I’ve been wanting to write a piece on how terrible color run events are vis-à-vis cultural appropriation, but desi writers have already done it much better than I could, so I’m largely going to quote and link back to them.
“Come uncultured, leave uncultured, that’s the Color Run, promise,” writes Nadya Agrawal at Brown Girl Magazine blog.
Color runs are 5k events at which participants wear white and run, walk, and dance while being dusted with colored powder, followed by a festival with more color throwing, music, and dance.
“That would’ve been an original idea if Indians hadn’t been doing it for hundreds, if not thousands of years,” Agrawal points out.
The practice comes from the springtime Hindu festival called Holi. “And at Holi, we don’t simply throw colors in each other’s faces,” Agrawal says, “it’s a place to play with people you love and revel in the vibrancy of spring.”
Prerna Abbi writes, “I’m a big fan of interfaith literacy as a vehicle for appreciation. But sometimes appreciation can turn into appropriation, and it’s important to know the difference.” (emphasis mine)
In order to determine which one the events promote, Abbi asks:
“When people go to The Color Run, do they learn about the story behind Holi? Do they learn about how this festival brings people together across faith, class, and other social lines? Do they walk away appreciating that Holi is a significant celebration for Hindus around the world? Do they know about Holi’s influence on the event at all?”
The events are undeniably appropriative. Does the value of introducing millions of people to the sport of running outweigh the impact of whitewashing this Hindu celebration, doing nothing to promote desi culture, and making obscene profits for ignorant white folk? I doubt it.
What can we do about it? We can keep writing, keep talking, keep informing our friends, and suggest alternative fun runs that feature other amusing gimmicks such as foam, zombies, obstacles, costumes, black lights, and more.
We can hope that the events will inspire some people to learn about Holi and cultural appropriation and work to make better choices in the future, as was the case for me. I didn’t think much about signing up for a Graffiti Run because it sounded like fun, but I didn’t enjoy the event because it was crowded, overpriced, and an ugly course. I later learned more about Holi and had the pleasure of attending a local Holi event, which—in stark contrast contrast to the “fun run” it inspired—was an indescribably joyful experience and for me a pivotal moment during a severe bout of depression.
I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to properly appreciate and celebrate Holi. And I hope you’ll try to do the same.