Why did he start dancing like a ‘gypsy’ Disney character right when I sat down? UGH.
This was one of the many uncomfortable questions I had to ask myself this past Sunday while attending the Lucidity Festival: Kindred Quest, at Live Oaks Campgrounds. As a local arts and music fest, I’ve heard about its transformative practices for the past three years while living in SB. Lucidity has been described as a healing space, a space flowing with divine love and compassion and a space where you may freely express yourself. All of this sounds enticing to any existentially-questioning student, right? Right. The freedom to simply be is why I bought a ticket. On the contrary, what I experienced was the inability to be freely me, because of the whiteness that is Lucidity (and many other festivals), and the modern racism that is whiteness.
The minute I stepped onto the campgrounds, all I saw was whiteness. When I say whiteness, I’m not talking about being surrounded by white people. Whiteness is a culture of cultural appropriation, white supremacy and modern racism. Cultural appropriation is the exploitation of different cultures by taking bits and pieces of their sacred practices and artifacts to accessorize privileged (mostly white) lives. This usually happens without knowledge of these artifacts or traditions and, therefore, the disrespectful usage of them. White supremacy is ethnocentrism, which is nationalism, which is the belief that white Americans are superior to all. Lastly, modern racism is more subtle than racism of the past and can usually be seen through microaggressions. Although microaggressions are mainly described as unconscious acts of racism, I don’t believe this to always be the case. Microaggressions are subtle (or sometimes more explicit) comments or acts of racism towards marginalized communities. What happened to me at the festival is a perfect example of a microaggression.
Why won’t he stop dancing like the fucking white idea of a Middle Easterner?
“So, what’s your ethnicity?” This is the first thing the white male sitting next to me asked after he stopped his rude dance. Abruptly, I respond back that I’m Persian. He then goes on to say, “Persian, like Aladdin?” I roll my eyes. Ugh, another day, another white male as*h**e. His white male friend sitting next to him chimes in. “OH, Persians throw the best weddings. Man, you guys know how to party. But you’re mean. You’re all so entitled!” They snicker. Without a pause for effect, the first white male starts chanting “Jasmine! Jasmine! Aladdin! Aladdin! Jasmine! Jaaassmineee!!” I ask where they’re from. He aggressively exclaims, “I’m from America, now where do YOU live?” Then they ask if we want to smoke with them, all the while sporting condescending smirks of victory. PAUSE. I can’t breathe.
What just happened? Were these men really slurring racist microaggressions at me at a hippie fest? At a place that’s supposed to be inclusive and loving? Where the bleep am I? These mountains don’t deserve to be filled with hostility. No one deserves this. This festival is supposed to be everything that Coachella is not, which means being culturally sensitive and inclusive, right? I felt so belittled, so small and so shocked that I hadn’t the courage to stand up to these men and state my piece. This is my piece to them now. If you’re reading this, y’all are what is still wrong with America. Your superior, racist, entitled attitude and aggressive verbal harassment perpetuates a cycle of hate. How can you be at a festival that promotes enlightenment and community and exclude members of your brother-sister family so obviously?
I felt so excluded. But this wasn’t the only reason I felt excluded here. I was wondering why there were barely any people of color in attendance. Why had I not seen a yoga workshop taught by a persxn of color? Why were the lectures on consciousness and positive architecture led by white males? Where were the womxn leaders? The womxn of color leaders? Where were the people of color leaders in general? I either missed all of them or there were barely any to begin with. Were communities of color reached out to as potential workshop leaders? Do the same people from the same cliques make up most of these kinds of festivals year after year?
How can there be a sense of community if we’re all just overpricing merchandise and ripping each other off?
I didn’t fit in. I was one of the few womxn of color at the festival. Aside from looks, the creativity I was portraying through my outfit was “mistaken” for a Disney princess-esque, exotified sexual fantasy, instead of a deep universe of internal colors. I didn’t find any of the activities amusing. I didn’t find many of the people inviting. Also, it felt like a big flea market to me, with focus more on the “ethnic” merchandise (sold by white people) than the land and each other. The food was organic and good for your body, but way overpriced, like the salad sampler I got for 12 bucks. The food was bad for your wallet and the financial hardships college students face. How can there be a sense of community if we’re all just overpricing merchandise and ripping each other off? Capitalism was made organic.
Honestly, everything overwhelmed me. It overwhelmed me so much that after four hours my friend and I took an Uber home, desperate to get back to a safe space.
The day had ended the opposite way in which it started. The day had started off with excitement. I did the fun dress-up thing, excluding festival cultural appropriation. I slathered myself in glitter, darkened my lashes and showed my midriff to the world, ready to channel my inner warrior goddess. But my main goal was to have conscious experiences with conscious individuals. I craved deeper unity with the Santa Barbara community beyond Isla Vista.
When I use the term “conscious people,” I mean people who are empathetic toward all humxns/humxn experiences, and people who live for equality, kindness and creating safe spaces. Unfortunately, I was let down tremendously and the glitter fantasies of my mind had vanished by the end of the day.
Lucidity was anything but safe for me. It was anything but a healthy environment. I was growing because of my own strength to remain confident in my brown skin, but there was not an enriching experience brought on by the festival itself. It was my first festival, and it may be my last. These festivals are the new white culture, and this whiteness doesn’t have room to respect people like me. I don’t have the time nor the energy to prioritize efforts to change this culture. It’s not my responsibility to turn a racist zone into a conscious zone, nor does it seem like this culture of stolen cultures wants any reform. But I will write about it and speak about it to anyone who is open to listening or wants to know my experience further, because I need to do my part to respect myself and others like me.
White America, I’m not your Disney princess. I’m my own princess of strength and respect. I will persist, and my voice will always be heard one way or another. Go take your inappropriate fantasies to a land far, far away.
“…we are coming together as One CommUnity with One Voice.”- Lucidity Website.
Leilani Leila Riahi is an Iranian-American womxn, and a third-year psychology major with a minor in philosophy.