To a brown person, your “yoga practice” today is more offensive than your “brownface” 20 years ago

General

In light of the Justin Trudeau brownface incident, I wanted to bring up this argument.

Disclaimer: I am using harsh language here to make a point. Read this as satire or a caricature. It may sound very personal but try not to take it personally. It doesn’t apply to everyone but hope you can see the point I am trying to make.

Yoga as it practiced by most in the west is not a form of cultural appreciation. It’s not even a form of cultural appropriation. It’s a form of cultural decimation.

Growing up in India, the below is what yoga meant to me. When I moved to the US I was so excited to see that so many people were into yoga. I finally went to a yoga studio and I felt a little erased. You see Yoga can’t even be described in a sentence. The meaning takes years to understand.

Yoga as addressed in the Bhagvad Gita

As unnecessary as a well is to a village on the banks of a river, so unnecessary are all scriptures to someone who has seen the truth.

You have a right to your actions, but never to your actions’ fruits. Act for the action’s sake. And do not be attached to inaction.

Self-possessed, resolute, act without any thought of results, open to success or failure. This equanimity is yoga.

Most people who buy into whatever yoga now means – both in the West, or the ready market of willing Indians happy to take your money to give you the rubber stamp approval you need to not feel guilty – are taking a Sanskrit word and cultural practice that means something so divine and profound and instead obliterating it so that it no longer can even be talked about in any meaningful form. The least you can do is stop calling it yoga. Or maybe stop calling yourself a yoga teacher. And please stop using the word “yogi” to describe yourself. You are not a yogi.

I say this often and this is met with so much obvious discomfort by my own friends that they literally end up just ignoring that their behavior is “racist” by the norms they have themselves set for others.

This brings me back to the brownface incident of Justin Trudeau.

Let’s say in 20 years from now we brown people succeed in making you realize how horribly racist your “yoga practice” is. How deeply offensive the terms “beer yoga” or “acro yoga” are. Let’s say we finally start calling it “stretch practice” or “stretch & meditation” and the Sanskrit word reclaims it’s meaning.

30 years from now you decide to run for President. But you are disqualified from even considering it because you are a White person who called themselves a “yogi” 30 years ago and you are the most detestable person on earth now.


If you think you are too “woke” to be on the wrong side of anything, then have you considered that maybe you are as ignorant as the people you judge?

 

If you have made it this far, please take a pause and then please read the rest.

I want to take a deep breath here and bring attention back to the disclaimer at the beginning of my post. I, personally, am not offended by your yoga practice. It affects me and alienates me but I don’t hold you responsible. I don’t have any resources to point you to so that you can help “fix” the problem. That’s a good conversation but I think a separate one.

I used the example of yoga as a very real, and personal example to make a larger point. No matter what we do, we will always find out we were on the wrong side of something. This is because I believe that right and wrong are not objective, unchanging, universal truths. They are a constantly evolving interplay, a yin-yang, a projection of where we are here and now. We have to get better at recognizing this. This is literally how even science works. A well regarded theory is just one observation away from being completely invalidated. The authors of old original theories are not stupid just because their theories are no longer valid. We just have more data now to see the world in higher resolution and we need more sophisticated theories to connect more of the dots that we now see.

Trudeau doing brownface 20 years ago proves only that he did brownface 20 years ago. Who is he now, I have to judge based on his actions now. Unless we can prove that his past actions have any causal impact on his actions today. If he put on a brownface and mocked brown people today, he would most definitely be in the wrong today and I would not like it. If you continue to call yourself a yogi today, then I will not like it. But the fact that you called yourself a yogi yesterday, that’s ok. You didn’t know any better.

Are you practicing yoga because you hate brown people and you want to subjugate and distort their culture? Or are you practicing yoga because you love what it seems to offer and you are genuinely curious about it? Oh, because you are relatively wealthy and powerful, your preferences and decisions have unintended consequences? Well be careful, be mindful. But it’s not your fault. You are not a bad person.

“Brown people are good doctors” is a stereotype, but it’s a positive one. It is not racist to say that. “Brown people are terrorists” is a stereotype that is negative. It is racist to say that. “White people can’t dance” is a stereotype. It’s a negative stereotype. Is it racist? Depends. Depends on what? The power balance. e.g. There are a billion brown people in India. A brown person is not a minority in India. Let’s say a white person walks in to a remote Indian village. And someone says “white people are the devil”. This is a stereotype. And in this case it’s a negative stereotype. It exposes that white person, who is a minority in this context, to unwarranted mistreatment and danger. This is not a made up example, this happens. White people can be victims of negative stereotyping too. But in our world today, more often than not, stereotypes associated with white people are positive. And where the white stereotypes are negative, the power balance protects their downside.

This post is about this rush to judgement. This post is about this obsession with a black and white approach to right or wrong. This post is about what I think is this false belief that the world is mostly static, it was perfect until “white people screwed it up” and now we are trying to fix it and bring it back to it’s original perfect state. It prevents us from being able to navigate the reality – that the world is constantly evolving and there is no steady state. That everyone has at some point been in the wrong and will be in the future. It prevents us from seeing our own history in the right context.

I am a Muslim. From the western part of India. We were originally Hindu. 20 generations or so ago, many people from the village where my ancestors are from converted to Islam. My ancestors are most likely slave traders. They are most definitely beneficiaries of the spice trade that ran on slavery.

I spayed and neutered my cat without her consent. I didn’t ask her if she was ok renouncing her sexuality and not having any more children. I decided I was doing her a favor just because I wanted a cute cuddly thing in my home.

We haven’t yet figured out how to control time. Life is still ephemeral. Let’s remember to breathe. 🤗

Subscribe to my blog via email

Japan’s online social scene isn’t so social

Uncategorized

MSNBC has an interesting story on the differences in how social networks are used in Japan as compared to the US.

Welcome to Japan’s online social scene, where you’re unlikely to meet anyone you don’t know already. The early promises of a new, open social frontier, akin to the identity-centric world of Facebook and MySpace in the U.S., have been replaced by a realm where people stay safely within their circles of friends and few reveal themselves to strangers.

[from MSNBC]

It reveals some interesting facts about people’s expectation of privacy.

People rarely give their first names to those they don’t know well. Spontaneous exchanges are uncommon even on the tightly packed trains and streets of Tokyo. TV news shows often blur the faces of those caught in background footage and photos to protect their privacy.

This is quite in line with the open letter to Google last month by a Japanese blogger pointing out the cultural inappropriateness of Google Street View

According to the morals of urban area residents in Japan, the assumption that “it is scenery [viewable] from public roads and therefore it must be public” is in fact incorrect. Quite the contrary, [these morals state that] “people walking along public roads must avert their glance from the living spaces right before their eyes”.

Japan’s cultural difference was again brought out in the response it gave to Apple’s iPhone 3G launch in July, 2008.

"The iPhone was welcomed here with long lines of gadget fans. But it’s also being seen as shockingly alien to this nation’s quirky and closed mobile world… For example, young people in Japan take for granted the ability to share phone numbers, e-mail addresses and other contact information by beaming it from one phone to another over infrared connections. Being without those instantaneous exchanges would be the death knell on the Japanese dating circuit," Kageyama reports. "While the iPhone has Bluetooth wireless links, it has no infrared connection."
"Also missing from Steve Jobs’ much-praised design: a hole in the handset for hanging trinkets. Westerners may scoff at them as childish, but having them is a common social practice in Japan," Kageyama reports.

This is a good example of the tension between centralization and specialization of service and control. Making one device or service for all is a very cheap process; however, making it fit the long tail requires intense resources for customization and is harder to achieve.

Rajnikant and Japan

Uncategorized

Guess what good old Rajnikanth is up to? He is creating waves in Japan!
This is a death-blow to all those Bollywood elite who make fun of his style; he rocks and his fame proves it!
Here’s a Rajnikanth poster in a movie hall in Japan

You can read more about this on the Economic Times.
Interestingly, not so long while ago, I was one of the young Indians who was crazy about the Japanese Superhero Giant Robot! .
Trivia: Another Bollywood star who was hugely popular in another country was Raj Kapoor. Also, Chunky Pandey is almost worshipped in Bangladesh. But nothing comes close to the demigod status of Rajnikanth in India! Mind it!

Update: Here’s an embedded video of Rajnikant. Now you see why he is God.

Hell in your backyard

Uncategorized

Hell, MI
There’s a nice little town here in Livingston County and it is called “Hell”. Why is it called Hell?

[From Hell’s official Website]

The History of Hell Michigan

Hell was first settled in 1838 by George Reeves and his family. George had a wife and 7 daughters – no reason to call it Hell yet… George built a mill and a general store on the banks of a river that is now known as Hell Creek…

The mill would grind the local farmers grain into flour; George also ran a whiskey still, so a lot of times the first 7-10 bushels of grain became moonshine.

In turn, horses would come home without riders, wagons without drivers….someone would say to the wife, where is your husband?

She’d shrug her shoulders, throw up her arms and exclaim, Ahh, he’s gone to Hell!”

In 1841 when the State of Michigan came by, and asked George what he wanted to name his town, he replied, “Call it Hell for all I care, everyone else does.” So the official date of becoming Hell was October 13, 1841…

Hell, MI
So, for the record, I have been through Hell. Next you tell me life’s tough and giving you a hard time, you better think twice – you have not yet seen what Hell is all about!