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  • Writer's pictureLaura Perry

Cultural Appropriation: Why we still need to care

As if 2020 hasn't been enough of a horror show, cultural appropriation continues to rear its ugly head on top of all the other "fun" stuff that's going on. I ran across this article the other day, and it reminded me that a lot of people honestly don't realize that what they're doing is problematic. Colonialism is everywhere, and it's so ingrained in our (white, western) culture that, like the Calvinist Christian undercurrent, it's hard to identify it for what it really is.

I mean, yes, there are plenty of people out there who will happily take whatever they want from wherever they can find it as long as it helps them make a buck. We probably won't be able to stop them on a large scale until cultural appropriation becomes broadly socially unacceptable. But for everyone else, we need to learn better and, once we've learned, do better (Maya Angelou's words, more or less, and I totally agree).

I didn't always know what cultural appropriation was, or even that I was doing it - for years - in my private spiritual practice with Irish folklore and mythology. Once I became aware of how my behavior was problematic, I changed my approach. But the distinction between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation can be tricky. Irish Pagan author Lora O'Brien has a great video about that very subject. And even though my main thing these days (Modern Minoan Paganism) comes from a long-dead civilization, we've been very careful not to appropriate aspects of our practice from living cultures, especially disadvantaged and exploited ones, as we build our Minoan revival.

Here's the thing: Those of us with a less-than-mainstream spiritual bent are going to keep running into this issue, because the vast majority of us grew up in cultures that don't have living Pagan traditions. So we go looking for practices from our ancestry or from other geographic areas.

And some of the attraction, if we're really honest, is the exoticism of it. The otherness. Except, that exoticism is how we've been othering whole groups of people for centuries and then taking advantage of that otherness, both socially and economically. It's how Ayahuasca tourism has turned into such a mess on so many levels. It's how people in contemporary cultures, from Ireland to India, have ended up having to defend their own living traditions from foreigners who want to profit off them and/or tell them they're doing it wrong (!).

It's hard work, just like examining our behavior for racism and other prejudices is hard work. And just like everyone else, I'm pretty tired right now. But we need to keep doing the hard work. We need to keep holding ourselves, and others, to a high standard. Otherwise, life isn't going to get better, especially not for those who are marginalized and exploited.

So yeah, more "fun" things to think about as this !@#$% year winds down. But I believe in learning and growth, on a personal and societal level. One step at a time, one day at a time. We can do this. We have to.

In the name of the bee, And of the butterfly, And of the breeze, amen.

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