Thursday, February 4, 2010

Re: James Arthur Ray charged with manslaughter, guilty of cultural appropriation

Glad to see the news this morning. It looks like James Arthur Ray will be facing charges stemming from the $9,695-a-person "spiritual warrior" workshop he led last October which included a sweat lodge as a final activity...and the death of three of the participants.

Let's be aware, though, that although these serious charges are significant and justifiable (from what I know), they do not capture the foundation of what led to the deaths of the three individuals who lost their lives in this tragedy. (For more thoughts on that...see my earlier blog posting.)

As the conversation moves forward, take note as to whether or not James Arthur Ray is held accountable for his cultural appropriation, his use of white privilege, his wanton use of a sacred healing and purification ceremony that HE turned into a profane trial of will.

Saying that he "researched" these practices in Peru hardly absolves him...In fact, it just makes it worse, as far as I see it. I've not heard him speak of elders who passed down their practices to him. I've not heard him name how he came to see himself as sufficiently trained in the tradition to become a water pourer. I've not heard him speak humbly in any way, shape or form around this issue. The question becomes, I suppose, do I think this misuse of a culture's traditional practices in this way constitutes, in and of itself, a criminal act?

Yes, cultural appropriation used in this fashion SHOULD be considered criminal. This is not to shift the attention away from those who lost their lives. But, instead, my hope is that we would draw the line about what is acceptable well before someone has to lose their life.

But, what do you think?

Do you see the privilege in this, as I do?

Do you recognize the difference between being influenced by other cultures vs. using them in an exploitative fashion?


  1. Dear Shelly,
    Hello, there, Shelly! I am so happy to hear that James Arthur Ray has been charged, thank goodness! All that he has done is absolutely heinous and appalling! Your beautiful and eloquent words in this blog spoke to me as I think of how often full amends are not demanded in situations like how Ray is being charged, but I am sadly sure that he will not be held accountable for his cultural appropriation, and his disregard and abuse of this precious tradition, and I think in these areas he will not be called to make his full amends. So often with more marginalized people such as all women, and people of color, the interests of more privileged people are taken into account and given adherence to, but often all women, people of color, and other marginalized people are ignored and left out of consideration. Your eloquent words are right on target, Shelly! Your words of wisdom really found a connection for me as I contemplate on how Ray probably will never be found accountable on the great damage he has done via cultural appropriation and his inappropriate usage of these fine traditions, and his unsafe insensitivity in these matters.

    Shelly, I am so amazed at all of the hard and superb work you have done as I have read your two books and study all of your other materials and resources! Thank-you so very much for your witnessing whiteness and connecting to your Radical White Identity as you help your Radical White Community in their healing and process, and also for your great outreach and witness toward racial justice and to end racist inequities in challenging racism and white privilege! This means so very much to me as the black/African-American woman who I am! Blessings so, so much to you for always, Shelly!

    Sincerely always,

    Sherry Gordon

  2. Cultural appropriation? Your kidding right? Do you have any idea such a concept is the true seedling of racism and ethnic hatred?
    On a personal level I don't see much use for a sweat lodge nor do I see it as something spiritual. Other people view that differently but does than mean that a white person is unable to benefit if he/she sees spiritual value in such an activity.
    Of course your primary issue appears to be that a while male was in charge of the lodge-if it had been a white female (a so called marginalized person)no complaints would have been heard.
    Ray's carelessness caused the death and injury of human beings but to say that he caused great cultural damage is pure nonsense.