Why I Will Not Join You in the Color Run

[Please bear in mind that I am not Hindu, therefore this is going to be more “Why the Run Makes Me Uncomfortable and I Won’t Participate” and not “Why the Run is a Horrific Awful Thing that Shouldn’t Exist.” That isn’t my call to make.]

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 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 a huge area of academic study right now. If anyone else would like to step in to discuss it, whether to give personal examples or explain the theory more clearly, I’d appreciate it quite a bit. 

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.