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We have been examining each and every listed point from Jona Olsson's brilliant commentary about how we avoid discussing racism in the United States in her essay: Detour-Spotting, a piece I continue to hope people are digesting. My role here is just in aiding it a bit by breaking it into smaller doses and helping it slightly by rooting out a bit more about each topic as we go.

We have what I think it the most inane of the topics to deal with today, but one that is no less valid than the others:

16) I Was An Indian In a Former Life (2)

“After that sweat lodge I really know what it feels like to be an Indian. I have found my true spiritual path.”


Reality Check and Consequence

This is spiritual or cultural appropriation and poses a serious threat to the integrity and survival of Native cultures. To fill a void in their own spiritual core, some white people are drawn into the New Age garden to pick from a variety of Native spiritual practices usually offered for sale. (White writers, such as Lynn Andrews and others, garner high profits from fictitious “Indian” writing and teaching, while many Native writers can’t find publishers.) Since Native spiritual practice is inseparable from history and current community, it cannot be disconnected from that context to service white people searching for life’s meaning. Appropriating selected parts of Native cultures romanticizes the lives of Native peoples while denying their struggles. Their land and livelihoods stolen, indigenous peoples now see white people trying to steal their spirituality. Rather than escape our white racism by finding a spiritual path, we instead collude in one more way with the genocidal attacks on Native cultures.


I can't help but think of the 1990 Academy Award Best Picture winner, "Dances With Wolves," which told a fictional tale about a Union soldier during the US Civil War (played by the film's director, Kevin Costner) who becomes acquainted with the local Lakota Indians. Eventually, he chooses to become a part of their tribe and during this process, meets and falls in love with another white person living with them, played by Mary McDonnell. No spoilers but I always thought the most bizarre element of it was that here were two white people, seemingly convinced that they had somehow become "natives."

When we speak about "Cultural Appropriation," people sometimes shrug it off, say things like "so, if I'm not Mexican, I can't eat tacos anymore?" or other misguided commentary. Let's see if we can unpack this in a way that makes some sense.

When dealing with racism, the elements of who these people in our society are diminished, their humanity, overlooked or removed. Yes, genocide was committed against the natives of this land, but they had some cool headdresses to wear and applied their war paint in a way that was totes amazeballs.

What's happening is people are willing to pick and choose the elements they like from a culture other than their own, and incorporate it into their own lives, yet they are not willing to acknowledge that the people who created those things are considered unfit to be incorporated into our society.

I hope it's clear why that's a problem.

Additionally, it's often claimed that the elements created by the people of these differing cultures were somehow "invented" by the white majority observers. In that way, the audience of white people looking for something new and interesting, are willing to pay the "creator" of those stolen concepts, making this not just an insult but a monetary attack.

Often, the copied elements neglect some very basic things, for example, the feelings of the people they portray. As we all know, in Washington DC, there is a National Football League team with a name that many Native Americans find offensive. The white majority claim that they aren't trying to be insulting and are, in fact, paying tribute to their history. Yet we know that the name of the team was, in fact, a racial slur.

Despite numerous calls to have the team name changed (in the same town, the NBA's Washington Bullets changed their name to the Wizards - imagine the fact that 2nd Amendment supporters were offended about that name - so this request didn't set a precedent), there has been no movement on this issue.

Cultural Appropriation says that I'm willing to take bits and pieces of your life and use the ones I like, reducing you to far less than human. You're just a fix-it kit designed only for the pleasure of the majority, who will take those things, disregard their actual meaning and attach their own meaning to it, no matter what you might think about it. It's how humans get worn as a fashion statement or to liven up the boredom of an otherwise dull life.

Though Ms. Olsson has focused on Native American elements, certainly there have been no end of other cultures mined for their contributions and then tossed away - certainly when it comes to the black community, rap music, twerking and hair weaves are merely three elements that have been taken by the so-called mainstream market who then repackage it for their audiences, with no royalties in sight. Don't get me started on blackface performing.

That's the other issue that people don't seem to understand. The people that appropriate never bother to learn anything about those they are taking from; they are just using what they like and the people who created it can just vanish because we don't care about them.

We don't care: a three word summation of racism. And as we dehumanize people, we silently are stating that they are not worthy of equal rights. That is a very dangerous place to be.


Previous thinkposts in this series:

1. Day One - I'm Colorblind
2. Day Two - Bootstrap Theory
3. Day Three - Reverse Racism
4. Day Four - Blame The Victim
5. Day Five - The White Knight
6. Day Six - Lighten Up
7. Day Seven - Don't Blame Me
8. Day Eight - BWAME
9. Day Nine - We Have Overcome
10. Day Ten - The End Run
11. Day Eleven - Due Process
12. Day Twelve - By Association
13. Day Thirteen - The Penitent
14. Day Fourteen - White Wash
15. Day Fifteen - Not Here

XX. Intermission

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