Friday, April 04, 2008

A Reader Has Questions

And they are very good ones.

Before we attempt to answer, we think it would be a good idea to allow other readers out there to consider, and perhaps sound off with your own take on the question of white privilege and drumming circles.
Hi, I have a question about drum circles. A lot of my friends - mixed races - like going to drum circles. They take place outdoors and consist of people from the community showing up with drums (mostly djembes; African-derived hand drums), and drumming while others dance inside the circle. Most of the attendees - probably from 60% to 80% - are white. Every time I go, everyone else seems to be having a great time, getting "lost" in the music or whatever, but I just can't get over my discomfort. They don't understand why I can't have fun - most of them are socially and politically conscious, they enjoy drums, they enjoy dancing, they have anti-oppressive politics, so what's wrong with that?

And I can't come up with any good responses. It just feels wrong in my gut. I feel like they're romanticizing the idea of "tribal culture" or something, or that they just want a sense of "tribal community" - but again, as they point out, even if that's the case - what's wrong with that? When white culture is increasingly shallow and consumerist, what's wrong with them trying to infuse their lives with something that feels physically, mentally, and maybe spiritually invigorating? They're good people, and most of them are culturally aware. I'm not sure that they are directly ripping off anything. So I don't know why I can't just get over it.

I feel like if they're going to have a drum circle, they ought to pay some kind of dues to indigenous cultures - but how, who do you credit drums to? And even if they all started standing in solidarity at Native road blockades for land rights, I still wouldn't feel comfortable at drum circles. I'm white, and maybe this discomfort is just overdeveloped white guilt or something, but when I see these drum circles I can't help comparing them to powwows back in my hometown and I just feel sick inside.

I'm also worried that I might be totally racist - that all I really want is to feel like I'm at something "culturally authentic", which would explain why I don't feel uncomfortable at Native powwows. Of course, I don't feel like I "belong", since I don't, but at least I don't feel nauseous.

I'm asking what you think because I guess this has to do with cultural appropriation and you seem like an expert.

Obviously it's totally okay to respond that this questionable is inappropriate and racist or that I'm inappropriate and racist.

I hope all is well.

addicted to your blog,

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Blogger Len said...

I think if you’re invited to a native drumming circle by actual tribes’ people, that is one thing, but if you’re attending mostly white circles that mimic a particular tribe’s traditions using African drums, there is no root or meaning to what you’re doing. It is just a bunch of people that get together that are lost or disillusioned to their own race’s spirituality. The only way you can become apart of another’s tradition is if they give it to you (through marriage or community), not by selling it to you or reading it from a book.

Every race or culture has meaningful and fulfilling spiritual traditions that one can truly connect to, but because of white guilt or hypocritical religious institutions, many of us forget and discard our own traditions and steal someone else’s. Look to yourself, your family, your history, your community, and rediscover the roots that make you who you are and embrace them.

Oh, and as a last resort you can create your own ceremonies and spiritual practices all by yourself that may be learned in isolation communing with Spirit. (Those types of ceremonies should be tested for a long time by yourself before creating circles, however.)

Any questions?

4/06/2008 5:12 AM  
Blogger Nemeses said...

Beautifully said, Len. Thanks for this thoughtful, heartfelt comment.

4/06/2008 10:12 AM  

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