The problem with any universalizing generalization is that it can be turned used as a tool for the continuation and perpetuation of imperialism and colonialism. If I say, “we are all one race” and then say “so every human has the right to participate in every human culture” in an effort to be inclusive, what prevents me from stepping into any culture and appropriating it?
We haven’t begun to talk about privilege much in this conversation. Race doesn’t exist, but racism does. Racism is the tool of imperialism and colonialism, creating underclasses and appropriating physical and cultural resources from those underclasses. Once we acknowledge the power differential the issue of cultural appropriation becomes much more comprehensible. As a “white” American I directly benefit from the racism of the present and the racism of the past which built wealth for my immediate ancestors on the backs of dispossessed native peoples and of servants and slaves. If I step into an indigenous culture whose lands my people have taken, and begin to imitate their folkways without invitation, I am exercising power and privilege over those people.
Any analysis of cultural appropriation which does not include an acknowledgment of privilege and power risks perpetuating colonialism. What is most egregious about white nationalist rhetoric is the failure to acknowledge privilege and the casting of “white” peoples in the role of victim. There have been ways in which I have been placed in an underclass, but it has never been because of my membership in the white world.
— Brandy Williams | After Stella Natura, confronting racism in the Pagan community: round-up and what’s next
It is clear that addressing issues of cultural appropriation, spiritual colonialism, and cultural disrespect must be addressed by Reclaiming and the BC Witchcamp if it wishes to remain in integrity to its own Principals of Unity and to address issues of colonization and privilege in its right relationship with local Skwxwú7mesh communities, their ancestors, and the other living beings of that place.
— Awakening the Horse People | Open Letter to BC Witchcamp on Issues of Cultural Appropriation & Respect
A core problem with the idea of eclecticism (and, to a lesser extent, syncretic interpretation) is because there’s a certain level of cultural appropriation that is seen as inherently happening, and this comes in to play from the cherry-picking nature of the New Age influences of the ’70s and ’80s. And I feel that this appropriation is more noticeable when the religion that is suffering from the pejorative of “eclecticism” is more rigidly defined in terms of methodology and practice. I’m sure there’s some residual irritation at the lengthy history of Christianity and the appropriation of non-Christian traditions in order to spearhead conversion.
“So pervasive was the merging of moral quality with complexion that a good black man was said to have a white soul.”
— from Mattias Gardell’s Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism
“When I am asked if I would be okay with someone making a space in a pagan gathering that was ‘whites only’ and how that would affect me, I honestly didn’t have an answer because, the majority population at a pagan event tends towards white, so why do you need another room when there’s a whole conference/space/gathering area where you can see each other? […]Declaring that you are upset by people choosing to have a space that marginalizes you because you’re white, is hard (for me) to take seriously. Do you actually HEAR yourself when you say these words? Do you realize how hard it is to hear this because that’s what it’s like for me and other PoC and marginalized groups for a few moments in a hypothetical situation? Our marginalization happens in our day to day. We are marginalized, othered, and shamed for things we have NO control over, just going about our day. I wish I could feel for you, I really do, and part of me does; but the part of me that does, is sardonic in its response because you have now been afforded a taste of what my life is like, CONSTANTLY.”
– Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir | Things I Wish White Pagans Realized