Co-opt: (v.) 1. divert to or use in a role different from the usual or original one. 2. adopt (an idea or policy) for one’s own use
The Color Run™ and other similar ideas like Run or Dye™ is a great and fun way to run with your friends, come together as a community, get showered in colored powder and not have to deal with all that annoying culture that would come if you went to a Holi celebration. There are no prayers for spring or messages of rejuvenation before these runs. You won’t have to drink chai or try Indian food afterwards. There is absolutely no way you’ll have to even think about the ancient traditions and culture this brand new craze is derived from. Come uncultured, leave uncultured, that’s the Color Run, promise.
Doubtless you’ve seen posters advertising for Color Runs™ in your neighborhood – they’re the ones sporting happy white college kids covered in color. You may have even paused for a second to appreciate the clear fun they’re all having as they enjoy a part of the desi culture. But honestly, the Color Run™ does absolutely nothing to give credit where it’s due. And to add insult to injury, they’ve trademarked out tradition.
According to the Color Run™ website, there are only two “simple rules”: 1) Wear white at the starting line and 2) Finish plastered in color. That would’ve been an original idea if Indians hadn’t been doing it for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
The race ends with something called a “Color Festival” (actually in quotes on the website as well). Sounds an awful lot like a digestible name for Holi. Sorta like how white people call Diwali the “Festival of Lights” even though this is a major over-simplification—I don’t think we just light a whole bunch of candles and call it a night. Nope, we tell stories from the Hindu Scripture, the Ramayana, share sweets and gifts, say prayers and welcome the New Year.
And at Holi, we don’t simply throw colors in each other’s faces—it’s a place to play with people you love and revel in the vibrancy of spring. One of our favorite and most colorful holidays is being, pun intended, white-washed. And it’s like we’ve been completely eradicated from this event as nowhere on the Color Run™ website is there mention of India, Holi, Krishna, or even spring. Apparently this is a completely organic creation of the Color Run™ head honchos. And they’re making loads of money from it.
There is a vague understanding that the Color Run™ pays out money to charities selected by their runners. I cannot find evidence on the website (or the Yelp reviews) as to where exactly the money raised from the runs and their store goes and I have no idea how much of every dollar donated goes back in the Color Run™ administrative workings. It seems even the runners, if the reviews are anything to go off of, don’t have a clear idea where their donations are going. So, our culture is being co-opted to turn a profit, but at least you can buy a pair of super cute shorts that say “Color This!” Hai Ram, if our Dadis saw this, they’d be threatening thuppards all around.
I can bemoan the misuse of Holi, the profiting off our culture and the further sexualization of it, but I think worst of all is that it doesn’t give us the chance to share Holi properly. Personally, I love it when I can bring my non-Desi friends to the annual campus Holi function. I can show them a part of my heart and an aspect of my identity as a strong Brown woman. The Color Run™ robs me of that chance because now everyone who participates gets a diluted (and completely wrong) version of desi culture. With this Holi knockoff, they lose the culture and the tradition, but they keep our colors.
Read about the Hindu roots of Holi