Whiteness, Cultural Appropriation, and Spiritual Power

Powerful point. Did you know Nelson Mandela has said he never felt powerlessness in all his years behind bars. Where is this deep rooted resilience and power? Why don’t white people have it?

(I think the rest of this requires you to know that race is a social construct and thus “white” isn’t a thing. It is a lie we’ve been blanketed in.)

I do think white people are drowning in meaninglessness which is the strongest definition of powerlessness. We all inherit a legacy of intense evil. Millennia of rape of the land, peoples, and personhood of millions. Then we are raised with the lie both that we are good for the world (manifest destiny) and that our social structures are good for all. The lie that our culture allows anyone to rise to the top, that we have a mobile culture where initiative and hard work are all it takes to rise up. It is cognitive dissonance from the moment we are born.

We feel a phantom pain because these lies are impossible for a soul to pretend is true. So, in order to keep this social stricture in place we’ve also had our souls suppressed. We have an empty, third-person religion dominating us. A religious tradition (Christian, Jewish, and Islamic – basically this is a “feature” of monotheistic religions) that tells us we are sinners in need of a savior, that this world is just a test and thus not inherently important (manifest destiny again), and that “others” are our enemy. We are discouraged from knowing ourselves, our souls, we are punished for finding personal empowerment.

I think every single white person in the US (perhaps all western cultures) knows a deep rooted but un identifiable malaise that comes from the disconnection we are forced to believe in order to maintain the status quo. We manifest this in mental illness, violence, and a cult of busy-ness that keeps us from hearing the truth that our souls are crying out to us to discover. That we are one with every other being on the planet and with the planet itself.

To understand cultural appropriation we have to unveil the lies. To recognize that we are *continuing* to rape people’s cultures (instead of the lie that these things happened “before”) requires awareness that we are empty and powerless and disconnected. This is painful and many people can’t tolerate the soul pain caused by seeing without blinders on what it means to be white.

I encounter these white people in my work everyday. They can’t even swallow the fact that they have privilege. It is too painful and they’ve been taught that self reflection or listening to the voices of their soul is a sin (religiously) or condemned (socially). They are powerless and trapped in their whiteness. Cut off from their own source of power.

How could such a person understand cultural appropriation? They will always use the scripts of white culture they’ve been taught: we share culture, these people are better off with our culture because we bring them medicine and salvation. What we do is benevolent. They have to believe this or face the fact that they are part of a system of demonstrable evil.

I think when white people are able to break through their conditioning – and it is a break: painful rending of our white facades to expose our souls who’ve been neglected and forgotten – they then feel lost. When everything you know and everything you’ve done and had done to you was damaging your soul and (since we are all one) every single other person and living thing on the planet it can be easier to hide. Get busy again so you don’t have to think or feel.

Some social justice minds call this the colonized mind. We (white people) colonize indigenous peoples taking their culture and language but we never take their souls because they know their power. They know they are one. But, in order to make us docile accomplices to white colonization we also had our minds colonized. We operate and are victims of racism too. Racism takes our power by disconnecting us from our souls.

The spiritual traditions of indigenous people all have the same root. The way the “major” “religions” of the western world have the same base – literally the same “god” – indigenous belief systems, from Tibet to the Yucatan, share the common thread of flowing from personal power instead of personal submission.

When we first hear a spiritual tradition that wakes up our dormant souls we don’t know how to make it our own. How could we? We’ve been told to look outside ourselves for spirit since birth. So, we drape ourselves in the outward appearance of the tradition. We wear saris and bindis or start smudging everything with sage. I’m not saying those things are necessarily bad but they are the empty shell of the spiritual tradition and veer toward cultural appropriation.

This is why social justice work is so important to spiritual development. They can’t happen in a vacuum. Without understanding how to decolonize our minds we will continue to “adopt” native cultural traditions in a way that continues to demean and harm said culture. But, with the hard work of dismantling our colonized attitudes and beliefs we can reclaim our power. Our power that we are all one and that any harm to the least of us harms us all.

This is the way we find our own spirituality. I don’t think it can be done without the examples of native cultures. We need a lighthouse to help us navigate in the dark until we can shed the layers of lies that are “white culture”, find our own power and then turn it back on the white culture that sought to harm us in the first place.


4 thoughts on “Whiteness, Cultural Appropriation, and Spiritual Power

  1. Based on what you’ve written here, I can’t help but get curious what you’d think of my mother.

    She has been a practitioner of native indian spiritualism for as far as I can remember.
    Some years ago, she was INVITED to go see and live the few natives living the old ways in Lakota and Dakota; spent every last penny she had to be able to take this trip and evolve her practices.

    Was that cultural appropriation? For a white woman from a rich country (albeit not personally very wealthy or in any other way privileged) to travel to “the natives” she’s apparently helped oppressed from the other side of the globe, simply for sharing the same skin colour of the Europeans that once brought plagues and oppression to the native ancestors; is this cultural appropriation? To see the practices of another culture as superior, and take pride in being taught them?

    Today, she still practices the form of shamanism they taught her there, and tries to make a living out of performing and teaching this ahead to other people that will put it to proper use.
    It’s slow, tedious work, since it’s sparsely populated where she lives and thus hard to find many suitable clients. But it’s what she does. And it makes other people happy. She has worked with immigrants and former racists alike, as long as they show promise through the rules she was taught.

    She’ll keep smudging sage and holding drum sessions ’til she retires. And some will all keep looking down upon her, writing things on her Facebook page that she’ll pomptly delete, but cry over later at night.


    • I don’t think it is cultural appropriation. She isn’t stealing their ideas and profiting from it or belittling it in a music video. I practice Buddhism and I’m as white as can be. 🙂


  2. “…to see practices of another cu;ture as superior…” First problem I see here is that if you see practices of culture as “superior” or inferior to another, you are bound to discriminate based on culture even if you’re trying not to. Next thing is her making “a living” out of these practices she was invited to go study. Did she expressly proclaim her intention to teach to others the things she learned for pay? And do her Native teachers do the same? If not then this would be problematic in my view. Finally – People make comments that upset her and she “cries over”. Indigenous people have been damaged, torchered, decimated, ripped off, and have cried oceans. Hope these cultural adoptees understand if no pats on the back from anyone to comfort their bruised sensibilities.


  3. This article is good, hard, real. There are many great analyses like this one about the issues of whiteness (the concept/intention, not skin color per say). Now what is needed is civilized, face to face interaction AND IT’S NEEDED IMMEDIATELY!!!


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