The whitewashing of #WhitePeopleDoingYoga
October 25, 2019 6:49 AM   Subscribe

My artwork was about appropriation. San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum tried to appropriate it. Indian American artist Chiraag Bhakta on his experience with the SF Asian Art Museum. When I was asked to contribute to the Asian Art Museum's exhibit on yoga, I took the invitation at face value: The Asian Art Museum wanted to give space to an Indian American artist. I knew the title #WhitePeopleDoingYoga would be provocative, but I chose it for a reason: For this installation, yoga was a case study in how culture gets colonized, a pattern that holds across industries, from fashion to food to music. But once my proposal made the rounds among curators, educators, and PR folks, cracks started to show in the museum’s support for the installation.
posted by stillmoving (50 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
 
THEY SELL TOTE BAGS THAT JUST SAY "ASIAN". And when called on it, the marketing chief says "Well, that's our brand, so it's okay."

I can't even come up with a pithy way to say "Fuck all of these people."
posted by Etrigan at 7:24 AM on October 25 [29 favorites]


This is very on-brand for the colonialist white liberal mindset of the Bay Area.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:33 AM on October 25 [20 favorites]


The museum really doubled (and tripled and quadrupled) down on their white privilege, didn't they? As Etrigan noted, they sell an "A Asian" tote, without context, but worried about what anglo yoga practitioners and kids might say* when faced with the title "#WhitePeopleDoingYoga," and then celebrated in their appropriation in opening parties (plural!)
The opening parties featured Indian classical music performed by white people, acro-yoga performed by white people, a chanting group mostly compromising white people, and a white couple from Marin teaching yoga for an hour. There was a sprinkle of Brown acts, but the headliner—wait for it—was a white rapper named MC Yogi, who spit about yoga and Indian culture over a beat dropped by DJ Drez, a white DJ with dreads. (Reminder: the largest institution of Asian art in the United States.)

Onstage behind the musicians was a massive projection of MC Yogi’s name, an Om symbol, and a crown—the very symbol of British oppression over India for hundreds of years. Here was a white artist mashing symbols and cultures—Indian and hip-hop—to root his identity in the fetishization of Brown and cool purely for his own benefit, disregarding communities of color.
And under MC Yogi's "crowned" brand is one of MC Yogi's taglines -- "sacred sound" (as seen on his merch).

Flames, flames on the side of my face. #WhitePeopleStealingCulture ... again. And again. And again. And then celebrating that theft, with a bunch of white performers. Because we wouldn't want to upset the white people with too many non-white faces and bodies. FFS.

* The official reply:
As examples, the spokesperson pointed to “Anglo practitioners of yoga unfamiliar with the concepts of cultural appropriation/appreciation, and K-12 students who haven’t had the proper exposure to understand the statement implied in ‘White People Doing Yoga.'”
You're a museum - EDUCATE THEM. Those white yoga professionals are already appropriating the culture, why not have a sit-down with some of them who don't understand how what they're doing is appropriating culture.** Hell, invite MC Yogi and get him to think about the shit he's selling. Or better yet, just don't invite him to your opening party and don't further elevate his brand built on cultural theft.

** But from the article, I don't think the museum is the right group to initiate this -- they need an intervention of their own, probably starting with removal of the bust of the American Nazi Avery Brundage.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:43 AM on October 25 [43 favorites]


In an email to a Mother Jones fact-checker, museum reps acknowledge that there had been misgivings over the title and the installation in general, which they emphasize was intended to be “educational” rather than artistic

Great, this will educate people on cultural appropriation.

".... “white people” could be “offensive or puzzling” to some, [like] “Anglo practitioners of yoga unfamiliar with the concepts of cultural appropriation/appreciation, and K-12 students who haven’t had the proper exposure to understand the statement implied in ‘White People Doing Yoga'. "

So they want something education, but no, not like that, we don't want to teach people about appropriation.
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:44 AM on October 25 [9 favorites]


As of 2018, only 12 percent of American museum directors were people of color. Forty-six percent of all American museum boards were 100 percent white.

I haven't been able to find stats focusing on whiteness on museum boards in collections created by people of color, but I suspect they're not that much better.

More from the Mellon foundation.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:45 AM on October 25 [10 favorites]


During our initial meetings at the museum, they told me to “turn down the volume” of my critique. They also insisted I remove a section of the installation—a Hindu-inspired shrine featuring photographs of a white couple as South Asian gurus. “This might be offensive to Indian people,” staffers said—white authorities telling me what Indian people might find offensive.
Is there a word for this particular kind of ... defensive co-optation, where a white person tries to reframe their own offense at being called out in terms of imagined offense to some other group?
posted by Not A Thing at 7:45 AM on October 25 [17 favorites]


Horrifying.
posted by odinsdream at 7:46 AM on October 25


ugh to this. I know (for a fact, and personally) Asian people who do yoga, teach yoga etc., in the Bay Area. I can't imagine it would be difficult to find South Asian people who could perform at such events, and Indian people who are involved with yoga who could teach the whitepeopledoingyoga about appropriation and how to participate in other cultures without stealing and profiting and colonizing...again.
posted by supermedusa at 8:03 AM on October 25 [3 favorites]


The opening parties featured Indian classical music performed by white people, acro-yoga performed by white people, a chanting group mostly compromising white people, and a white couple from Marin teaching yoga for an hour.
And this is in San Francisco, where less than half of the population is white, and more than 1/3 is Asian. There are over half a million Indian Americans in California (highest in the entire US), and yet an Asian art museum in San Francisco can only seem to find white people to perform Asian arts? This is just damning.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:04 AM on October 25 [40 favorites]


Not A Thing: Is there a word for this particular kind of ... defensive co-optation, where a white person tries to reframe their own offense at being called out in terms of imagined offense to some other group?

Projection.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:05 AM on October 25 [8 favorites]


They say the shrine "did not align with the rest of the display," and that it might be offensive. The implication is they are confident the rest of it is inoffensive.
posted by RobotHero at 8:17 AM on October 25 [4 favorites]


So what is the answer here? Do white people need to stop doing Yoga? Or stop teaching Yoga?

How do whites approach something that they love (Yoga) without hurting the civilization that it comes from?


Why are we centering the needs of white people here? This is about an artist, commenting on his culture's appropriation. Indignantly asking "Well what DO you want us to do???" is not how to respond.

Anyway, I think #WhitePeopleDoingYoga would have made teenage me laugh, and then think, and then think some more, which is exactly how art can work best, and it angers me that the stuffy jerks in charge didn't give kids more credit. Little kids would not be offended, and most of it would go over their heads, like most art does.

The only people truly offended is old rich white people with bigotry they had not confronted, and that's who the museum thinks is truly important.
posted by emjaybee at 8:19 AM on October 25 [62 favorites]


emjaybee: "The only people truly offended is old rich white people with bigotry they had not confronted, and that's who the museum thinks is truly important."

Dead on. The exhibition was partly sponsored by "California-based" Catherine Glynn Benkaim and Barbara Timmer, and the Asian Art Museum was clearly angling to get their collection of "Indian court paintings from the 1600s to 1800s."

Unfortunately for them the Asian Art Museum's pandering wasn't good enough, and their collection has now ended up split between Cleveland and DC.
posted by crazy with stars at 8:30 AM on October 25 [3 favorites]


white people who run ASIAN art museums can feature Asian artists, performers etc., in the events and exhibits. white people who desire to participate in yoga (as I do myself) can do it in a way that is not profiting off colonizing/appropriation, in ways that leave space for Asian/Indian people to own their own culture and represent it.
posted by supermedusa at 8:37 AM on October 25 [2 favorites]


It seems insulting to invite an artist to show work in an exhibit that was not meant to be artistic.
posted by pinothefrog at 8:39 AM on October 25 [7 favorites]


What fucking use is a museum or gallery if nothing in it challenges or provokes thought in anyone? The absurdity of these white people presiding over a supposedly Asian museum shouldn't even escape these rich, privileged fuckers.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:40 AM on October 25 [10 favorites]


This gives the sense that the museum’s decision makers saw this as a fun event at which to play “dress up” with yoga culture and didn’t like actual artists or Asian or Asian-American people coming in to harsh their buzz.
posted by sallybrown at 8:44 AM on October 25 [16 favorites]


(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
posted by Fizz at 8:48 AM on October 25 [18 favorites]


emjaybee: The only people truly offended is old rich white people with bigotry they had not confronted, and that's who the museum thinks is truly important.

And white people who are made to question their business practices:
After more than a month of fine-tuning our plans, the curator said there was one last “hurdle” to clear before approval: The Cleveland museum planned to invite the city’s commercial yoga studios to teach classes and had to make sure the studios felt comfortable in the same space as an installation titled #WhitePeopleDoingYoga. That’s when the plans fell apart. Out of nowhere, the curator—the uneasy messenger—emailed me to say the museum felt that my installation would be “ad hoc” (odd, given that we’d spent a month planning it). And, wait, what had happened to that last “hurdle”? It’s not surprising that local businesses could mute a museum’s platform; that’s what happens when you trade curatorial integrity for financial obligations.
Again, TEACHING MOMENTS. Instead of bringing in someone or a group to discuss cultural appropriation with the city's commercial yoga studios, they didn't bring in that "offensive" art exhibit, to keep the yoga studio owners from being uncomfortable with their own practices.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:55 AM on October 25 [9 favorites]


This is a great case study in white fragility. Also, in navigating the tension between art and marketing. The museum knows their target audience is white ethno-tourists, but to come out and say that would shatter the illusion of authenticity.
posted by simra at 8:57 AM on October 25 [11 favorites]


i always complain that when i go to yoga or meditation classes i feel like an asian person pretending to be a white person pretending to be an asian person and then shit gets weird
posted by pingu at 9:02 AM on October 25 [35 favorites]


So what is the answer here? Do white people need to stop doing Yoga? Or stop teaching Yoga?

How do whites approach something that they love (Yoga) without hurting the civilization that it comes from?


I love that in any thread on cultural appropriation on an overwhelmingly white website/community, you end up with a comment like this almost immediately: these kinds of histrionic, defensive and absurd leaps of imagination--like anyone is going to make you stop doing yoga. I mean come on.

As a brown person, my answer is: just fucking listen to us. Ask us what we think. Get to know some of us. If you're practicing yoga in a completely or overwhelmingly white space that's filled with creepy Orientalist trappings, ask yourself whether it might make people actually from the culture you're fetishizing kind of uncomfortable and maybe that's why everyone is white.

I go to lots of yoga classes and grit my teeth through the fake spiritual Sanskrit chanting, hearing names of gods and goddesses that are sacred to my culture and to my family being appropriated for your workout routine. It really bothers me but I go anyway because I'm used to never being centered in any space and if I avoided every place I feel fetishized and othered, I would basically never leave my apartment. Also, I fucking hate it when statues of Hindu and Buddhists deities are used to decorate yoga studios. It makes me so uncomfortable and it's such a tremendous sign of disrespect and of white people demonstrating their stewardship over another culture. Do you think Indian people put up Jesus statues in their gym classes? You treat Asian cultures differently because you take them less seriously, think they are less worthy of being regarded seriously and that's because of centuries of colonialism.

Anyway, this is a rant but I feel this way and many, many other brown people feel this way--this is such a common thing to vent about in South Asian spaces. And you don't hear those critiques because we're scared to level them around you.
posted by armadillo1224 at 9:03 AM on October 25 [132 favorites]


[One comment nixed, this really doesn't need to turn into a strategy session for helping white people feel better about their relationship with yoga.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:04 AM on October 25 [14 favorites]


How do whites approach something that they love (Yoga) without hurting the civilization that it comes from?

By not silencing critique or criticism from people who are members of the civilization it comes from or its diaspora.

People approach "cultural appropriation" as a morally loaded concept, and maybe for a lot of people it is. But fundamentally it's just a description of one way that cultural ideas spread. Cultural elements are appropriated when they are adopted and modified to be made compatible with other elements of the importing culture. This act of transformation will generally look strange to the source culture, and often (and needing greater moral consideration) disrespectful. I don't believe people who are members of the importing (or, if you prefer, appropriating) culture are necessarily required to agree with the perspective of members of the source culture, but it seems like basic politeness to at least listen to their criticisms and take them seriously, particularly when they describe how aspects of the appropriation seem disrespectful to them.

It's also important to acknowledge that the appropriated cultural idea has in fact been transformed and is no longer identical to its original: yoga as practiced by middle class white people in America is a different thing than yoga as practiced in India. Part of the importance of criticism by people who are members of the source culture in in delineating what has been transformed, precisely to help identify and protect the original cultural element from being supplanted by the appropriated version. American yoga has been intertwined with American notions of class, commodity, and spirituality in ways that practitioners of yoga in, say, early 20th century India would find fundamentally incompatible. Bhakta's critique tying "#WhitePeopleDoingYoga" directly to the commodification of yoga draws this distinction fairly directly, and in so doing helps, indirectly, create space for the original, non-commodified, non- "white people" version of yoga.

And doing what the museum here did, actively trying to silence uncomfortable criticism of appropriation, is just gross.
posted by biogeo at 9:09 AM on October 25 [26 favorites]


The show’s lead curators and education staffers I’d met—all but one of whom were white—didn’t feel completely comfortable with the title. They wanted something innocuous like #PeopleDoingYoga, without the word “white,” because the term “white people” could be “offensive” to museumgoers, donors, and staff.
Ooooof.
How these people thought they could put together an exhibition on yoga without anyone addressing the issues of commercialization and appropriation is beyond me.
posted by Glier's Goetta at 9:10 AM on October 25


The DC Metro area is home to literal thousands of Indian Americans -- the third largest Indian American population after NYC and Chicago. And yet the Sackler has always, always felt like a white person's space. As a kid, I went to some of their film festivals (because back then, before streaming video, that was the only way you could see the work of arthouse Indian filmmakers like Satyajit Ray). The films were always introduced by a (white) curator telling the (brown) audience about our culture.

I always felt really awkward and out of place in the Sackler, moreso than in any other Smithsonian museum, and stopped going there years ago. I'd hoped they'd gotten better in the 21st century, but seems like they are even worse than before.
posted by basalganglia at 9:13 AM on October 25 [10 favorites]


gorgeous_sorel (and others): Please read the Microaggressions page, specifically this section:

Believe people:
Don't second-guess people's own life experiences, especially if you're part of a dominant group and they're part of a marginalized group. Don't second-guess whether people are actually upset about something or "just looking to be offended." It's annoying for anybody to do this kind of second-guessing to anybody, but it happens very often to people in marginalized groups and is often largely invisible to folks not experiencing that marginalization. A man who never gets cat-called may assume it's not that big of a problem; a white person who doesn't experience daily systemic racism may not understand the pervasiveness of it in the life of a person of color. If someone is talking about the experiences in their life and it seems unfamiliar or implausible to you, remind yourself that you haven't been living their life and of course your experiences differ.

posted by basalganglia at 9:18 AM on October 25 [13 favorites]


Took my kid to this exhibit last week. While my wife and I were perusing the items in the room shown in the photo, our kid walked into the next room - you can see it a little through the doorway. It's an entire room full of Jim Crow era advertising and etc. (christ, some of the items on display were from the goddamn 1990s, and were as abhorrently racist as the older stuff shown).

He's 10. He's a middle class white kid. I didn't know this part of the exhibit was there. I didn't know what he felt, to go in there and see all of this vile crap with zero prep ahead of time and no context provided by mom and dad. I asked him about it. He said it made him feel bad, and that the entire exhibit was about how some people are not treated fairly and it's wrong and we need to make sure this stops happening. I told him that he was absofuckinglutely right. He clearly understood the reason this was on display.

So basically, what I'm saying is that museums can educate even if no one spends a single goddamn minute prepping the kids before they walk in to ensure they feel the proper feelings. It's what museums DO. At least, it's what they SHOULD do. Whitewashing the cultural insensitivity and appropriation and vile racism doesn't just make white people feel better, it allows us to avoid staring the ugly history in the face and dealing with those feelings of shame and guilt. We absolutely NEED to face these things and to come to terms with them. Glossing over this shit just makes it easier to ignore or brush off, and worse, softening the blow makes it easier for future generations to repeat our past mistakes.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:32 AM on October 25 [34 favorites]


This is also about privilege of feelings/ignorance, in that white people are interpreting any reflection or provocation or education about misappropriation as a demand that they stop doing yoga altogether. It is possible to continue doing yoga while also being aware of the issue of cultural appropriation. It is possible to continue paying for yoga class while also being aware that you’re participating in the commodification of what for some people is a sacred practice. You don’t get to require a space to do yoga in which you can pretend reality doesn’t exist. It’s ok to be a person who participates in something less than perfect. You can’t demand that people stop talking about it.
posted by sallybrown at 9:32 AM on October 25 [11 favorites]


Also, oops, I just reread TFA and realized it's about a museum in SF. That explains all y'all commenting about the Bay Area! I just read "Sackler" in the opening paragraph and had this immediate Pavlovian NOPE response, which probably also indicates how pervasive this problem is.
posted by basalganglia at 9:35 AM on October 25 [6 favorites]


I have to admit, as I read the story, specifically the part about the opening, with the white yoga practitioners, the white musicians, the white DJ, etc, I thought "oh, so they really got on board with this #whitepeopledoingyoga critique after all" but…nope. Wow.

I mean, it's one thing to be tone-deaf. It's another thing to persist in your tone-deafness when someone is holding a bugle up to your ear.
posted by adamrice at 9:35 AM on October 25 [8 favorites]


The museum's response to the article contained this little gem:
the installation in general, which they emphasize was intended to be “educational” rather than artistic.

What an amazing mental trick. How does an art museum avoid the charge of the censorship of art? Simple, just redefine it as not art. Yes, according to them, this exhibit by an artist in an art museum isn't to be considered art, so don't go around accusing them of censoring art.
posted by eye of newt at 10:00 AM on October 25 [12 favorites]


I went to this exhibition. Ugh. I've been increasingly uncomfortable with the Asian Art Museum over the years and this is a perfect illustration of why. (That said, I was entirely unaware of any of this at the time and I'm glad I got to hear the artist's voice in this article.)

As an aside, it's interesting that so many of these cultural appropriation flaps come out of museum spaces (see also: the Boston MFA's kimono exhibit).
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:05 AM on October 25 [5 favorites]


That's right, they're not censoring art, they're censoring education.
posted by biogeo at 10:25 AM on October 25 [2 favorites]


I hope this does not turn into the Rage Yoga MeFi fiasco of a while ago.
posted by indianbadger1 at 10:29 AM on October 25 [14 favorites]


How these people thought they could put together an exhibition on yoga without anyone addressing the issues of commercialization and appropriation is beyond me.

Ha, but really, the answer is right here in your pull quote:
The show’s lead curators and education staffers I’d met—all but one of whom were white
What I don't understand is how, in 2019, people thought they could run a museum of Asian art without involving any Asians. Or, not so much how they thought they could, but why they thought they should. It's pretty disturbing, really.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:16 AM on October 25 [4 favorites]


dovetailing off of indianbadger1's comment, here's the associated meta for how that thread went.

also, previously
posted by anem0ne at 11:45 AM on October 25 [10 favorites]


As an aside, it's interesting that so many of these cultural appropriation flaps come out of museum spaces

I think this is interesting too. I think it relates to an intrinsic tension in the idea of a museum as a place for showcasing and learning about a foreign culture. The intended goal of such a museum is in a sense explicitly not culturally appropriative, in that visitors are supposed to encounter and learn about cultural artifacts in a way that helps them understand them within their original context, to better understand their source culture. Yet the very act of taking an object and placing it in a museum transforms its cultural significance in a way that could be called appropriative: a piece of religious art in a museum is no longer only a piece of religious art used for worship, reverence, or focus; it is also an object of study in a museum, and as such the museum patrons cannot really engage with it in its original cultural context no matter how sensitive the museum exhibition is to this issue.

I strongly believe in the goal of such museums to educate people about foreign cultures that they may otherwise have no direct contact with, and I believe that the approach of museums is overall a good approach to this goal. But the tension between presenting a culture in a way that allows people not of that culture to engage with it versus appropriating that culture as an object of display is real and difficult to navigate, and not all museums manage it. Compounding this is the fact that historically in the West such museums have relied heavily or entirely on material appropriation for their artifacts, removing these objects from their original cultures in a way that is intrinsically disrespectful of the culture that guests of the museum are supposed to learn about. And, of course, that the curators of these museums in general tend not to be of or having a genuine connection to the culture they are presenting, further increasing the likelihood that the exhibit will end up being disrespectfully appropriative.
posted by biogeo at 11:54 AM on October 25 [11 favorites]


Also, oops, I just reread TFA and realized it's about a museum in SF. That explains all y'all commenting about the Bay Area! I just read "Sackler" in the opening paragraph...

The fact that there are so many Sackler museums is an entirely different, but equally fucked-up issue.
posted by Awkward Philip at 12:31 PM on October 25 [4 favorites]


As an aside, it's interesting that so many of these cultural appropriation flaps come out of museum spaces

I think this is interesting too. I think it relates to an intrinsic tension in the idea of a museum as a place for showcasing and learning about a foreign culture.


I think it relates more to the fact that museums historically were the result of rich people looting stuff from "exotic" lands, putting it in their houses, and inviting their friends to come over and gawp at it. The idea that the museum should put relics in context to educate the public -- in concert with the people from whose lands those relics came -- has been a thing for maybe 3 percent of the time that museums have been in existence.
posted by Etrigan at 12:42 PM on October 25 [12 favorites]


I'm trying to figure out what term or concept encompasses the phenomenon of the reaction to a work or collection of art extending and validating that art. Would it be... meta?
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:50 PM on October 25


I'm not at all surprised by any of this. I've been rolling my eyes at all of the various trends in yoga the last 20ish years. I think the most eye-rolling of them was goat yoga.

It also has me thinking about 'Golden Milk' which was a trend for a while and that too was something that has its origins in Asia/Middle-East.

It's what I call the 'GOOPification' of other cultures. White people 'discovering' something from another culture, rebranding it as their own, adding a huge mark-up price, and then profit. Add in a heaping dose of resentment whenever someone from that other culture questions or pushes back on the idea of their having appropriated it and here we are.

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
posted by Fizz at 1:09 PM on October 25 [12 favorites]


Also, I'm aware that I myself also participate in this kind of appropriation in subtle ways, we all do this in our everyday lives. Language, food, and fashion are places where it can get messy. But in a situation like this, where education and history are the focus, I think it's pretty clear cut what is right and what is wrong.
posted by Fizz at 1:18 PM on October 25 [6 favorites]


I'm trying to figure out what term or concept encompasses the phenomenon of the reaction to a work or collection of art extending and validating that art. Would it be... meta?

'responses', surely

This is also about privilege of feelings/ignorance, in that white people are interpreting any reflection or provocation or education about misappropriation as a demand that they stop doing yoga altogether.

It is possible to continue paying for yoga class while also being aware that you’re participating in the commodification of what for some people is a sacred practice.


These two sentences are in conflict: the obvious response, and the intended response, to learning that you are participating in the commodification of a sacred practice is to stop doing it.

White people 'discovering' something from another culture, rebranding it as their own, adding a huge mark-up price, and then profit.

I always enjoyed Terry Pratchett's satire of this, where young people from the mountains would flock to the industrialised city of Ankh-Morpork to seek out the wisdom of Mrs Cake. Because it came from further away, it was therefore wiser.

(His previous attempts were not as successful, and I appreciate that he kept recycling ideas as a way of burying the bad ones.)

(There is an argument that this is why some Asian cultures picked up distressingly Western ideals of masculinity in the last few hundred years.)
posted by Merus at 1:19 PM on October 25


The show’s lead curators and education staffers I’d met—all but one of whom were white—didn’t feel completely comfortable with the title. They wanted something innocuous like #PeopleDoingYoga, without the word “white,” because the term “white people” could be “offensive” to museumgoers, donors, and staff.
Gah, it just breaks my heart a little bit every time white people in the USA are given a chance to self-reflect upon their own whiteness and how white folks have successfully linked certain things (like Yoga™) to the brand of Whiteness in the USA, and someone who isn't white will even do all the damn work for them and all they have to do is show up and have a self-reflective experience, and a subset white folks will still try and sabotage the whole thing, to water it down, to change the experience so that it isn't as powerful. The name of a piece of art is a very important part of the art. Change the name, you change the context- you change the context, and you change the thoughts/emotions that people have when experiencing the art. It's amazing that people who work in conjunction with an art museum would even pretend like they didn't get this.
As part of the marketing rollout for the yoga show, the museum planned to publish a 12-by-12-inch, 24-page advertising supplement in the San Francisco Examiner, the SF Weekly, and the SF Bay Guardian. In all, 250,000 copies were being printed. The museum had decided behind my back that it was not going to promote my work in an honest way—not just by excluding the title but also by dumbing down the description of my work. At one point, a draft of the marketing material referred to my work as an “amusing” and “lighthearted” collection.

And of course my title was nowhere to be found in the supplement. I decided to insert it myself: I contacted the supplement’s ad team, without consulting the museum, and took out my own full-page ad:

I paid out of pocket, negotiating a reduced rate that was equal to what the museum had paid me for my installation: $1,500. Straight into my hands for my work and straight out of my hands for my ad, all to retain my voice. Symmetry at its finest.
Uhghghg, so aggravating. There's a certain subset of white people who just.don't.notice that a group of people is entirely white until it is pointed out to them, so without the title, the whole point of the piece will likely be lost on a certain subset of white people.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:12 PM on October 25 [10 favorites]


> (There is an argument that this is why some Asian cultures picked up distressingly Western ideals of masculinity in the last few hundred years.)

Merus, I got your Discworld reference, but this bit of your comment isn't parsing for me at all. What do you mean?
posted by rather be jorting at 3:14 PM on October 25 [1 favorite]


There was a sprinkle of Brown acts, but the headliner—wait for it—was a white rapper named MC Yogi, who spit about yoga and Indian culture over a beat dropped by DJ Drez, a white DJ with dreads.

The sounds I made while reading this sentence can only be described as a series of atonal interrobangs.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:57 PM on October 25 [5 favorites]


"This is very on-brand for the colonialist white liberal mindset of the Bay Area."

California Über Alles
posted by klangklangston at 7:11 PM on October 25 [2 favorites]


Great piece. Thanks for posting, OP!
posted by Bella Donna at 2:26 PM on October 26


None of this is surprising to me, either. I don't have enough eyerolls for this, but palpable anger. I'm so goddamn sick of this bullshit. One of the things that bothers me most about the appropriation of Indian cultures is the lack of reverence, as if it all exists context-free.

Years ago, I had to stop going to the one place in town with classes in the classical type of yoga I practice. In a chat after class, my white male yoga teacher thought it was appropriate to do a head bobble and attempt to imitate a stereotype of an Indian accent to me, the only Indian who had ever attended that class for the past several months. I've encountered a number of white people who really love to show Indian people what an Indian accent is like. He's someone who had studied yoga for years in India. The disrespect he gave to his teachers, and the lineage of practice passed down to him was appalling and left me shaking on the inside.

Since that incident, I went to a new place in a new city where a teacher (another white male) had learned enough to recognize something about me relating to Hinduism; so ok great, he had a bit more knowledge and reverence than the previous dude. But then he spent several moments in class excitedly verbalizing his awe that I had this characteristic. I'm not a fucking novelty nor an object for your fetish. I wanted to cry by the end of class. It made me so uncomfortable that I never went back.


Also, I fucking hate it when statues of Hindu and Buddhists deities are used to decorate yoga studios. It makes me so uncomfortable and it's such a tremendous sign of disrespect and of white people demonstrating their stewardship over another culture.


The only time I've been completely comfortable learning yoga in a public setting was in India, where I was taught by an Indian person, among all but one or two non-Indian students. There were no idols or pictures of Hindu gods and godesses, no incense, and it happened to be that the non-desis weren't wearing clothing from racist lululemon. I want to go back there and actually be able to be at peace in a group practice instead of at a baseline level of discomfort when I practice with others here.

I'm getting a bit rant-y, I know. So I'll just preview a couple of points for discussion for the inevitable future:
-Instant Pot -- why yes, I have heard of a pressure cooker before as have so many people around the world; cooking beans and other food quickly isn't a recent historical discovery
-Best Marigold Hotel and that similar movie set in France -- no I'm not watching that problematic neo-colonialist shlock and neither has any other desi I personally know; stop recommending it to me with the added quip "it's so colourful"

@Fizz, golden milk hasn't waned much in popularity and we could have a whole other FPP about appropriation of food in "health/pure/clean"-eating restaurants
posted by mayurasana at 8:36 PM on October 28 [12 favorites]


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