Cultural Appropriation in Spiritual Practice, Part Three: The Importance of ReciprocityAug 14, 2019
Asking Good Questions
This teaching I received about cultural appropriation was from my friend Jude, who is a white pagan priestess of Jewish descent. She told me that facing cultural appropriation is not about learning one clear set of rules and sticking to it, because nobody agrees on what those rules should be, and often each situation is unique. Facing cultural appropriation is always going to be an ongoing conversation and self-inquiry about what you are doing, who it is impacting, and what is ethical. The three sets of questions she recommends asking are:
- Am I sharing the accurate origin of the practices I am using when I practice them around others? Am I giving credit and citing my sources? Did I actually learn them from a credible source? Do I need to do more research?
- Am I in active and meaningful relationship with members of the culture that developed these practices? Who will give me feedback if I am using them incorrectly?
- Am I engaging in reciprocity by supporting the survival of that culture through activism, volunteering, monetary donations, or other means? Is this an ongoing practice for me?
A complimentary insight that I received was from Darcy Ottey, a white woman who has spent most of her life leading land-based youth rite of passage experiences. Darcy was one of my teachers in a class called “Before We Were White: Ceremony and Ancestral Recovery for Anti-Racist Action,” taught through an organization called White Awake. Darcy has spent years uncovering the history and practices of her ancestors in Eastern Europe, and she gave me an eloquent understanding of cultural exchange. She explained that cultural exchange is possible only when both parties arrive at the table with gifts to share. When a white person with no understanding of their own lineage goes to a pow-wow and comes home with lots of sage sticks to burn and native chants to sing, that is not cultural exchange, because the transmission of culture only goes one way. You cannot participate in exchange if you are a beggar with nothing to give, that is just cultural taking. Once you have put in the hard work to research your own ancestral earth-based traditions, you come to the table with something to share. When an indigenous person offers to show you one of their practices, you can offer to share one of your ancestral traditions in return, and that is an actual exchange. It’s the difference between arriving at the potluck with a big hot casserole to share and arriving starving with only an empty bowl.
Understanding the cultural practices of our own ancestors is a key step in the process of shifting cultural appropriation into cultural exchange. Photo by Kristijan Arsov on Unsplash
Read part four of this series HERE.