In Spring 2019, we had a healing justice workshop focused on how whiteness shows up in health, healing and wellness spaces in our community and the role of white folks in dismantling it. This blog post was co-written and inspired by several participants who shared space and conversation, posted here with their permission.
There have been many conversations regarding what cultural appropriation looks like, and to what extent we all participate in it. Cultural appropriation can be defined as the “cherry picking” or selecting of certain aspects of a culture, and ignoring their original significance for the purpose of belittling it as a trend or benefiting from it.
Cultural appropriation is a form of violence that stems from the history of colonization and stealing of this land, enslaving people from Africa, and really, the racist history and ongoing genocide of native peoples perpetatued by white supremacist culture.
White supremacy culture is that of colonization. Of taking. Of envy and of fear. The majority of white people can name no more than two generations back in our families. The majority of white people barely know where their grandparents were from, much less who their ancestors were. The majority of white people have no traditions, and the ones we have, are rooted in consumption and the superficial application of institutional religion, both of which are steeped in histories of violence.
It is a deep, dark hole of grief and loss. White folks don’t even know what we lost. Many of us don’t know our ancestors, don’t have stories of creation and hope and family; only stories of destruction and genocide. Our coming of age ceremony is a school shooting. Our song is a ballad about rockets and explosions. Our elders die alone surrounded by their stories of family members who no longer visit them. Our cities were built by the blood of slaves, on top of the graves of native people.
This loss is real, palpable, and painful. There is a profound level of fear inherent in white people and the way we desperately grasp that which is not ours. This hole cannot be filled by our self delusion, and it represents generations of isolation and grief. It is our own generational trauma that we carry with us and pass on to our children. It hurts, and we do not know how to assuage that pain.
So we take. We take the traditions, costumes, dances, songs, and agency of marginalized groups after we have decimated their populations and destroyed their homes, and we polish these items so the suffering is obscured. We take their words out of context, and we use them to make money and to fake solidarity. We take their circles and stories and we wash them with our whiteness, and we struggle to fit them into our bloody box. We take their lands, their trails, their mountains, their rocks, and we climb and walk on them, snatching frenzied glimpses of what we want to call connection, enlightenment, being woke, and wondering why they slip through our grasp.
We want to learn something about ourselves that we lost, and so we keep taking lives of other communities. But that one doesn’t fit, so, you know…on to the next.
The cycle needs to stop. It is the responsibility of white people to face our history and to dismantle the culture we have created. Stop hiding behind the stories and tokens of other people, and be accountable for the brutal ways we have consolidated our power and privilege. Stop pretending like you can hike, climb, meditate, or dress in hipster clothing, your way out of this power dynamic. Let’s stop with the excuses. You are powerful, and it is time to own that and to use it to fight back against the culture of death and violence that has left us spiritually and culturally bankrupt. Call out the bullshit when you see it, in yourself and in others. Stop colonizing the lives and land and stories of others. Stop perpetuating the culture of death, and instead fight for the living.