It’s a little too tempting, sometimes, to grab globs of Native American spirituality, helpings of Hawaiian culture, hints of pseudo-Celtic religion, and dabs of Hindu gods and shove them into my spirituality. It’s all so interesting, these other religions – their belief systems and practices fascinate me and it would be all too easy to put a feather in my hair, go barefoot, wear a Celtic knot and a bindi, and still call myself a Witch.
More like a hippie. And a rather disrespectful one, at that.
Allow me to explain myself. It’s sad to say that, in people’s effort to understand the Divine, they tend to feel like it’s okay, even their right, to take what they wish from other spiritualities and heap it all in to their own religion with little to no respect for the culture that the practices and beliefs came from. This is called cultural appropriation, and quite unfortunately, it tends to the side of racism and, more often than not, the disrespect is accidental on the part of the person appropriating the culture.
Let’s take Native American spirituality, for example, because this is one of the cultures I see being appropriating a little too often. Even I, in the past, have made the mistake of willy-nilly appropriating it, especially when I was in high school – in the high school in my town, when I was in it, the “cool” kids were the hippie kids – and these hippie kids thought nothing of sticking feathers in their hair, wearing moccasins, and reciting pseudo-Cherokee “proverbs” while banging on drums around a bonfire at the beach. Young and naive, I tried to be part of this group, before I finally realized how racist it all was – it wasn’t racist in a hateful way, but it was still nonetheless racist in the way that it projected a false image of Native Americans as them being all the same: moccasin-wearing, peace-and-earth loving, drum-playing red-skinned people whose peaceful existence was shattered by the White Men.
Besides the fact that their existence was not peaceful (they had wars, too), and they did not completely live in harmony with the earth (they cut down trees and set massive fires, too), and besides the fact that they were not all red-skinned and besides the fact that they were not all shamans (‘shaman’ is a European word), this is cultural appropriation at its best. When you take the “spirituality” of another culture, stick a stereotype onto it, and play it out as if you’re Native American yourself, you are being racist and disrespectful towards that culture. And worse, not only are you being disrespectful towards them, but you are ignoring the reality of the position they are in today – that is, a position in which the crime level, drug-and-alcohol-addiction level, and the poverty level is higher among them than any white American middle-class culture: specifically, the one you, the appropriator, are living in.
This goes not just for Native American culture, but other cultures as well – the Celtic culture, the African culture, the Middle Eastern Culture, the Australian Aboriginal culture….If it is not your culture, leave it well enough alone, because if you don’t know what you’re doing – which is more than often than you think when it comes to cultures that are not your own – you are being racist and disprespectful towards that culture and the people within it.
Now, if you are, in fact, genuinely interested in the culture and not the social stereotype of it, I suggest you talk to some of the leaders of that culture. Ask them about their spirituality and what their practices are. And most importantly, ask them how they feel about people outside their culture practicing their spirituality – and base your actions on what they say.
As for my own spirituality – I try to stay away from other cultures and beliefs that I cannot claim as my own. I make mistakes every so often, as everyone does, but I try my best to not fall into the trap of appropriation. I am a Neo Pagan Witch with New Age flavoring and Wiccan tendencies. Note that the description of my spirituality does not include anything that is a non-white culture. I am a Witch, in the European sense of the word – I work magick, I cast spells. I am a New Ager, in that I believe in ascension, I practice sound healing and crystal healing, and other such New Age practices. I have Wiccan tendencies – and Wicca was created by a white man, in the 50s, using his own beliefs and not incorporating any other culture’s practices into it.
My spirituality is fulfilling, and I feel more than spiritually satisfied when I practice it – I feel in touch with the Divine and with the world around me. I love my spirituality, which is why I don’t take other culture’s practices and put them in to it. It feels like stealing – even if the practices are fascinating to me, I know inherently that they are not mine, and what is not mine does not resonate with my inner light, with my inner vibration. If it does not resonate, I do not need it.
If, at such a time, the practices of another culture does resonate with what I feel inside, then I will research it. I will find out how the spiritual people of that culture feel about others using their practices. And if I decide to use those practices, I will do it with the most realism and respect I can muster. Cultural appropriation sucks.
I don’t like posting negative things, and I try my best to stay away from those kinds of topics, but some things simply need to be said, and this is one of those. Feel free to post your replies! I’m all for discussion.
Have a blessed weekend, everyone!