Yoga is the last in a mushrooming list of culturally verboten activities that started with Halloween costumes.
A student group at the University of Ottawa has cancelled free yoga classes for disabled students because yoga is potentially (almost certainly by the time the week is out) “cultural appropriation.” Yoga, you see, existed in many cultures that “have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy … we need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves while practicing yoga.”
Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
If this train picks up any more speed, we might as well cancel Thanksgiving. If we can’t celebrate American Indians and Pilgrims feasting together, or do yoga afterward to burn off extra calories, what’s the point?
We are rapidly reaching a point of ludicrousness (is that a word?). If we can’t wear sombreros and headdresses because they are part of cultures that were colonized by white Europeans, why can we use the sacred sage of American Indians to season our Thanksgiving turkey?
I’ve taken the liberty of preparing an abbreviated and somewhat facetious list of to-be-eliminated cultural appropriations:
- Children’s face-painting booths at fairs and carnivals.
- Any dancing that requires one to hop first on one foot and then the other
- The color white
All of the above have been or are currently part of another culture’s religious practice. And when I say another culture, I mean those countries whose development was spurred and strengthened by exposure to a European language, western technology, western medicine, and private property.
India, for example, uses English as a common language that unifies dozens of different Indian subcultures. You can’t tell me that’s not good for trade, geographic mobility, or higher education. There’s a reason the U.S. wants more Indians with H1-B visas, and it’s not because their culture was free from Western exposure and (tell the truth) dominance; it is precisely Western dominance that gives colonized countries an advantage over non-colonized countries.
A National Bureau of Economic Research study found that for each additional century of colonization, a formerly colonized economy today benefits from a 40 percent0 higher GDP and inversely lower infant mortality rates. Who would have thought? Economically and technologically advanced countries improved their protectorates economically and technologically.
A glaring counter-example is the fate of American Indians after European colonization.
Yet it is intriguing to consider what their fate may have been if left to war amongst themselves. Historians have consistently debunked the idea the American Indians were a peace-loving people who became violent only in response to European violence. Various tribes took their turn conquering and often decimating their neighbors. The Aztecs cut out the beating hearts of the conquered and sacrificed them, along with other humans, to their gods. Who knows what the result would have been of an uninterrupted trajectory of brutality?
Voodoo chiefs watch as a man slaughters a goat, not in frame, at the Temple of Pythons during the annual Voodoo Festival in Ouidah, Benin, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. The deified residents of the Temple of Pythons, occasionally released to eat in this West African coastal city, sometimes slither across the road into a Catholic church that once hosted Pope Benedict. But the local priest, handlers say, is always good enough to call or bring the gorging reptiles back to their own spiritual home. This is life in Ouidah, a mecca of spirits and gods worshipped by those who practice voodoo, a recognized religion in this former French colony home to 9 million people. The religion has its own pope _ or two, depending on who you ask _ whose reign dates back to the 1400s and can be seen about town in his royal green Toyota Rav 4. Credit: AP
Colonizers and colonies mixed culturally, religiously, nutritionally, and economically. Spain brought the Catholic Church to Latin America, and long after native populations were forced to convert to Christianity, they continued to embrace it. Clearly there is something of value in Christianity that transcends the manner in which it was introduced. Today the most Catholic country on earth is Brazil with more than 100 million Catholics. Mexico has the second largest Catholic population with almost 100 million.
It’s ironic that people who object to Westerners practicing yoga tend to be the same ones who favor Obamacare and the restriction of soft drinks over 16 ounces. So which is it? Do they want us to be healthy or not? Are we not allowed to swim either? Caves in Egypt have rock paintings of swimmers that are 10,000 years old.
And at what point does cultural appropriation stop? Every culture known to man has used earth, fire, or water in their sacred religious ceremonies. Are white Europeans and their descendants forbidden to use earth, fire, or water because colonized cultures did? Do we declare that essential elements like earth, fire, and water are universal and cannot be culturally appropriated? I hope so because there are only so many foods, so many clothing materials, so many forms of jewelry, and so many combinations thereof.
History is messy. Westerners took their turn as bad guys. American Indian history is messy. Various tribes took their turn as bad guys, conquering and often decimating their neighbors.
If white Europeans and their descendants were openly mocking sacred elements of other cultures, I would agree that it needs to stop. However. A 5-year-old wearing a burlap sack and head feathers for Halloween? Come on.
Donna Carol Voss is an author, blogger, speaker, and mom. A Berkeley grad, a former atheist then pagan, she is now a Mormon on purpose and an original thinker on 21st century living, especially 21st century women. Her memoir, “One of Everything,” traces the path through one of everything she took to get here. www.donnacarolvoss.com
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