We have previously seen protests on colleges to end yoga classes as “cultural appropriation.” Now Michigan State University professor Shreena Gandhi has written a long critique of white people who practice yoga as promulgating a “system of power, privilege, and oppression.” Gandhi insists that yoga is an extension of white supremacy and the “yoga industrial complex.” Ganhdi co-authored the piece with Lillie Wolff who describes herself as “an antiracist white Jewish organizer, facilitator, and healer.” Wolff has called for “decolonizing” yoga.
Gandhi has cited her “scholarly work on yoga” and argues that yoga classes “allows western practitioners to experience the idea of another culture while focusing on the self.” The article argues that yoga classes should be conditioned on white people acknowledging their cultural appropriation, being forced to learn its history, and lowering the costs for poor people and people of color. It appears that the prostrate position will precede the lotus position in your next yoga class.
Yoga . . . popularity was a direct consequence of a larger system of cultural appropriation that capitalism engenders and reifies. While the (mis)appropriation of yoga may not be a life-threatening racism, it is a part of systemic racism nonetheless, and it is important to ask, what are the impetuses for this cultural “grabbing”? In order to delve deeper into this question, it’s useful to look at the roots of U.S. white dominant culture, the foundation of which is rooted in enslavement of West Africans and settler colonialism. Decades of assimilation and the cultural stripping of Europeans as they arrived to the U.S. produced a white dominant culture. People of European descent replaced their ethnicities (i.e. German, Polish, English, Italian, etc.) with whiteness and the privileges that came along with that identity. This history is especially relevant right now as we are seeing white men taking to the streets in mobs shouting, “We will not be replaced.”
While my comments will likely be dismissed as an expression of privilege, I find this type of analysis to be highly superficial and conclusory. I remain surprised that such work is treated as a substantive academic contribution by some. It constitutes little more than a chain of stereotypes and political commentary dressed up as pseudo-cultural analysis. My concern is that criticism of such work is becoming more difficult for academics who fear to be labeled as insensitive or hostile or even racist.
The authors treat the assimilation of cultural influences as a type of misappropriation as opposed to the natural influence of different cultures on a pluralistic society. As an Italian, I see much of my culture replicated and then expressed differently by non-Italians. It does not bother me because it is part of a process of translation and growth. I will often tell my kids what an Italian dish should look like or how a holiday was practiced but this is not to resist “misappropriation” but to reinforce our own connections to our cultural risks. Indeed, I have found most people interested in the sources of practices, dishes and influences.
The thing I love about this country is its pluralism and assimilation. There is always a certain translation and evolution even within a culture. Practices evolve with communities and that evolution extends their reach and influence. It is not an act of colonialism but translation.
What do you think?
81 thoughts on “And Now The Prostrate Position: Michigan State Professor Denounces Yoga As Appropriated Through White Supremacy”
I say, whatever happened to free trade?
I will start by looking at this issue from an opposing perspective. If there isn’t a level of cultural appropriation involved, and the last original practitioner dies, then the activity dies with him (or her).
Does it really make sense in any universe for cultural practices to become extinct just because all the original practitioners die off without teaching any of their followers the activity? I don’t think so.
The idea of opposing so-called cultural appropriation is an anti-teaching and anti-learning concept. It’s a way of saying that no one outside of the closest disciples of the originator of something are allowed to learn the inner workings of our practices. By doing so, we are condemning ideas to an early death.
If I created an invention like the telephone, what good occurs if I keep that invention a secret? A telephone is only good if more than one exists, and they can be linked together somehow. However, if I keep my invention to myself, then it just becomes a block of plastic sitting on a desk.
We should all embrace the idea of appropriation, whether it be cultural or simply knowledge. Without it, there is no learning.
But I guess there will always be some people that just want their head to be a lump of flesh, bone and muscle (and other tissues) sitting above their shoulders.
I am caucasian and have listened to Indian classical music for over thirty years. In this time, I have amassed a sizable collection. It must be an act of violence when my money pays royalties to these musicians. It must be appropriation when I have CDs exported from India to the the US. I still love the music. I must be an awful human being.
I forgot to add that the teeny tiny group of people pushing this sillinesss focus in on another teeny tiny group of nonrepresentative loons (white guys chanting we will not be replaced). Neither group represents a significant portion of the mainstream intellectual or cultural reality in the US or any other nation. And that is why they should simply be ignored. Their ideas whether the racist white guys, or the weird effete intellectual pushers of the idea of appropriation will never catch on in the general population of the US or anywhere else.
Huh??? You said, ” Neither group represents a significant portion of the mainstream intellectual or cultural reality in the US or any other nation.”
Are you daft? Who is it who goes into DefCon4 Mode every time a conservative speaker comes to the campus? Is it Scruggs Bible College in Bumfuk, West Virginia, student body of 38, or is it Berkeley, and Yale, and UCONN?
Sheeesh, Dude, wake up!
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