Who's going to shell out big bucks for a HELLO-M-G yoga mat?
January 24, 2020 12:42 AM   Subscribe

How 'Namaste' Flew Away From Us. The commercial yoga industry in the United States often uses "namaste" in a way that is almost completely divorced from its use in Hindi.
posted by Burhanistan (39 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Beyond the commercial yoga silliness, what really struck me was the last part:
"In South Asia, namaste is mostly heard in Hindi-speaking areas. There are hundreds of other languages spoken in the region — as a Sri Lankan Tamil, namaste isn't really a word in my family's language. And yet, with brown skin and a name like Kumari, I'm no stranger to being namaste'ed. As Putcha points out, "racism isn't exactly geographically specific."

Being namaste'ed was one of the ways I learned what being South Asian was going to mean for my life. If folks were greeting me with a word that has no place in my family's heritage, then what other assumptions were they making?"
posted by Burhanistan at 12:48 AM on January 24 [20 favorites]


I know another assumption that many were making: xenophobic, anti-refugee Australians assume that you can just pop over to Tamil Nadu for a life of milk & honey any time the shit goes down in Sri Lanka, because Tamil Nadu has the word "Tamil" in it.

Never mind that it might not be a place where you can actually gain refuge on an equal basis with Indian citizens, and never mind that the State might not be able to help you out at all.

If you're Tamil, just go to Tamil Nadu. Problem solved.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:32 AM on January 24


"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."
--James D. Nicoll

And then use that vocabulary in incorrect and frustrating ways.

It reminds me of the cringey way that white people, trying to be kind and inclusive, say "ni hao" to anyone of Asian appearance, never mind that they are actually Korean or Japanese or that-place-born Chinese people who don't speak Mandarin, or whatever. I feel that this namaste in yoga studios goes beyond that to be more appropriative by assigning a 'higher meaning' to a word that means hello. Ugh.
posted by freethefeet at 2:19 AM on January 24 [12 favorites]


I learned about this from an episode of The Allusionist. (transcript)
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 2:24 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


A relative recently moved to Hawaii, and now starts and ends every email with 'aloha', which (given that they're not even remotely Hawaiian) is extremely irritating.

They would be quite bewildered if I ever told them.

They would be equally bewildered if I (a non-Cockney living in London) were suddenly to start prefacing all my emails with 'Awright my son'.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 2:37 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]


That's South Park s.16 ep.11 "Going Native", right there.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:04 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


Namaste said by white people is always kind of cringy. It just has a marketing feel about it: “hi, I’m a person who does yoga, and I’m spiritual.” It’s a bit like the ostentatious “God Bless,” but without the element of, you know, practicing the religion/culture. The micro aggression aspect just adds to the cringe.

As for that “aloha,” it’s not impossible that they’ve just picked it up. After four years in Texas, I’ve taken on “y’all,” and I’m not entirely comfortable with it, since my cultural roots are Upper Midwest US, not Southern US. I didn’t set out to adopt it, it just kind of showed up in my vocabulary, and I have to work to not use it, if it doesn’t seem appropriate. I’m a little wary of people working toward gender inclusion to say “you can just use y’all,” because, well, the word has connections that you can’t just ignore. Why not “youins,” “yin’s,” or “youze?” Is it terrible? Not really, and not to the extent of namaste, but, still....
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:29 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


”youse” is pretty standard Australian English for second-person plural. I can see “y’all” spreading, just because having a second-person plural pronoun is useful. My German teacher loved “youse”, because it made his job easier.

If non-Australians would take on “youse”, I don’t believe anyone would complain about appropriation, but rather be happy for the improvement to English.
posted by pompomtom at 4:34 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]


Namaste said by white people is always kind of cringy.

Exception: when used in place of "go fuck yourself" at the end of an email
posted by thelonius at 4:34 AM on January 24 [18 favorites]


white people

also people calling themselves "yogis" no, stop that
posted by thelonius at 4:35 AM on January 24 [11 favorites]


Thank you for posting this.

white people, trying to be kind and inclusive,

This is a very generous reading of the impulse. When I've had white people approach me with "namaste," they've never said it in a kind and inclusive fashion. They've said it as a deliberate attempt to Other me. These days, they are usually wearing MAGA hats. I'm 99% sure that if this interaction were occurring, say, in a grocery store rather than in a professional setting, I'd be told to "go back home."

For sure, the Well-Meaning White People (TM) do this too, and their accompanying mishmash of Orientalism (sari wall-hangings, Buddha's head as a doorstop) is very #WhitePeopleDoingYoga, but even then, I'm not sure that I would describe what the author talks about -- making up a faux-spiritual overlay to "Hello" -- as kind and inclusive. Clueless, at best.

However, a yoga mat that says HELLO-M-G is gold, and I would buy one in a heartbeat, even though I don't and probably never will do yoga.
posted by basalganglia at 4:41 AM on January 24 [16 favorites]


A few months ago, I confronted a bunch of drunken white guys as they tried to steal decorations from the charity event I was assisting with. They mocked me by saying “Namaste” over and over again in put-on Indian accents.

I would have preferred if they’d just called me a bitch.

It’s yet another reminder that most of the people around me won’t see beyond the colour of my skin, which has no association with that phrase in the first place.
posted by liquorice at 4:41 AM on January 24 [32 favorites]


I learned about this from an episode of The Allusionist.

I still love that bit in that Allusionist episode where the Indian interviewee said "your trainer or your instructor goes, "H̶̛̻̖̰̓̒̑̊̾͑̊͝͠ȩ̸̨̡̨̜̥̭̜͎͈͎̦̯̐͑̿͜l̶̛̯̩̗͂͂̉̾̉̍̌̓́̑̏͜͜͝͠l̷̯̅̾̌̏̄̂̀̕õ̷̟͚̠͉̼̫̹̫̗͈͐͒̿̚̕͝ö̶̡̗͈̺͙̦̹̯̖̤̬̭̲͓̻̐ô̷̲̥̆̐̆̍̈̓͛̈́ͅơ̸̧̡̢̧̢̡̫̠̺̱͇͍̌̌̔͜ͅͅơ̷̙͇̆̑̊̌̍̓̇̓̏͗͗̑̀͠"" - Zalgo text and all.

Exception: when used in place of "go fuck yourself" at the end of an email

ESPECIALLY when used in place of "go fuck yourself". I hate it when people say something really demeaning and hurtful but then end it with "peace" or "namaste" as some kind of "I am unwilling to accept any accountability for my words, if you're offended it's your fault". And it's almost always hippie white people who preach Loving Kindness or whatever. Keep that word out of your mouth and take responsibility for what you actually said.
posted by divabat at 5:53 AM on January 24 [23 favorites]


Not a yoga person. I've only seen this word written out. How is it pronounced? NA-mas-tay? na-MAS-tay? Or some other way? I don't plan to use it, but I know someone who posts the word on social media.
posted by SoberHighland at 6:17 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Jesus, people are assholes. I don't claim to be woke or anything, but the thought process of saying "namaste" to someone because they appear to be Indian seems absolutely horrifying to me. How deep in denial do you have to be about your own racism? It makes me feel really icky, and really sad.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:22 AM on January 24 [9 favorites]


Exception: when used in place of "go fuck yourself" at the end of an email

ESPECIALLY when used in place of "go fuck yourself".


I don't do yoga so I don't encounter the word much, but I do see exactly this in emails from time to time. I've always seen it as incredibly passive aggressive, and now I'll be thinking about the appropriative component as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:23 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


I've always been raised to say “namaste” to other Aunties and Uncles in our community and at our Hindu Temple. Oddly enough, I've never been “namaste'ed” as a kind of slur or microaggression. Which is odd, because I've been called every other ethnic slur under the sun. But it doesn't surprise me that people would say it sarcastically as a way to hatefully troll.

I do dislike the whole yoga-fication of my culture. It's reductive and insulting. Am I okay with white people teaching yoga and opening up a studio, yes. But I feel like there's a fine line with how it's taught and how its being presented. So much rests with the intent.

Are you trying to just share a form of exercise for the mind and body and just present it as is? Or are you trying to profit on the actual "otherness" of it all, to sell and market that aspect of yoga/India/Asia? And it's mostly the latter that I see from various studios and yoga-trends.

Look it's yoga but with goats! Look it's yoga but with dogs! Yoga but naked! Yoga but we also drink wine and smoke pot and don't actually do yoga but wear yoga clothes but we talk an awful lot about how woke we are!! Ugh.
posted by Fizz at 6:34 AM on January 24 [28 favorites]


I’m a little wary of people working toward gender inclusion to say “you can just use y’all,” because, well, the word has connections that you can’t just ignore.

Wait, GenjiandProust, what are the connections you're worried about? (Not asking in a snarky way.) I grew up in Texas and to me, y'all is totally fine and normal; a great word in fact! I don't mind at all when non-Texans/non-Southerners adopt it. It doesn't feel like appropriation to me. I think it feels fine and Namaste doesn't mostly because to me adopting "y'all" doesn't have the same elements of exoticism/racism/power dynamics/in-group vs out-group/who gets to profit from a culture that the yoga trappings do. I mean, I know there are harmful stereotypes about Southerners and Texans, but when outsiders use y'all it doesn't feel like they are tapping into those stereotypes in a negative way.

Back to the subject of the article: I do feel uncomfortable in yoga classes (almost always led by white people) with "Namaste" at the end of class. Or "Om"ing! That always feels inappropriate to me.
posted by aka burlap at 7:01 AM on January 24 [12 favorites]


Yeah, I’d also love some clarification on the problematic “connections” of y’all. I’ve had numerous southern coworkers of multiple races, and I’ve never heard anything worse than “well, it’s about time y’all figured it out” in regards to non-southerners adopting the word.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 7:32 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


Wait, GenjiandProust, what are the connections you're worried about? (Not asking in a snarky way.)

That was an AutoCorrect for “connotations,” sorry. “Y’all” is, to me, a part of Southern culture, and, as a non-Southerner, I’m leery of taking it out of that context. I think there is at least the potential for othering there — maybe not to the degree of “namaste,” but it’s still there, and turning regional dialect to your own purposes is at least complicated.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:39 AM on January 24


In other news, I have discovered you can get pretty much anything on a yoga mat. I’m not sure what Al Pacino as Tony Montana has to do with yoga, but...
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:41 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


(It seems like the y'all conversation is a derail on this thread, which is specifically about White European/American racist co-option of South Asian language and culture)
posted by ChuraChura at 7:51 AM on January 24 [18 favorites]


Ever since I've listened to that episode of the Allusionist I can't bring myself to say "Namaste" at the end of yoga class. It's really kind of a cloaked "Amen", since our (non-South Asian) teacher usually precedes it with some comment about the rest of our day. As a non-Christian, that pattern also feels like it doesn't belong to me.

I usually just stay silent while others in the class repeat "Namaste" back.
posted by invokeuse at 8:06 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Ugh, this was posted in the yoga subreddit a few days ago and I was (naively, obviously) taken aback by how defensive the majority response was. Saying it should be removed, saying the folks quoted were being "cringey," saying that it was divisive and hurtful to people just starting to get into yoga.

If you can't handle the very existence of a person even-handedly talking about a word pulled from their own culture (let alone learn something from them), maybe you're part of the reason they feel "icky" about it in the first place.
posted by geegollygosh at 8:36 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]


I'm dating an Indian guy and chatting with him about this and related language quirks has really helped bring into focus a lot of the weird and appropriative ways White Americans use language, and also the ways I've unconsciously absorbed language appropriation.

There's a balance to be struck between learning words from another language and using them in a proper context - there's an Ethiopian restaurant I go to sometimes that has an "Amharic phrasebook" on the wall and encourages you to say thank you in Amharic while ordering, for example - and learning them and using them JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN, devoid of context. I said shukran to a woman wearing hijab speaking what I assumed was Arabic to her husband at the convenience store by my house the other day ... that was rude and presumptuous (and, as he pointed out, how was I sure she was speaking Arabic and not Urdu or Farsi?). And then there's something like white women teaching Yoga to classes of mostly other white women totally removed from its cultural and religious context, saying Namaste to each other... and then generalizing that to all South Asian "looking" people and just being racist.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:38 AM on January 24 [8 favorites]


I blame Gwyneth Paltrow.
posted by Lyme Drop at 8:44 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


The other annoying thing about namaste is that in emoji-speak, putting your hands together has turned into a symbol to say thanks.
posted by dhruva at 9:11 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


(that was my boyfriend who pointed that out to me)
posted by ChuraChura at 9:34 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


How is it pronounced? NA-mas-tay? na-MAS-tay?

Neither. It's closest to "na-ma-sthay," with all syllables having approximately the same weight. But the "th" is a sound that doesn't quite exist in English.

Oyéah, Sanskrit may have Proto-Indo-Aryan roots, but that's not what this article is about. "Namaste" specifically means "Hello" in Hindi and several other languages used every day by millions of people who don't speak or study Sanskrit. Acting like the brown people in this thread, including myself, are frustrated by the long history of cultural appropriation around Hinduism and India are just "lonely for home" is a reductionist and dismissive take. For one thing, India is not my home.
posted by basalganglia at 9:48 AM on January 24 [10 favorites]


(It seems like the y'all conversation is a derail on this thread, which is specifically about White European/American racist co-option of South Asian language and culture)

You're right, sorry! Was just curious. Thanks for clarifying, GenjiandProust.
posted by aka burlap at 9:49 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


The last line in my tinder bio, and has been for ages is: "If you're white and say namaste, we won't get along". It has done a very good job of weeding out the liberal middle-class hippies.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:04 AM on January 24 [9 favorites]


(Can you imagine Target selling tote bags and water bottles with a play on the word "hello"? Who's going to shell out big bucks for a HELLO-M-G yoga mat?)

Um... how about “Hello Kitty”

Not derived from religion, well maybe.
posted by sammyo at 10:13 AM on January 24


The other annoying thing about namaste is that in emoji-speak, putting your hands together has turned into a symbol to say thanks.

That started showing up on slack at the new place I'm at. I was wondering WTH it meant. I am disturbed but not surprised. Also, it's part of the default icon set.
posted by Hactar at 10:44 AM on January 24


Thank you for pointing out that clueless isn't an excuse. I phrased that badly.
posted by freethefeet at 3:30 PM on January 24


“Y’all” is, to me, a part of Southern culture, and, as a non-Southerner, I’m leery of taking it out of that context. I think there is at least the potential for othering there — maybe not to the degree of “namaste,” but it’s still there, and turning regional dialect to your own purposes is at least complicated.

Literally one of the funniest goddamn things I have ever read on this site.
posted by great_radio at 3:44 PM on January 24 [11 favorites]


I vote that everyone should just say their own native version of "namaste" at the end of yoga classes. For example, as someone who grew up in Texas, were I to take a yoga class, I would end class by saying "Howdy."
posted by Bugbread at 4:53 PM on January 24 [7 favorites]


ESPECIALLY when used in place of "go fuck yourself". I hate it when people say something really demeaning and hurtful but then end it with "peace" or "namaste" as some kind of "I am unwilling to accept any accountability for my words, if you're offended it's your fault". 

The old-skool Internet version of this is 'HTH. HAND.'
posted by Cardinal Fang at 1:38 AM on January 25 [2 favorites]


Non southerners using “y’all” is impossible for me to imagine southerners taking offense at. Southern English has a one-morpheme 2nd p pl; it’s useful and we like it; it is not in limited supply. I guess there’s like a marginal thing where southerners arch an eyebrow at like....political candidates who otherwise speak newscaster English dropping the g’s on participles when giving speeches south of Dayton, but it’s just not really a thing, generally speaking. Y’all is for all y’all.*

*all y’all is the second person plural emphatic.
posted by less of course at 2:34 PM on January 25 [2 favorites]


[Please let's steer back toward the original topic, specifically the use of namaste. In the new Community Guidelines we ask people not to divert topics on issues like this -- that affect people in a marginalized group -- onto other groups/other topics, so let's steer it back please.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:48 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]


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