White people are ruining sacred things at an alarming rate, according to Michigan State professor Shreena Gandhi, who recently penned the essay “Yoga and the Roots of Cultural Appropriation.”
Gandhi, a professor of religious studies at MSU, claims that Americans who practice yoga are contributing to white supremacy and colonialism.
I’m unsure that the staff over at Michigan State are in a position to be pointing fingers right now, but that’s a topic for another day.
Yoga was often used as a tool to show the British that Indians were not backwards or primitive, but that their religion was scientific, healthy, and rational. This was a position they were coerced into…Beyond its utility, yoga became popular, in part, because it reinforced European and Euro-American ideas of India…Yoga became — and remains — a practice which allows western practitioners to experience the idea of another culture while focusing on the self.
…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.
The professor offers exactly zero evidence whatsoever to back up her claims, which begs the question whether Gandhi herself is subconsciously playing into racial stereotypes. It certainly sounds like a stereotype to say yoga grew popular in the West because it allowed westerners to focus on themselves. Is it not a stereotype to claim all westerners are self centered? All easterners are focused more on their communities and shared values?
Gandhi might have an argument if she offered scientific evidence to back up her ideas, but painting entire cultures with broad stroke stereotypes does nothing more than nullify her argument. One cannot defeat cultural ignorance by backing up claims with more ignorance. She gives no numerical statistics on how many black people work to produce things like yoga pants and stretching mats. No charts for exactly when and why yoga caught on in America. No textual evidence of what “Euro-American ideas of India” really are. Readers somehow become more ignorant than when they began reading the essay.
Gandhi also references a meme in her scholarly work, which does little more than reinforce cultural differences and pit races against each other.
Now I’m all for using pop culture in the classroom but I’d venture a guess that my college professors would call this sloppy. If you’re going to make a claim, back it up with hard, factual evidence. Not memes.
But after several more paragraphs on the dangers of white culture, Gandhi concludes by offering a solution to the categorical problem of information sharing.
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. We must ask, in what ways are we complicit in a system that harms People of Color, queer and trans people, poor people, people with disabilities, and immigrants? Despite our best values and intentions as individuals, our actions (and inaction) are inherently connected with a system of power, privilege, and oppression. If we want to honor the full yoga tradition and live into our values of love, unity, and fairness, we must examine the ways we are upholding ‘business as usual.’
In other words, white people can solve the history of colonialism by simply honoring yoga as a sacred practice and examining how capitalism systematically destroys the earth.
Call me crazy but I’d rather not live in a world where yoga exists but capitalism doesn’t. I’m willing to give up a tree pose for the internet, vaccines, and our highway system. I think a lot of people in the East might just agree with me.