Appropriating Appropriation – Part 2


I began this post defining terms associated with cultural dynamics so that what follows may be considered with a shared understanding of relevant terms amongst readers.  If you have not yet read Part I, I recommend you do so before proceeding.


For good or ill, there seems to be an escalating usage and overgeneralisation of the phrase ‘cultural appropriation’.  The fervour has not only begun to stifle curiosity and creativity, but it’s starting to cast a shadow over our commonality.  When a colleague tells me, she knows someone who accuses ‘white’ people of cultural appropriation because they’re drinking chai…
surely, we must recognise the accusations are beginning to reach asinine proportions.

Before we begin hurling barbed slogans to condemn others, we must first understand our motivations and theirs.

  • Do we recognise when our boundaries start to blur between respect and rigidity?
  • Do we acknowledge when our own behaviours and perceptions are underpinned by fear, prejudice, or ignorance?
  • Do we make more negative assumptions than impartial enquiries about what others are doing and why?

Each one of us harbours the potential for prejudice, especially as the world we share becomes smaller and more accessible.  People are inquisitive by nature, intrigued by other cultures, and some will even become besotted.

Stay in Your Lane

Spanning the globe, there are those who may be born into a particular culture, but find their deepest sense of belonging resides in another.  If they’re fortunate enough to discover said other culture, like a fish to water, they will actively seek it out not to disrespect or abscond with it, but because it adds depth of meaning in their lives from which they thrive.  They see it for what it is without romanticising its deficiencies.  Some choose to study, celebrate, and incorporate what are sometimes dying or obscure cultures and traditions.  Some merely let their heart be their guide.

  • Tété-Michel Kpomassie, a West African who loved the Arctic. “It is my country”, reflects Kpomassie (
  • A dancer cum academic, Dr. Laurel Victoria-Gray, is an adjunct professor at George Washington University, Founder and Artistic Director of The Silk Road Dance Company, and founder of The Uzbeck Dance and Culture Society. She has been a recipient of the prestigious “Arash” Iranian Arts award, was honoured by the Ministry of Culture of Uzbeckistan for her work in promoting and preserving Central Asian dance, and received the Distinguished Service Award from the Embassy of Uzbeckistan, to name just a few of her honours.

In the current political climate of social media, these two individuals, who clearly demonstrate a deep love and respect for these foreign cultures, could risk being accused of cultural appropriation by those who use the term as a mask for their own prejudices and bigotry.

Promoting awareness and sensitivity should be used to encourage critical-thinking, not as a catalyst for segregation.

  • Do you understand the difference between cultural integration and orientalism?

Skin Colour is Not Culture

It’s silly to have to explain this in 2021, but, sadly, it’s also necessary –

There is no such thing as ‘white’ culture, just like there is no such thing as black culture, brown culture, etc. 

A New York Hasidic Jew does not share the same culture as an Irish miner or a Russian transgender sex worker, just as an African-American shareholder in urban Chicago does not share the same culture as an Australian Aborigine on walkabout or a Somalian al-Shabab; though interestingly, a New York Jew can sometimes integrate aspects of Jamaican culture.

Restricting access to a culture or teaching based upon skin colour alone is far too subjective – what’s “white” to one person is not “white” to another, what’s “ethnic” in one era is not “ethnic” in another, and appearances often belie one’s ancestry anyway.  Sadly, there are also those who exploit such justifications to conceal their misogyny, anti-Semitism, transphobia, and other prejudices behind a pretence of anti-racism and anti-colonialism.

  • Have you ever contemplated why there is a concentrated effort to “expose” cultural appropriation while cultural integration, assimilation, and exchange are largely ignored?
  • If people want more respect for cultural awareness, why are divisive tactics being employed more than socially-cohesive efforts?

There are some who claim “white” people should not participate in yoga because of colonialism, but it’s okay for others to do so because…..



Let’s clarify the definition of colonialism.


“the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.”

Notice how it does not specify a particular skin colour or culture.  Too many are misappropriating this word, especially within the yoga community.  The fury with which ‘colonialism’ is being brandished is centred upon the assumption that it only applies to ‘white’ people, particularly the British.

(Again, words have meaning.  If you don’t like the definition because it fails to support your opinion, then perhaps it’s your viewpoint that needs modifying not the meaning.) 

Colonising has been perpetrated across the globe by the rainbow of skin colours throughout history, but for these purposes, let’s limit our discussion to India –

  • what foreign political powers arrived in India for the sole purpose of domination and exploitation?

This isn’t a history thesis so we won’t drift too extensively into the past, but one could begin with the Macedonians and Greeks …   the Arabs….  the Turks…   let’s see, the Chinese…   the Portuguese (who brought Christianity, though some theorise it was the Syrians)…   then there would be the Spanish… (sometimes these groups are considered ‘white’, sometimes not)…

and yes, eventually there were the British who were the latest to abuse their position.  Perhaps it’s their late arrival on the scene which exposes them to the most vitriol.  Perhaps it’s simply because anger can be spewed towards living people providing instant gratification for the outraged and guilty alike, successfully burning more bridges than constructing any.  Yes, the British undeniably inflicted atrocities, they also made sati illegal and organised a modern system of education which enabled women to receive schooling unlike the old Brahminic structure.

But which colonialists caused the most insidious changes – culturally, politically, and socially – shaking the very foundations of India?

The Mughals.

Did you forget about them?  They dominated India longer than the British, embedding their cultures, practices, politics, and genes so deep most outsiders assume they’re one and the same.  It was the Mughals who swept in looting and pilfering India’s wealth, destroying sacred temples and important artefacts, they raped and forced women into slavery, levied taxes on the non-Muslim population, and severely restricted traditional religious practices.  We gaze at the remnants of the Mughal colonisation today, blind to the implications of what we’re actually seeing, because to modern eyes it’s all glamourous, colourful, and exotic.  But it’s not all Indian.

If we’re going to deny participation in yoga to the unwitting descendants of those who played a role in colonising India, let’s pause to contemplate what that actually means –

  • calculate the multitude of children born by South Asian women impregnated by rape, marriage, prostitution, or otherwise from each and every invasion,
  • calculate the multitude of children born by women from each of the native countries impregnated by the colonisers by rape, marriage, prostitution, or otherwise, thus
  • we can assume those numbers are so vast as to be incalculable,
  • that many of the offspring can still be found blending inconspicuously within India today, and
  • that their progeny have also spread far beyond the boundaries of India and each of the colonising countries.

We cannot fathom those legions, just as we can only guess at the genetic makeup of the ancient founders of yoga.  Perhaps we should encourage those who come to yoga today with enthusiastic respect to learn about its history rather than expect them to prove they’re descended from an acceptable bloodline.

  • Are we questioning when cultural appropriation is applied only to select people, and why?
  • Can you guess which demographic has suffered the most regardless of who was rampaging across India?

Spiritual Recycling

All of these factors are before one begins to incorporate metaphysical considerations.  For a belief system that includes reincarnation, one must concede the possibility the current avatar is an individual’s only incarnation outside of the culture they revere.  Maybe to them that culture IS home, lifetime after lifetime.  By that reasoning the opposite could also be true.  For the person spitting venom at cultural interlopers, what if this is their first incarnation as a native?

  • In the multi-dimensional continuum of existence, who holds the legitimate claim to the culture?

Are we aligning with our principles or just the loudest voices?

If we want to leave the world a better place, we all have to accept responsibility for our own behaviours and prejudices, but just now, society is a hotbed of misinformed blame-shifting and victim/virtue-signalling.  Devious tactics in political machinations coerce the masses into being ruled by their emotions.  Psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists, and religious extremists squat comfortably within the wellness community in plain sight, and many easily recruit flying monkeys to their cause.

By all means, understand, identify, and seek to constructively correct cultural appropriation, but use critical-thinking as you ask yourself –

  • Is the person crying ‘appropriation’ applying the term accurately and justly?
  • Are they equally knowledgeable about cultural integration, assimilation, and exchange?
  • Are they disempowering its message by directing hostility towards any intercultural expression?
  • Could they be reacting or projecting onto a situation or person, based upon their own emotions or limited experiences?
  • Do they have ulterior motives, a political agenda, or a history of religious fundamentalism?
  • Are they oversimplifying entire groups of people, or encouraging divisiveness?
  • Are they speaking from a position of socio-historical ignorance, bigotry, or fear?
  • Are they merely regurgitating trending propaganda, however convincingly?
  • Are they receptive to new perspectives and information?
  • Are they mentally and emotionally healthy, mature, and balanced?
  • Will you have the courage to disagree with those who appropriate appropriation?