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Part 133 - Appropriation

Is it wrong to borrow ideas? Is it wrong to share ideas?

· frustration,joy

I laughed the other day at a local brand. The owner - a blond haired, white lady - explained her logo by saying something about the native american blood that is in her.

I have - in the past - rolled my eyes at people cobbling together dream catchers and mala beads and a crucifix into a kind of spiritual casserole.

I have - in the past - giggled inside at the earnest white guy from Versailles, Ohio who's adopted a pattern of affected yogi-speak punctuated with "authentic" pronunciations of sanskrit words.

I laughed out loud this morning as I read a piece by a white, American lady and a brown, American lady. You should go read the article.

I'm a dick for sniggering about the white girl and her claim of native american blood. I'm a dick for having rolled my eyes at the whole mala bead, crucifix, dreamcatcher combo. I'm also a dick for giggling at the ernest dude from some midwestern hamlet who now robes himself in lenin. I'm a dick. I find these things just a little bit funny.

What I don't find them is - offensive.

Lots of people seem to be searching. I know I am. Have been most of my adult life. Not even sure for what I've been searching, but: I've prayed alone. I've prayed with groups. I've been to church. I've been to Mass. I've been to temple. I've read. I've listened. I've studied. I've practiced yoga. I've sat in meditation. I've walked pilgrimage.

I'm not mad at Ms. Gandhi, the brown american who co-authored the article for Kalamazoo College's Prazis Center's Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership's blog.

I do find so much effort put into explaining the "one true way" that a thing can be done and must be respected to be a bit disingenuous. There are, in India alone, no less than four religions that claim some ancient practice of movement. There are, I have a notion, many paths one may walk to know yoga.

To make the claim that "... the history of yoga practice in the United States is intimately linked to ... white supremacy." Is not only disingenuous, I find it misleading. Intentionally employing a phrase (white supremacy) that has deep idiomatic and colloquial implications and pretending you're just trying make a reasoned argument is bordering on provocative.

Here's my take - and I very well may be wrong - but here it is:

You do you.

Want a cool new tattoo? Go ahead.

Want to wear mala beads and a cross at the same time? Do it.

Want to robe yourself in vaguely guru-like linen? Go for it.

Want to stick an Om symbol on your bedroom wall? Yes, you may.

I may catch myself chuckling. But you do you.

Once we sit down and chat, there's every chance in the world we'll find some common ground. Who knows, I might even learn something from you, or you from me.

But - You. Do. You.

I'm not sure there's any harm in white people practicing yoga (or anyone else for that matter.). My practice does not in any way stop anyone else on this earth from practicing. There is no limit to the practice of yoga. I'm not taking a resource away from you and using it for myself. It's not zero sum. It can't be. It's not possible for yoga to be a commodity. It's a practice. One may study the yoga sutras on their own, if they choose. It's there for all.

Now, when we get to the mats, t-shirts, shorts, tights, props, toys, totes, om sybol water bottles, oils, mala beads, dream catchers, and all manner of things that can in any way be tangentially associated with yoga? Yes those can be manufactures, bought, and sold. People can host "luxury" yoga retreats. People can sell $58 t-shirts. These yoga accouterment are kinda silly and they're kinda frustrating at times, but do you know what they are not?


None of these things are required to maintain a yoga practice. One may simply stroll out into the back yard, a local park, or any other place that's generally the size of a yoga mat and relatively flat and enjoy the practice yoga. It's really that simple. That's the joy of yoga. It is available.

I'm white, by the way. I'm also - as I just learned from the article I read this morning - very likely a cisheteropatriarch. As I understand it, that breaks down like this: I have a penis. I was born with it. I like women.

And - apparently I'm somehow undeservingly in charge.

When I start demanding that people respect my beliefs, culture, or anything else for that matter with the same reverence as me, I'm no longer being respectful of them. I'm being a dick.

When someone pops up a "southern style" barbecue restaurant in downtown Kalamazoo, I don't find it offensive. I find it kinda laughable. I may even feel sorry for them. But I don't find it offensive. And there's every chance if I were to take a few minutes to chat with the owners and eat their food, I might just like them and the food.

I have a notion that Ms. Gandhi and her co-author, Ms. Wolff, if they found themselves face to face with an actual white woman who happened to practice yoga in a studio, of which Ms's. Wolff and Gandhi might not approve, they might just find her to be informed and thoughtful about her practice.

I am a dick for laughing at the article by Ms. Gandhi and Ms. Wolff. I am. No two ways about it. It's dickish of me to find their earnest, heartfelt, lament to be funny. But here we are. I just ran across this little culturally appropriated casserole that's sure to make someone's head explode.

Here's an idea.

Maybe we could all take in a practice together. Move through some asanas. Sit for an hour together. Maybe we could approach each other with respect and deference. Maybe we could manage to not be condescending to one another. Maybe, if we just sat together without judgement and without prejudice, we could find some common ground. I'm certain we could.