A Michigan State University professor has claimed white people who practice yoga contribute to “white supremacy” and the “yoga industrial complex.”
Religious Studies Professor Shreena Gandhi claimed in a co-authored article that “yoga practice in the United States is intimately linked to some of the larger forces of white supremacy,” adding the practice is “tied up with colonialism.”
According to the New York Post, Gandhi “co-authored the piece titled ‘Yoga and the Roots of Cultural Appropriation,’ with Lillie Wolff, a self-described ‘anti-racist white Jewish organizer, facilitator, and healer,’ who has called for ‘decolonizing’ yoga.”
“Yoga contributes to our economic system, but never forget this system is one built upon exploitation and commodification of labor, often the labor of black people and people of the global south,” expressed Gandhi and Wolff in the article. “Yoga, like so many other colonized systems of practice and knowledge, did not appear in the American spiritual landscape by coincidence; rather, its popularity was a direct consequence of a larger system of cultural appropriation that capitalism engenders and reifies.”
“While the (mis)appropriation of yoga may not be a life-threatening racism, it is a part of systemic racism nonetheless,” the two continued, claiming “it’s useful to look at the roots of U.S. white dominant culture, the foundation of which is rooted in enslavement of West Africans and settler colonialism.”
Gandhi and Wolff also argued that within the “oppressive structures” of the United States, the “yoga industrial complex flourishes.”
This complex socio-political reality of the U.S. is key to understanding how the cultural void of white society is intimately mixed with white supremacy, capitalism, and globalization; and it is within these oppressive structures that cultural appropriation and the yoga industrial complex flourishes. People are grasping for something to belong and connect to outside of the empty and shallow societal anchors of materialism and consumerism, which do not nourish or empower people in any sort of meaningful or sustainable way. People are searching for these things without even understanding why there is a void in the first place. Few white people make the connection between their attraction to yoga and the cultural loss their ancestors and relatives experienced when they bought into white dominant culture in order to access resources. Many Europeans did not fully grasp what they were giving up and what they were investing in, yet many did, and most who arrived on these shores chose to stay here rather than return to their home country. Few white people make the connection between their love of yoga and their desire and ability to access traditions from historically oppressed communities of color.
The article went on to argue that the “modern day trend of cultural appropriation of yoga is a continuation of white supremacy and colonialism, maintaining the pattern of white people consuming the stuff of culture that is convenient and portable, while ignoring the well-being and liberation of Indian people,” and concluded, “We must ask, in what ways are we complicit in a system that harms People of Color, queer and trans people, poor people, people with disabilities, and immigrants?”