Monday, November 7, 2016

The Necessity of Unity and the Appropriateness of Cultural Appropriation

Disclaimer: you may be offended by this post. You may write this post off as irrelevant, insincere, and ignorant because of the color of my skin. You may have many words, moods, and judgments about what I have to say. What I have to say is why I have been postponing this article for many weeks. Rather, correction: fear of what other people might think, or how they might feel about what I have to say is what has halted my words. With that being said, I know myself, and I know that I am coming from my heart and my heart is something that I trust.

I am in positions to empower people everyday to speak their truth, to act from a place of authenticity, to bust through societal norms, to take their own ruled and radical road. In order to tell people this and not feel like a complete fraud, I have to live this. So I definitely do. And if you are one of my friends (or my mother) who hears about my off-the-wall stories---you know this is true! But I also have to start speaking which I am working on. Hiding is easy. Comfortable. Quite blissful even. Passivity, which I will come to discuss again later---is an easy land to live in, but it is the speaking that gets things burning, flowing, and sometimes breaking (which society is slowly but surely doing anyways). Speaking out, speaking up, and speaking through is what can make the most change, which is so desperately needed in our divided,split, modern-day society of dichotomy.

Up until a few weeks ago, I was cognizant, yet in disbelief (and denial), that racism was all over the country. Just because I was cognizant and aware of this, does not mean whatsoever that I ever felt, saw, or had any of my own embodied experiences of this and I never truly will--really. I can have moments of empathetic understanding, but they are just moments, not centuries, lifetimes, and lineages of cultural oppression. Situations in my life have been begging, pleading, and shaking me to wake up and realize what has been happening all around me all along. A few of these moments that have asked me to wake up, re-frame, re-picture, and re-evaluate were when I saw a white man violently yelling, body fuming, and soul snaring at a black police man, when I was hissed at by a black woman to get up and give her my seat on the bus (quite ironic and amazing--really), and the twenty something conversations I had with black people that were curious or very upset about my faux dreadlocks I had in my hair for the month of September.

I got my hair braided for Burning Man, a festival in the Nevada desert encouraging radical self expression, self reliance, community building,stepping out of comfort zones, and a culture of trying new things--basically the most extravagant playground suited for adults. (Also, the demographics at Burning Man is majority all white folks.)

Getting my hair braided (called Hair Falls) was not a simple endeavor. For three days, it was my part time job. I'm talking an 18 hour faux-dreadlock, entire head woven of yarn, string, fabric. A fantasy of fuchsias, blues, neon sunsets, bamboo, ribbon, sparkles, glitter. To me, my hair screamed Burning Man, but I didn't realize that it was screaming other things to other people too.

I never thought that this decision to braid my hair could be seen as cultural appropriation or cultural affiliation, mimicking another ethnicity, race, religion, or any other kind of preference--but this lack of awareness also showed me a few things. Yes, choices can be innocent, but also the lack of awareness in the privilege of not having or needing to ask for permission--ever. Ever, ever. EVER. This has been a wake up to awareness: the decision to braid my hair, to do anything to change my appearance, or just about anything at all for that matter, has always been a freedom of mine, my parents (though they never would make such loud appearance choices),my grandparents, and great grandparents too.

The lack of questioning or needing permission runs in my ancestory, my DNA, and my lineage. White privilege--yes. Recognizing white privilege, probably not--which can perhaps start to make a lot of difference with what is really going on below the surface of things. Perhaps this awareness can help to move and transform entitlement into graciousness.

More graciousness, more awareness. 
More awareness, more understanding. 
More understanding, more thoughtful choices. 

My colorful braids definitely drew some attention and illicited a lot of response. The first two weeks I had my braids, the only comments I got (aside from people who already knew me) were from black people. Black men were very complimentary and respectful for the most part. About a dozen black men while commuting on the subway or walking down 6th Ave. mentioned that my hair was "beautiful" and that I "looked beautiful". There were a few whistles that I could have lived without, but that's just my preference for kind words over whistles.  I had one man ask me if my hair was a part of my religion. If he would have asked me post-Burning Man and all the magic I experienced and changed the word "religion" to "personal spirituality"---I would have said YES. 

Now for black women: I got two extremely different responses.
Extreme Curiosity and Extreme Aversion. 

Most black women that approached and talked to me wanted to know how many hours my braids took. If I saw that they had any form of braids too, I wanted to know how they managed to deal with the excess weight sitting on top of their head and if their neck ever hurt (like I was experiencing). Usually, but not always within this conversation,the women would go on to say that they liked my hair, were impressed with the craftsmanship of it (HAIL QUEEN/ARTIST/MASTERMIND GODDESS ERIKA BROWN), or mentioned that it was "very unique and different". Within these conversations, we proceeded to talk about hairstyles, braids, preferences,hair extensions,and hair maintenance. These women were easy to talk to and I walked away learning something or having a new awareness of black women's hair and beauty secrets. These encounters, and I 
had many of them for the month I had my hair wrapped and braided, brought a lot of happiness to my life. It was nice to have so many spontaneous conversations with people in such a busy and lacking-in-connection city like New York. 

The second response I got from black women (though not as frequent as friendly inquisitiveness) were non-verbal scoffing, rolling eyes, and one woman even said to me as she was getting off the subway, "Yeah, if I was a rich white girl, I could have gone to Mexico on vacation and had my hair braided too." I think it was that comment that made me deeply realize the poison of ignorance, quick judgment calls, incorrect associations,and our sad split within humanity. That, and maybe I should charge a trip on credit, go to Mexico, and enjoy a vacation away from the brutality of New York. 

Firstly, these braids were not done in Mexico, they were braided,deliberately chosen, and hand crafted pieces of art from ERIKA BROWN,an amazing, beautiful, and inspiring woman that has been creating these braids and hair fallsfor 20 years. She happens to live an 8 minute walk away from my apartment in Brooklyn, not in Mexico.
Secondly, it is this divide and seeing each other as the "other" or "enemy" instead of another human in our ecosystem that deeply 
connects to our sameness. We forget in so many moments our sameness. Sameness. I'll say it again-- same-ness. The same-ness of emotion that feels rejection, insecurity, and sadness when spoken to in a manner that diminishes our choices, our pride, and our very being--the thing that keeps us in relationship--in related-ness. Related to and by our sameness. 

Thirdly, isn't it more useful and helpful to accelerate evolution, evolvement, INVOLVEMENT, and expand consciousness by TEACHING and EDUCATING than by HATING and giving  SALTY SNARKS? 

If the woman that made the Mexico/rich white girl comment would have told me her feelings instead, educated me on cultural appropriation, and asked me to consider a different perspective---I would have melted, probably cried in guilt and heartbreak of my lack of awareness, and would have FOREVER been changed. 

 I could go on to rant to say,"I have every right to wear my hair however I like!" and stomp and parade around fighting for freedom of speech, Constitutional rights, and living the American dream, but I think that is the very attitude that is so upsetting and infuriating to those making a point and a stance on defending cultural appropriation. It is the ENTITLEMENT and the lack of awareness that can be so infuriating. Take this into another context of life and remember the last time someone came at you or a situation with ENTITLEMENT or telling you something when really it should be offered as a question, or at least an open two-way dialogue. It's really fucking annoying. So I do not want to take the stance of freedom of speech or choice here--I could--but I don't want to--I would rather yield, learn, and try to appreciate and understand something in a different and deeper way. 

In fact, right around the time I took out my braids, fashion week in NYC was just ending and the controversy over the  Marc Jacobs white models wearing the exact kind (actually no--they were 100% without a doubt subpar) of faux dreadlocks I was wearing had made news and blasts on social media and Twitter. Marc Jacobs had a somewhat insensitive response and claimed the whole uproar to be "narrow mindedness and eroding freedom of speech". To him, and to me, and to every other white person--that is the first natural thought flow because we don't know a reality without freedom of speech, freedom of choice, freedom of absolute-from-the-beginning-of-America privilege. We plain and simple do not know what life is like without these rights. They have never been taken away, they have never been "given back" and they certainly have never been contingent for discussion, therefore; , we do not realize them: WE DO NOT SEE OUR PRIVILEGE. It's not in our psyches, not in our parents'  psyches, and definitely not in our ancestors psyches--but what is living in our psyches, if we want to believe it or not is the thread of thinking from however many generations back that division, separateness, defining and discriminating, was/is  OK, tolerable, ignorable, "just how it is", and if it's the law, then it must be "correct". 


This is the light bulb for white people to turn on. 

There is a thread of your ancestors past choices, values, beliefs, passivity,  awareness (or lack there of), LIVING INSIDE OF YOU. In your body. Right now. There have been studies on epigenetic inheritance of trauma found in children with ancestors who survived the Holocaust. "One persons life experience can affect subsequent generations". 

HELLO!!! We all have traumas, samskaras, broken connections---AND the most loving, intelligent, and compassionate thing to do about it is to figure out what your ancestral broken-ness is---and work HARD and compassionately to try to heal it. We aren't doing healing work just for ourselves or the people around us, but this goes far into the future---at least three generations down. I know---it's a lot of responsibility. 

Whether we swear we have no ounce of racism in our blood, family line, or family tree--the thread of passivity is there. The non-action. The non-questioning. The too-afraid to question, too-lazy to question. Sitting back, enjoying freedom, not realizing the privilege. No one gets a choice of the soul or body they come into the world in, but if there is privilege, that realization needs to be woken up. Mine is just starting to wake up, and it has awakened deeper feelings of guilt and shame. Maybe these feelings are ancestral. 

I wish I could say that passivity to separateness is the only thread on this account that runs in my blood, family, teeth, and bone--but it's not. Racism does run deep in my family, unfortunately. Fortunately, I can see shifts and changes with every generation,but the truth is is that my great grandfather, who I think I only met when I was an infant, was actively in the KKK. Yes, its true and it embarrasses me. I don't know any other specific details and it's something that no one really likes to talk about in my family.I think I remember an older cousin of mine saying that he saw the uniform when we were playing as kids. Whether this is true or not, doesn't really matter. 

 What does matter is the mentality of being associated in a hate group as extreme as the KKK. The energy associated with a hate group is dense, thick, brainwashing, anti-individualistic, blinded by groupthink, ignorant, and so deeply sad--everything that I stand against and cannot stand. Everything that I feel I am not, everything that I do not want to be. In fact, I probably love too deeply. I feel everything around me and can sense others emotions before they even have words for their feelings. I feel other people from across the world. I feel. 

To feel is to heal. 

Feeling. It's the only true, without a medical prescription, without dogma of religion, medicine I have ever found. Not avoiding feeling and embracing it has taught me the most and has given me an indestructible inner strength.    

I could make a blanket statement that we all can choose how to live our lives, how to wear our clothes and our hair, and living in America we all mostly do---but there is so much to be questioned and inquired about on a deeper level.  

It has only been 60 years that segregation on public busses became illegal. SIXTY!  That is also only saying its illegal, and as we all know just because something is "illegal" does not stop people from doing it. Making something illegal does not fix, cure, ensure safety,or unify the harsh split and dichotomy in mind, heart, and spirit from ourselves and another (whoever and whatever the "other" may be). Changing the law  doesn't change or take away any of the segregated, deeply embedded in our psyches tones of division. 

My whole lineage has known freedom. More so the men than the women in my family---but overall, it is not about the freedom of choice as it is the divide between people and cultures that I find most disconcerting, it is the lack of unity. The lack of UNITY-CONSCIOUSNESS.

Things ARE changing. 
People ARE waking up. 

The ones who have been awake are now taking action. 
The ones who have been asleep are rubbing the illusion and crust of unconsciousness from their eyes. 
The oppressed are gaining power in their voice. 
The ones that believe in empowerment are holding their arms open, standing aside, holding space and grace, and letting their sisters and brothers rage, rant, and make change. 

I do see this too. 

But I am also in openminded and ruthless, tough loving New York and not some lame state in the middle of the coasts. :) 

The month that I had these braids in, my neck without a doubt became much stronger. Stronger physically but also in a metaphysical way too. The neck is one of the most vulnerable places in the body, especially if you throw your head back, expose your throat, trachea, and the pathway to ones lungs, ones ability to breathe--to live. The neck is the bridge that alchemizes heart/feelings with mind/thinking. The neck and throat (Visuddha Chakra) can create exquisite balance of speaking ones truth with both head and heart, and courage in expressing ones ideas creatively. Without this expression, we stop the energy flow, the evolution, our power to reach, to rise, to inspire, and to help others become fully self expressed. I have found in my own life, that it is usually my own self that gets in the way of fully expressing myself, not other people. As terrible as the lynching of the past, the lynching and constriction of self is also terrible. The fear of expression of myself cuts me off from connection to unity, oneness, self/other, sameness.

I vow to unravel the noose around my neck so my great granddaughter can express herself perfectly and articulately at a young age, grow up knowing what harmony, love, and beauty look and feel like, express herself however she wants, and be whomever she wants. 

I vow to unravel so we all can. So we all can be free. And actually BE. If one is restricted or confined, WE ALL ARE. So I am sorry---but I still would choose to appropriate if it meant liberating myself and helping others. No, I'm not black, but I am still a woman which is its own mixed bag of privilege, non-privilege, ease, and challenge.

 There is nothing enlightened about staying restricted. This restriction is how physical illnesses are manifested. And, no thank you to that. 

By having my Hair Falls, I felt like my outer image matched my inner feelings. Creative. Colorful. Bold. Powerful. Empowered. Fully expressed. Able to carry myself, the weight of my head, all my ideas, all of my plans, all of my future endeavors, all of my Self. My whole being. Wholeness, oneness-- which is the only thing this entire writing is about. Unity.

The Necessity of UNITY.

In conclusion, I do think that my faux dreads were absolutely appropriate, even if they were seen as cultural appropriation. Having them, the first hand experiences that they provoked and taught me, all the people that I met because of them, and the curiosity they fired in me to learn more and think more deeply about such matters has ONLY been a positive thing. I have grown, awakened new parts of myself, and have started a new path of healing for myself, my future daughters, and my future granddaughters. I have had a new and refined sense of compassion and understanding to where people who get upset about cultural appropriation are coming from. 

But I know where I am coming from too---which is unity---and this is what is right for me. 

Other ways I appropriate with awareness: 
1. I teach yoga which is an Indian tradition.
2. I practice tantra which is an Indian tradition.
3. I have a statue of Buddha in my room and I am not a proper or formal Buddhist. 
4. I have a photo of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of Abundance and Prosperity and I pray to her. (and she listens!)
5. I burn sage which is Native American (Celtic too). I burn Palo Santo which is Amazonian and Mexican. 
7. I appropriate and celebrate from Pagan holidays that I like.  
8. I like fasting on Yom Kippur because I think Judaism is one of the most lovely religions. 
9. I leave milk and cookies for Santa because I think it's kind and I believe in magic. 
10. I celebrate Christmas because I like gift giving, but I don't consider myself a "proper Christian". 
11. I recycled my Burning Man cultural appropriated braids and used them to make a dreamcatcher which I appropriated from because I am 1/8th Comanche Indian and not Ojibwe Indian which initially started the Dreamcatcher fad that is still popular today. 

And those were just the quick 10 right off my head. I'm sure I will discover more. 

In love, respect, and ever evolving humility and JOY and playfulness--


Some materials to check out: 

Articles on Epigenetic Inheritance:

An AMAZING P.H.d. dissertation written TEN years ago called: A Psychology of Unlearning Racism: A Case Study Of A Buddhist Unlearning Racism Course For White People

Articles on Cultural Appropriation (including Marc Jacobs issue):

Okay--I am officially OVER this topic and will resume living my life.  

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