Appropriational relativity

Yoga and the Roots of Cultural Appropriation

Shreena Gandhi, a religious studies professor at Michigan State University, claims that whites who practice yoga are contributing to a “system of power, privilege, and oppression.” I.e., white American yoga participants are promoting white supremacy. Whites should acknowledge cultural appropriation from immigrants, “such as Indian women to whom this practice rightfully belongs,” she says, demanding yoga be “decolonized.”

Black American yoga appropriators aren’t mentioned. Apparently because:

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…

[I]n order to uphold the foundation and on-going functioning of white supremacist and racial capitalism, white people are taught to be ahistorical and emotionally repressed…

Especially during this time when the underbelly of capitalism — white supremacy, cisheteropatriarchy, and xenophobia– is being exposed, it is imperative that everyone, especially those who have access to spiritual practices like yoga, ask difficult questions of ourselves and one another.

O.K. A couple of questions occur to me.

I wonder if Shreena Gandhi uses electricity? Gilbert, Edison, Tesla, Franklin, Galvani, Volta, Faraday, Coulomb, Oersted, Ampere, Ohm, Kelvin, Siemens, Westinghouse, and dozens of other dead white cisnormative patriarchal colonialist oppressors not of her culture are wondering if they should complain.

And, while we’re talking about a “system of power, privilege, and oppression,” I have to ask about the Dalit. And in consideration of brutality against Indian women (to whom this practice rightfully belongs) — suttee.

Here’s what Sir Charles Napier (supreme commander of the British Indian Army) had to say to Indians who were preparing their native ritual of suttee, the burning alive of a wife after the death of her husband:

You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.

Do whites get any credit for NOT appropriating some cultural traditions?