Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cultural Appropriation Can Kill You

So today I read an article on Yahoo about a self-styled guru spiritual leader self-help expert James Arthur Ray who booked a spa in Arizona and charged clients $9,000-$10,000 for a week called a "Spiritual Warrior" retreat. The culmination of the retreat was a "sweat lodge." Three people have died from multiple organ failure from the sweat.

First of all, I have no experience in running a sweat lodge but common sense says that you do not pack 80 people into a superheated space, period. Anyone that has ever been in a sauna or hot tub or steam room has seen the sign warning against over exposure to those superheated spaces. And a sweat lodge is NOT one of those things. it is an even more intense space that is also a spiritual ceremony tied to rigorous traditions that are both for enlightenment and for the safety of the participants.

James Arthur Ray was a stupid cultural appropriationist as well as criminally negligent. The deaths have been ruled a homicide, and while I don't think he murdered those people, they entered the sweat of their own free will, he was responsible for their health and safety, and I hope that the three families smack him with a wrongful death suit that leaves him penniless eating government cheese straight from the box.

For fuck's sake white folks, stop STEALING shit that you DON'T understand, that is NOT part of your life tradition, and that you have NO BUSINESS APPROPRIATING for your own.

Charging for a sweat not only is wrong but also it profanes the experience. This isn't some weekend Scandinavian recreational event, this is a spiritual ceremony tied to a tradition of faith. Why the fuck do certain privileged, generally white people, all of a sudden up and decide they can steal another people's spiritual practices and then CHARGE for the shit?

If I put on a cassock, got me a bottle of Three Buck Chuck Merlot and a box of Wheat Thins and started charging people for Holy Communion there would be a riot. Hell, in some states it is illegal to impersonate a member of the clergy. So why the hell is it alright for Joe Whitey to impersonate a shaman, medicine person, or other spiritual leader?

Now don't get me wrong, there are some white folks that do cultural immersion the right way. Pema Chodron is a white Canadian woman that after a nasty divorce took vows as a Buddhist nun and is now a world renowned and respected leader in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. But she didn't take the spiritual learnings for herself and then charge for them. She followed the ways, laws, teachings, and traditions of the path that she found fulfilling for her. She submitted to the structure of her new faith and worked within it under experienced teachers and through that found her way.

The fact that white folks still think that they can snatch up something that they do not understand, slap some "wampum" on it and a dreamcatcher and call it a self-help seminar is endemic of the continued subjugation and culture war being waged on the native peoples, my people, of the United States.

It's time for this shit to stop. Three people dead is a high price to pay for one man's greed, cultural appropriation and racism.


  1. wow.... 80 people in one sweat lodge is crazy...

    I used to attend sweat lodges of 4 people and that was intense enough with someone always needing to leave the heat to have an experience processed and intergrated..

    you could not possibly do that with 80 (unless you had 60-80 staff!)

  2. That man is in big trouble and he deserves it. Shoot.

  3. Once again, your ability to express disgust and outrage while still maintaining your dignity amazes me.

    And you do it with wit and style to boot....

    I LOVE YOU BLC!!!!

    I only wish this man was in "big trouble." Frankly, he is going to have to pay some money.

    I suspect at the end of all of this he will still be rich and clueless. ...

    On a different note, when are you and David gonna come out and visit us?

    Smooches from Humboldt

  4. " man's greed, cultural appropriation and racism" should not translate to all "white folks."

    White folks do some stupid shit. In fact, we've done some of the stupidist shit in history (that's a different post though). But the sweat lodge white dude was over and above.

    I'm with you, leave other culture's traditions alone.

  5. @Ben You are absolutely right, I don't extrapolate this man's idiocy with all white men, yet there is an ongoing strain of cultural appropriation that is curiously attached to white folks of which this is just another, more extreme, example. It would still have been wrong if no one had died.
    @David Cobb I love you too David Cobb! So, David and I were just talking about that. Taylour is moving back to Portland in December, so we were thinking about planning a trip to see Tay in Portland and then driving down the coast to visit you two in Humboldt. We both miss you tons and tons and tons. Love you love you love you lots.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and insights. And thank you for reading!