Cultural Appropriation is a type of colonization that systemically impacts Black, Indigenous, and Peoples of Colour (BIPOC). As it relates to ritual and ceremony, cultural appropriation is often seen when white people incorporate rituals into their lives without understanding, acknowledging, or referencing the cultural origin or meaning.
According to Blair Imani, “cultural appropriation happens when a group or member of a group, with relative privilege and power, takes an aspect of cultural expression from the originating group without consent or acknowledgment of the actual origins. Sometimes the intentions are malicious and other times, simply uninformed.”
Layla Saad says, “cultural appropriation does not work the other way round. BIPOC cannot appropriate from white people, because BIPOC do not hold collective power and privilege over white people”.
Examples of cultural appropriation, as it relates to ritual and ceremony, can include smudging (as a non-Indigenous person), buying religious or spiritual items and using them as trinkets or souvenirs, or using words from different languages in your ritual practice without understanding and attributing the religious, cultural, or philosophical context.
What’s wrong with cultural appropriation?
Paraphrased from Maisha Z. Johnson
- It trivializes violent historical oppression
- It lets people show love for a culture, but remain prejudiced against its people
- It makes things ‘cool’ for white people, but ‘too ethnic’ for people of color
- It lets privileged people profit from oppressed people’s labor
- It lets some people get rewarded for things the creators never got credit for
- It spreads mass lies about marginalized cultures
- It perpetuates racist stereotypes
- White people can freely do what people of color were actively punished for doing
- It prioritizes the feelings of privileged people over justice for marginalized people
“Cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that’s not their own…A deeper understanding of cultural appropriation also refers to a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group. That’s why cultural appropriation is not the same as cultural exchange, when people share mutually with each other – because cultural exchange lacks that systemic power dynamic.”Maisha Z. Johnson
How to avoid cultural appropriation
Paraphrased from Blair Imani
1. Check your motivations
Cultural practices and expressions are not trends. We often see cultural appropriation happen when individuals are looking to satisfy their need of belonging, desirability, or uniqueness, without understanding the inherent value and meaning of the ritual itself.
2. Is it Accurate?
Cultural appropriation thrives on collapsing multifaceted groups and cultures into one single aspect or entity. It erases nuance, richness, and complexity while claiming to ‘make it better’.
3. Who is Profiting?
Who is making money or gaining status from this? Understanding how you can honour the origins of a ritual is to purchase directly from the original community, ensuring you have proper attribution, and speaking out when you feel someone is profiting at the origin community’s behalf.
4. Is there a Deeper Meaning?
Take an interest and commit to learning more. Consult with groups and individuals alike, asking questions and uncovering who a ceremony practice or ritual belongs to. Respect cultural practices and expressions, and acknowledge that many ritual items are attached to larger beliefs system
“The line between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange is always going to be blurred, but here’s the thing: Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed as high fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves. Appropriation occurs when the appropriator is not aware of the deep significance of the culture they are partaking in.”Amandla Stenberg
At Be Ceremonial, we are committed to learning and unlearning acceptable relationships with ceremony and ritual. We are attempting to draw from universal, secular, nature-inspired rituals for the ceremonies we help you craft, and we acknowledge that we will make mistakes and will course correct whenever possible. Read Our Ceremony Acknowledgment.