only mean “fair” skintones vs “obviously not fair” skintones. But that itself is bias, and only serves to further perpetuate unserving unconscious biases.

For example, in Dass’ work (scroll down about halfway down the page), she shows four people who have the SAME skintone (Pantone shade 58-6 C), but appear to identify respectively as BIPOC, AAPI, Mediterranean, and northern European descent. Four different people, four completely different backgrounds, and all the same skintone

Something to think about when we’re thinking about how to describe and assess Tarot deck characters’ diversity. 

An example

In creating Chakra Healing Tarot, it was crucial to me that the art (art by E.C. Mazur) reflect diverse peoples.

For example, let’s look at Chakra Healing Tarot, if we set aside other aspects of diversity for a moment. Folks who are NOT “white” show up in 56 of 78 cards. Folks appearing as BIPOC, AAPI and MENA make up 41 of those cards, with an additional 14 cards showing as mixed heritage. Of the 23 remaining cards, 9 appear to be medium/olive/Mediterranean toned “white”, another 9 are pale “white”, and 5 are somewhere in between. 

But if you’re not looking at other features that indicate the background of the characters, and just go by “light” vs “not light”? You’ll be dumping a bunch of characters – including BIPOC, AAPI and MENA characters into that bucket. 

Of course there are other aspects of diversity also reflected in this and many decks. But I think these are crucial discussions when we’re assessing the diversity of Tarot deck characters.

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