Why I Will Not Join You in the Color Run
After reblogging a link to the article “Dye-ing Culture,” I received a lot of questions about why the Color Run is problematic. The short answer is that this is a form of cultural appropriation.
We have to remember that this entire situation exists within the context of colonialism. There was a huge period of time in modern history where India was under British Imperial rule. The British pillaged Indian society for it’s “exotic” value, exploiting every possible aspect for their own monetary benefit. What wasn’t deemed as valuable was then stamped out so that the British could push their own culture and convictions onto the natives.
For many of us in the USA, this may seem like unrelated history, but it is still incredibly relevant to the way that both Hinduism and Indian cultural practices are interpreted today. After all, India’s independence only occurred in 1947.That is not a long time ago! There are still people who were alive during India’s colonial period and suffered from the direct effects of cultural imperialism.
Many Hindu communities had difficulty practicing festivals like Holi because of white interference. Even now, non-Christian religions continue to face huge amounts of discrimination and even violence. The difference here is that when (primarily) white people find Holi’s colored powder to be fun and silly, and they seek to commercialize it by charging people to participate, it’s somehow an acceptable and trendy event. But rather than celebrate Holi as it’s intended to be, organizations like the Color Run have picked and chosen the aspects that seem fun while stripping them of their religious and cultural significance. You cannot remove such a huge aspect of the festival and still expect it to retain its significance and respect.
The Color Run plays directly into this history by using some very specific practices and wording. Throwing the colored powder onto your friends and new acquaintances is the biggest one. But phrases like “the Color Festival” and “your gray outlook will turn green like a spring morning” are huge nods to Holi without actually giving credit where it is due.
The only run that seems to even acknowledge the existence of Holi is Color Me Rad, but this company doesn’t do much better: In their section that mentions Holi, they tell readers: “To find out more, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holi or just visit India. That’d be more fun than reading. And who really knows how accurate Wikipedia really is, right?” This is dismissive and lazy. They aren’t providing participants with any real resources, but instead they’re passing the buck while joking about how the one citation they’re referencing isn’t even accurate. None of that is respectful or part of a genuine recognition.
The run doesn’t raise appreciation for Holi because no where does the organization educate people about Holi. As the article stated, the Color Run website doesn’t mention any of the religious or cultural significance, nor even the Hindu history behind the celebration. It’s harmful to downplay the importance and influence that Holi has had on the Run - By failing to acknowledge where this celebration with colored powder came from, the Run is erasing the many contributions that people of color have given to modern society.
The cultural commodification of minorities is an area of academic study that deserves to be taken seriously: It is becoming even more common for commercial entities to decontextualize cultural practices and package them up in a way that is both palatable and easy to sell. The result ends up being something like the Color Run, a fun and sellable product that is “inspired” by the exoticism of the culture in question yet retains none of the significance that it once held. It’s presented as an exciting form of escapism that is viewed as safer and more comfortable than the actual event it was taken from: This sort of consumption is a form of white-washing.
So it isn’t that the Color Run is a horrible horrible event that’s run by repulsive racists. It’s that when we look at the historical relationship between Indian Hindus and Western white society, it is the Hindu who constantly have their heritage and culture stolen without permission or proper credit, only to see it watered down and removed of its intended significance. The Color Run is just one theft in a long line of many. It has the potential to be very inclusive, respectful and informative while still retaining all of its joy and wonder, but the organizations that plan runs like this have yet to take any steps forward.