"Free Ottawa yoga class scrapped over 'cultural issues,'" reads a headline from the Ottawa Sun. It sounds like it's straight from the Onion, but it's not.
Apparently, if you practice yoga — an exercise involving stretching and breathing that is practiced by more than 20 million Americans and millions more around the world — you're a racist, because yoga is "cultural appropriation."
A yoga instructor — who was teaching free classes — told the Ottawa Sun that her classes had been cancelled after students complained that the practice involved cultural appropriation. An email from the Centre for Students with Disabilities informed the instructor that "while yoga is a really great idea and accessible and great for students ... there are cultural issues of implication involved in the practice."
The center added that "yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately" due to which cultures the practices "are being taken from." Some of those cultures, the center wrote, "have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy ... we need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves while practicing yoga."
The instructor whose classes were cancelled, Jennifer Scharf, told the Sun that "people are just looking for a reason to be offended by anything they can find" and are "just looking to jump on a bandwagon."
The Washington Post's Eugene Volokh notes that the whole situation is "total bunk."
"Yoga, whether you're a fan of it or not, doesn't exclusively belong to some group of people who share the same skin color or language or culture or religion — just as classical music or Western medicine or modern physics doesn't belong to the Europeans," Volokh wrote.
Volokh brings up the concept of limited monopolies, where an inventor is granted a 20-year monopoly over an idea "as an incentive to come up with ideas and contribute them to the common heritage of mankind."
"But no rule of law or ethics gives some ethnic, religious or cultural group a perpetual monopoly on the right to use yoga just because its creators happened to share a broad location, language or bloodline with the members of the modern group," Volokh wrote.
The thing that has always irritated me about alleged "cultural appropriation" is the aversion to diversity and inclusion in which those who use the term are engaged. They're saying that only this ethnic group can do these things, and only that ethnic group can do those things, and any crossing of the two constitutes racism.
There's no room for cultural appreciation among this group.
An old thread on Reddit involved a young white woman asking if it was okay for her to wear a yukata (a casual kimono worn in the summer) while she was in Japan at a festival. She said that her school had taken down a photo of three white women taking part in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony while studying abroad in the country.
The top responses to the thread were positive, telling the woman it was okay so long as she wears it properly (with respect) and suggesting she stick to subdued colors rather than bright ones.
The commenters recognized that the woman wanted to celebrate Japanese culture. Yet in America, her school — and no doubt the students who complained about the tea ceremony photo — saw it as racism.
We've come to a point where we preach about diversity and acceptance, yet many at the same time demand that one only takes part in activities practiced by one's own culture. If these scolds were to do some research, they might find that they themselves would have very limited access to society without "appropriating" the culture of others.