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appropriation

last week i was honoured to be part of a workshop titled, ‘deepening our strength,’ which explored the role and need for a radical spirituality, especially in the context of working for social change. in my segment, i suggested a series of questions for people to consider when exploring a religious/spiritual tradition outside of their families’ history.

i want to emphasize that these points are not intended to be used to screen or judge others. these questions are intended to support self-reflection. i ask them first and foremost of myself. my thinking on cultural appropriation has been inspired and deepened by a surge of online writing on this topic, which i highly recommend for further exploration:

http://theangryblackwoman.com/2009/01/15/what-is-cultural-appropriation/

http://yogavita.wordpress.com/2008/07/21/cultural-appropriation-in-action/

http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2010/04/cultural-appropriation-bingo-proving.html

http://iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/linkage-the-feather-in-your-native-cap/

Questions to Think About if You Find Yourself Drawn to a Faith Outside Your History

1. Does adopting this tradition increase your social capitial? Your social mobility?

2. Do you bring a sense of entitlement to your use of other traditions? For example, do you appeal to the principle of universalism existent in many traditions to justify your use of components as you see fit?

3. Do you position yourself as practicing a purer, more authentic, more orthodox/more in-line-with-the-founder’s-vision-of-the-faith? (i.e. other sikhs/buddhists/muslims are mired in cultural baggage, but we are free to practice this tradition as it was meant to be practiced!)

4. What is your relationship with members of the greater community from which this tradition comes? Are you involved in supporting their struggle for: autonomy/decolonization/mobility rights/freedom from racism? In what ways are you honouring the peoples from whom this tradition has come/within whom this tradition lives?

5. Most faith traditions include moral codes/restrictions and require a daily discipline. Are you cherry picking the ‘fun stuff,’ securing your spiritual ‘high,’ but discarding the aspects that take work and require you to confront your ego – and which challenge the Western quest for pleasure (including spiritual pleasure) as a ‘right’?

6. Is there a balance between the visible components of the faith and the practices that are done in private? Is your relationship to this tradition mainly aesthetic? Are you ‘performing’ a faith?

7. Are you working to familiarize yourself with the history of the greater community? The history of Sikhs is filled with persecution and resistance. Are you aware of the many sacrifices that have been made to enable this path to All-That-Is to exist into the present? Of the great loss of life and the continued repression of this community today?

8. Are you doing the work to learn necessary language skills?

9. Many faiths emphasize self-development and community service. Is your relationship to this tradition regulated solely to a ‘self-help’ role?

10. Are you benefiting financially from this tradition?

One of my favorite writers and thinkers, Trinh Minh-ha, emphasizes the role offunction versus intention. She points out that we are born into a field of power that precedes our birth, and which shapes our choices and also the meaning and impact of those choices, whatever our ‘intention’ may be (thank you to one of the above bloggers who referred me to this concept by Trinh). Our role, as i see it, is to be as aware as possible of our impact on others, so that we can make an informed choice about the best path to take, one which causes the least harm to all beings.

The steps that those of us from the ‘West’ take in Sikhi are always going to be marked by the privilege of access and mobility that we were born into. These points are an attempt to clarify the motivation and commitment that we have in order to ask the question of ourselves, ‘Why am I here (in this faith)?’ To ensure that we keep front and centre the deep, deep honour that it is to walk this path, by the grace of the Guru.

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