A professor at Michigan State University and an “antiracist facilitator” from Kalamazoo College are much more sensitive than you bounders and cads -- and they want you to know it. They’ve temporarily taken the reins of the intellectual hell-ride known as “Cultural Appropriation”, and are driving it a hard and fast towards its absurdist terminus. How are they making an already silly argument more bizarre? They’ve just written a piece explaining why yoga is... yeah, you guessed it, wicked and nasty cultural appropriation.
Writing for Kalamazoo College’s Praxis Center, their piece “Yoga and the Roots of Cultural Appropriation” lays out their argument in clear language.
Of course, based on the composition error in their first paragraph, that might be too generous. Here. Take a whiff:
The origins of yoga can be traced back to South Asia, a space colonized by the British and Portuguese. The reasons why yoga became popular, and why various Indian yogis started travelling to England and the United States to “sell” yoga, is (sic) also tied up with colonialism.
Don’t mind me for being culturally focused, but the English language stipulates that subjects and verbs match. So... two people writing -- and editors publishing -- a piece with a glaring grammatical error in the first paragraph doesn’t bode well for the entire team.
Regardless, the argument goes like this. Yogis took their mind-body-spirit practice of yoga to westerners -- especially those from the United Kingdom and United States -- to “sell” the idea that Indian and other people from southern Asia were not “backwards”. But, sadly, this backfired.
Beyond its utility, yoga became popular, in part, because it reinforced European and Euro-American ideas of India. Early Indian yoga missionaries played on the orientalist construction of the “west” as progressive and superior and the “east” as spiritual but inferior.
So, remember this. Westerners started doing what they saw the “inferior” people were doing specifically because they thought it was a sign of inferiority. You know how those conceited and superior-feeling westerners are. They’re always trying to undercut their own elitism by lowering themselves and looking foolish, doing precisely what they see their "inferiors" doing. QED.
I digress. We’re not psycho-analyzing the behavior of these two professors. My mistake.
Anyway, the argument goes that consumerism has taken this culturally appropriated practice and reduced it to something bereft of meaning, a tragic mockery of what it once was.
In today’s consumerist age, yoga thrives because one can produce many products and start businesses using yoga as the foundation. The explosion of yoga studios, yoga videos, apps, yoga pants, and other yoga swag over the last two decades is evidence of this. Yoga contributes to our economic system, but never forget this system is one built upon exploitation and commodification of labor, often the labor of black people and people of the global south.
Not to be pedantic, but punctuation is helpful, and professors might want to remember this. When one writes, “…but never forget this system is built…” and one means for the reader to remember the point, as in not forget the argument, rather than not forget the "system", the comma comes in handy. Thus, a well-fashioned sentence would read, in part: “…but, never forget, this system is built…”
These points are not academic; nor are they petty. In offering such a disastrously silly line of argumentation, and doing so with such abysmal grammar, these writers actually do many people a service. They show folks the absurdity of maligning the process of “cultural appropriation”, and they show us that without cultural appropriation, mankind would not function.
Let’s look at the bigger picture first. If practicing yoga in some superficial way is cultural appropriation, is practicing it in a deeper way not even stronger cultural appropriation? The argument here is that “consumerist” society has spread yoga to millions. Why is this a bad thing? Certainly a percentage of those millions will want to know even more, and learn about the roots of yoga. Take a look at the “Spiritualism/Healing” section of your bookstore sometime and notice how there seems to be a market for research into yoga.
Ahh, but that kind of research must be disrespectful if done by Westerners, who, in the eyes of the enlightened professors, will not let anyone in the West off the hooks they want to create.
And if yoga is evil “cultural appropriation”, what about eating Indian food? Should owners of Indian restaurants be forced to have people take DNA tests before serving them? How about written tests on Indian history? Should Indian restaurants be banned from serving Chicken Tikka Masala, since it was invented in London?
Isn’t the very act of eating food from a foreign cultural heritage an act of literal “cultural appropriation”? After all, the consumer is making it part of his or her physical being.
Would it have been better if Marco Polo and others had not employed the Silk Road to bring cultures together through peaceful trade and market economics? At least after the British Empire swept through India, and yoga was adopted in a more world-wide way, the descendants of those who lived through the British invasions took advantage of new connections, and made their lives, and the lives of others, better, through peaceful trade. One cannot change the past, but by allowing for cultures to grow closer in understanding and appreciation through trade, one can see improvements in lives.
Finally, if purveyors of the attack on “cultural appropriation” want to be true to their “principles” (they don’t exhibit any principles, but, rather exhibit tactics designed to gain political power), they’d better stop using the word “appropriation”. See, “appropriation” is derived from Old English and French, and, initially, from Late Latin. So, to be true to their “word”, these pillars of professorial professionalism should stop using it unless they can claim some genetic tie to any of those “cultures”.
In fact, the English Alphabet originated with the Phoenicians. That’s where we get the terms “phoneme” and “phonics”.
How dare they culturally appropriate in order to communicate?
Best to just hum, or not communicate at all.
Goodness knows, we’d hate for people to be able to learn from one another.