By Pradip Rodrigues
Toronto, November 28 (CINEWS): In recent months, there has been plenty of heated debate about cultural appropriation. A prime example of that was the recent decision to suspend a free on-campus yoga class for University of Ottawa students over fears it could be construed as cultural appropriation!
Before I wade into this issue, lets first of all figure out what exactly is cultural appropriation. It is when one culture takes certain customs from another culture, adapts and adopts it as part of their practice. Like millions of yoga practitioners across the globe who’ve adopted many aspects of yoga which originated in India. The truth is that yoga is a bigger rage out of its country of origin. To me, the suspension of free yoga classes for the University of Ottawa students is a loss for students as well as India. There are countless people who’ve been introduced to incredible India after reading up and eventually visiting the country simply because they were introduced to the principles of yoga and the Hindu way of life.
Don’t punish those who adopt yoga or other cultures
All this talk about cultural appropriation got into high gear around August 2015 when India’s PM Narendra Modi shortlisted over 1,500 asanas and videographed over 250, classifying them as “traditional knowledge” of the country.
There are young radicals on college campuses who are taking aim at what they see as rampant cultural appropriation by the West. They believe that it is a form of exploitation when the West simply cherry picks aspects of another culture be it clothing, design, dance forms including Yoga or Kung Fu and adopts it. In the years to come, few care to acknowledge the cultural home of an idea or practice. They point to yoga which existed since ancient times in India but became a cool worldwide phenomenon only after it left India. Icons like BKS Iyengar spread the yoga craze in America and today yoga is a multi-billion dollar business.
But for purists and cultural chauvinists to insist they are troubled and allege that the way yoga is being practiced and ‘exploited’ by westerners hurts them deeply is quite frankly ridiculous.
In a globalized world cultural appropriation is to be expected
In a global and multicultural world, we are urged to appreciate and sample cultures and cuisines from around the world. It is a matter of national pride in India that butter chicken, tandoori and Indian cuisine has become the go-to mainstream cuisine across Britain. There are more Indian restaurants in London, England than there are in Mumbai and Delhi. Thanks to the popularity of Indian cuisine, there is a shortage of Indian chefs and so more English chefs are learning the finer points of Indian cuisine. Is that cultural appropriation? Will an English chef be condemned for daring to cook butter chicken? Is he or she colonizing Indian cuisine? Is it okay for a chef from another ‘marginalized’ culture to cook ‘our’ butter chicken since his was a one-time oppressed culture?
The bindi was once a religious symbol
There was a time when the bindi was a highly religious symbol in India and if a non-Hindu chose to wear the bindi as a fashion statement, it would have deeply offended Hindus. Not anymore, it has more or less lost its religious significance and today it has become a fashion accessory for Indian and Western fashionistas. So would it be inappropriate for a Canadian of Caucasian descent to slap it on her forehead?
Needless controversy at a time when so much else is happening
This whole thing about cultural appropriation is utterly ridiculous and a waste of time, unfortunately it can have some serious consequences. Where does it end? If this continues, any minority could shut down or protest about any program or practice that has been adopted by a White westerner. Instead of being flattered that other races find parts or most of a culture originating in the third or fourth world country appealing enough to be adopted, we have people fretting over this and claiming to be offended.
Imagine if the Palestinians take offense because Israelis who have been deeply influenced by Arab culture, claim Hummus and Falafel as part of their food territory. I am quite convinced that some radicals in the West will see it as another form of cultural oppression of the Palestinians by the powerful Israelis.
There are countless Whites especially in America’s southern states that cook and enjoy African Soul food. Now soul food was introduced to the Americas around the time of the slave trade. It has its roots in west Africa and quickly became a dietary staple for slaves. Many soul food restaurants are black owned and operated but what if a White or Desi chef decided to open one, would he or she be guilty of cultural oppression sometime in the near future?
Or what about Whites who sport dreadlocks or start dressing in Indian cultural attire? Once we start taking offence to stuff like this, we are going down a very slippery slope. Westerners who are loathe to be perceived as racist or culturally insensitive will steer clear of anything ‘foreign’ and what we will all soon be living in socio-cultural silos. So many immigrant groups are doing just that much to their detriment. The message we will be giving Caucasians is this- appreciate our culture, visit our countries but just don’t adopt anything as your own. Doing so would be treated as an act of cultural thievery. On the other hand it is quite okay for Bollywood movies to adapt and be inspired by Hollywood. It is reasonable to lift scripts, re-make songs, beats, western fashion and lifestyle in India. Why? Because Indians were once colonized and ‘oppressed’. So its justifiable to flagrantly violate copyrights and patents and rip off western artistes, inventors et al because they were once racist colonizers and oppressors. Ꮠ