Friday, November 27, 2015

The Great Cultural Appropriation Debate

You may have heard about the University of Ottawa cancelling yoga classes earlier this week because apparently, Starbucks loving white folks practicing yoga may be considered culturally insensitive. Now I’m not a Hindu, so I can’t speak for how they feel about this, but being a person of colour living in a predominantly western society that has incorporated so many great cultural practices into its fabric, this is my take:

White folks practicing yoga is as much cultural appropriation as those same said white folks ordering take out Chinese food. (ie: It’s not; pull that political correctness stick out of your ass and get over yourselves).

The argument that western folks practicing yoga is ‘cultural appropriation’ stems partly from the fact that many yogis are skinny white girls in overpriced Lululemon pants that don’t understand the historical and spiritual significance of Yoga as a practice. And of course, there are the broader historical issues of centuries of racist subjugation and western colonialism. Obviously, I’ve dumbed down the argument for brevity, but I do get it.

But if our expectation is that in order to enjoy something, one must always learn the history and cultural context of it, and kowtow for all the past transgressions of our forebears, then you’d better get yourself some “Confucius says” and “Chinese History for dummies” books and get learnt, before you go for your next fill of General Tao’s Chicken or Shang Tsung Kung Pao Fried Rice. Because I hate to break it to you - there is NO historical Asian General, surnamed Tao, that had some secret chicken recipe that has mysteriously been passed down from generation to generation, ending up in your local faux Chinese take out haunt. So if you're white, and enjoy General Tao’s Chicken (whatever the frick that is), YOU’RE being culturally insensitive, assuming you subscribe to this strange measuring stick for what cultural appropriation is. (Also, Shang Tsung Kung Pao Fried Rice doesn’t exist, unless they’ve made a Mortal Kombat Kookbook I haven’t heard of).

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be culturally aware when we adopt practices from others. I’m saying that in our quest to be culturally sensitive, we also need to be a little bit pragmatic in picking our battles. If you’re going to do something that stems from another culture, be respectful of it, and that’s good enough. I don't mind if you get a Chinese character tattooed on your back, just make sure it doesn’t say “I like Opium” or "Nice railroad".

Cancelling ‘white people yoga’ because you think it’s culturally insensitive, is in and of itself insensitive - you are appropriating precious airtime, when there are far bigger issues facing the world today than your ‘white privilege I’m offended by everything’ attitude. If you really want to demonstrate your cultural sensitivity, do something to stop the spread of Islamophobia and the vitriol coming out of so many here at home. Maybe tell those folks to chill out and take a yoga class or something. Just sayin'...

Alright, queue the hate mail. It’s Friday, I’m not at work, and I’m ready to fight.

Cultural Appropriation-1

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