Cultural Appropriation: A can of worms or just Tandoori Pizza?
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
This subject is a can of worms and each of those worms are walking their own tight rope.
Cultural appropriation or cultural misappropriation are the same thing.
Basically it is the adoption of one or more elements of a culture by members of another culture.
We do it ALL THE TIME.
So when is ok? & when do the worms fall off that tightrope?
Cultural appropriation is not so great when there is a power dynamic at play, where members of a dominant culture cherry pick particular elements of from a culture that has been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.
So, say you really like Chinese food but never want to set foot in China? Probs not so great.
Or you wear a sari to fancy dress party but you are not interested in understanding the life experience of the people of India, you just borrow an eye catching number for a night of fun.... Bow Bow maybe also not so great? What if that night of fun is an Indian wedding that is actually 4 saris & 4 nights of fun!!??
What if you "do yoga" 3 times a week, put your latest activewear outfit on, walk into a studio roll out your carefully selected rubber rectangle bend stretch & sweat & go home. Without the philosophical studies & history and appreciation of a life in yoga.... Is just doing asana(not engaging all 8 limbs & living a life in Yoga) Is this cultural appropriation? Have you just cherry picked what you like about an ancient Indian practice & disregarded the rest??? What if you are Indian person in India in your kitchen making pasta in curry sauce?? (yes its a thing) Tandoori pizza anyone? These be gray overcast skies & muddy waters indeed my friends.
Questions: Who owns a culture?? Where & why did that culture originate? (I mean really originate) What influenced that culture? Who polices any cultural infringements? Forget the worm analogy cultural appropriation is now a centipede trying to walk that tightrope in 100 other peoples shoes.
We have cross cultural mashups everywhere we look. These have been gifted to us by risk taking explorers, adventurous yet weary travellers, immigrants & refugees who have had to flee their countries in the hope of establishing new lives somewhere safer, the sharing of culture, custom & even recipes from mother-in-laws of our interracial marriages. The internet has made it super easy for us to access & appropriate things we think are cool without even a second thought as to its history or origin. Some have been absconded with under duress & maybe we need to take a look at how & why this happened.
Cultural boundaries are fluid and shifting, culture is no one persons to preserve and it is always evolving. Culture is what we make of it, and I believe there can be authentic cultural exchange, harmony & understanding. I think it starts with your intention.
If we could get to a point where different cultures maintained the same level of respect & understanding without trivialising each or the others history of its culture & custom, cultural appropriation might not be an issue at all.
Unfortunately that is not the world we live in. Right now we live in a world that asks us to pick a side this camp or that camp? Not leaving us any room for questions, evolution & learning. What if we are to learn something new change our position & want to switch camps? Nah ah. Where is the line drawn? Do we want to create a global culture of separation & fear which is making us small & withdrawn unable to ask questions & share our thoughts?
The other day a friend of mine was blocked from an Instagram page as he commented on a post.... not negatively he was just opening a door for discussion, he was asking for more information. The door was shut, he was blocked & no discussion was had, me thinkee this not be cool. But was the account owner to scared to enter the discussion?... honestly I totally get that she/he may well have been. The fierce fast whip of words on social media can be painful & exhausting.
I did a little experiment my Instagram where I posted a picture of me in India next to a carved image of Hanuman. I was holding the same shape as Hanuman was in the carving, Its a joy filled capture. Hanuman is representative of unconditional love & thats very much how I felt in that moment. 90% of people that participated in the poll came back with a positive yes, it is cultural appropriation.
I wondered if they knew the back story & history, my personal relationship with India the sentiment of the capture the before & after events when it was taken, would they feel the same way? It made me upset to be honest, but I kept coming back to the thought....What was my intention? What was our connection & exchange?
What I was interested in was the number of people that judged that snap without hesitation, as mentioned Hanumans message is one of Unconditional Love, by not asking any questions or wanting to learn more makes me think that the unconditional love story was lost in their judgements. For me this is part of a life in yoga - compassion, understanding sharing & learning and letting go of judgement. I still love this capture & as I am sure do the half a dozen Indian people that asked me to take the very same photo of them.
The issue that we are facing here is that there is no grey area to open discussions which will create space for learning, growing & understanding & acceptance. The very things that break down the barriers to cultural appropriation - understanding & compassion are not being given the light of day. How can you know who is culturally appropriating what without context?? I am not at all trying to diminish anyones (cultural appropriation) experiences here... I am creating space so we can ask the questions & share information for the betterment of our experiences.
Understanding nuances, context or someone else's perspective and then having the ability to have what may well be challenging conversations to clear a path for cultural exchange is one of the answers. Dogmatic behaviour, social media bullying, blocking, judgment and placing these such demands on others to behave in the same way simply undermines the whole of everything - these are core contributors to the problem.
You call out, judge & belittle people on the internet & a big shame wave rolls on in & thats a conversation killer for sure.
Where then does that leave all of us in "the west" that have indeed rolled out a rubber rectangles to practice the art, science & hopefully, eventually the spirituality of yoga??
It comes back to your intention.
Like many yogis in the west, I used to "go to yoga class" cause thats what I thought it was aka that was my truth then. As I started to peel back the layers of what was going on in my physical body the spiritual side of the practice began to reveal itself (truth upgrade) & I hungered for more. Eventually understanding that all of this was leading me to a meditation practice that is the entire reason that we practice Asana (new truth). As a sharer of practice I make it mission to be learning every day (daily truth adjustments) and I do my very best to embody the eight limbs of Yoga.
This is not a wrong way to learn, however you get there is perfectly fine, its your journey to go on. I could go on a giant detour into the origins of Yoga.... If you do want know more please drop me a DM & I will hold space for our discussion & learning.
So....Who owns yoga?? There are people in India who don't live a life in Yoga, There are people who embody a life in Yoga & share the practice of Qi Gong an ancient Chinese practice very similar to Yoga & what about Kemetic "yoga" the Ancient Egyptian practice??? The very existence of these different cultures holding space for such similar practices that have evolved in their own way over time lends to the factoid that we are all connected.
Perhaps there was an ancient ancient school of yoga that NONE of us know about or maybe 3 elders (I am just giving human form imagery here) were meditating together & then went their separate ways with what ever was working for them in their practice.... handing down their systems as they shared knowledge & experience through China, Egypt & India.... evolving their own systems languages & signature moves along the way. Does it matter how we get to the practice? Are we all not seeking the same outcome??
Yoga in Sanskrit means to yoke or join or in a more lateral translation it means union. However you might find that union, which could be the self & the higher self, it could be your finger & your big toe if you are practicing Hatha yoga the Yoga of Force and spend your life gripping your toe to attain spiritual perfection & reach Samadhi, union with the divine, or oneness. Ultimately its what brings you balance, peace, happiness, love, joy, connection appreciation of the experience of others, wholeness & eventually oneness. If we all found personal peace would not world peace be attainable?
Your truth is your truth in that moment until you learn or unlearn something thing that creates your new truth.
However the door is opened to your spiritual practice, is fine by me. Keep learning keep digging deeper leave that door wide open for learning & understanding & exchanging information. Be supportive of others, ask questions, release judgement. If you are unsure just keep some space for the evolution of your truth & those around you.
Come back to your intention.
So when I get addressed as "dear white yoga teacher" in emails or social media messaging & then given a serve about how someone else perceives my exploration of a life in yoga quite frankly that gross generalisation offends me!