Friday, November 11, 2011

The most racist thing I've seen today...

This video perfectly sums up what is wrong with the newagers and others who engage in cultural appropriation. James Ray admits he has no idea what a local, possibly indigenous, woman at this sacred site is saying. She appears to be explaining the site to visitors. Ray not only ignores her words (that he could have recorded and had translated later, if she gave him permission to do so) but instead he talks over her, giving his outsider interpretation of what the symbols at this site mean, and what religious significance he thinks the site has. Of course, he uses appropriated imagery and his fantasies of Indigenous people's traditions for this, though he admits that he "doesn't understand a word" of it.

Her voice is drowned out, and his replaces it. His voice is broadcast over the Internet, as hers is reduced to background noise, and then forgotten. Misinformation and fantasy replace traditional knowledge. The appropriator says some more racist crap, laughs about the Indigenous people, and laughs about how clever he is.

Next James Ray tells us that his pay-to-pray, "prosperity consciousness" group, World Wealth Society, are over in a nearby "vortex". Now he's making money off the sacred site. They have invaded this indigenous sacred site, and are performing their own idea of a death/rebirth ritual. Or something. If Ray's comments and attitude are any indicator, they have no idea what ceremonies have been traditionally held at this site, or which spirits live there, and which things please them... or anger them. Probably no one in his group had any idea how to call to the local spirits (since they don't understand the language) and probably they were so caught up in their pay-to-pray experience that they didn't think to call on some of their own ancestral spirits. By barging into this site and not knowing the people or spirits of the land, even calling ancestral spirits might have resulted in them stirring up things that would clash with the local spirits. Then again, maybe they did get noticed by someone... as death is following James Ray.

Watch it for yourself. Astonishing:

Thanks to Twinkie Wrangler for finding this.

If James Ray had listened to Indigenous people, the three people who died in his Sedona deathlodge would still be alive. Indigenous people said, "You don't know what you're doing. Don't pretend you are leading one of our ceremonies. Don't try to lead these fake ceremonies at all. No. Stop."

But like so many lower-profile appropriators of his ilk (who, like Ray, come from the dominant culture and never interact with traditional, non-colonized Indigenous people),  Ray decided he knew better than those dumb Indigenes. He knew better: how to better interpret their sacred stories, how to better lead rituals of his own devising on their sacred sites, how to talk to those spirits (despite not understanding a word of their language), how to fulfill the newagers' fantasies of mystical ceremonies they secretly knew no Indigenous person would ever teach them. If the newagers had simply listened to the people who said traditional ceremonies must be in the language of that culture, maybe they wouldn't have paid $10,000 to die.

Multiple witnesses in Ray's manslaughter trial said they trusted that Ray could lead a sweat lodge because he showed them pictures of himself with nameless Indigenous people. Thanks to the efforts of dedicated NDN activists in North America, he would have had a hard time passing off traditional people here as his teachers. (See, NDNs here have phones and email.) So he claimed people from the more rural regions of South America, who have less phone service (and usually no Internet), were his teachers. (This tactic has become very popular with the appropriators, by the way.) But if the consumers of his pay-to-pray pyramid schemes had understood that Indigenous people have names, opinions, and sovereignty over their own cultures, they wouldn't have fallen for this. As long as there is racism, there will be appropriation. And as long as there is appropriation, people will support dangerous frauds like Ray.