The Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation

Thanks to Jo Borkan Yoga for sharing this article re: cultural appropriation vs. cultural exchange

As a yoga teacher and practitioner (and a white person, queer person, woman, organizer, person), I spend a lot of time thinking of how to navigate this terrain.

“So as free as people should be to wear whatever hair and clothing they enjoy, using someone else’s cultural symbols to satisfy a personal need for self-expression is an exercise in privilege. . . . That doesn’t mean that cultural exchange never happens, or that we can never partake in one another’s cultures. But there needs to be some element of mutual understanding, equality, and respect for it to be a true exchange.”

About susan virginia yoga

Grassroots Organizing Director for UltraViolet ( by day, yoga guide, dance partier, and red lentil soup connoisseur by night. Well. Evening. By night, I'm usually asleep.
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4 Responses to The Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation

  1. Erin Ter Beest says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Susan. This topic is one that I have thought about (and continue to think about) a lot, as well. It was especially relevant when I was working with refugees daily. I struggled to know when it was appropriate to wear beautiful and unique items that refugee friends gave me that were part of their traditional dress, and whether I was a total impostor when I participated in cultural ceremonies and festivals, especially those of a religious nature. It makes me happy when I know other people are thinking about this subject, too. 🙂

    • L says:

      It is NOT appropriating when you have been invited by someone from a specific culture to partake in cultural activities (such as wearing bindis and saris) on that occasion.

  2. L says:

    You are not an Indian, therefore you are in NO position to determine if yoga is cultural appropriation or cultural exchange. Do you also go around saying namaste all the time?

  3. I’m a Hindu myself, and growing up in a culture filled with institutionalized racism, constantly being called “hindu” as a racial slur with a profoundly negative connotation, it’s truly great (sarcasm in case you missed it) to see such a sacred practice from my religion get mass commercialized and “raped” by the very same people who discriminate towards us. I guess the silver lining is whites are now aware that not every brown-skinned person is an Islamic extremist keen on terrorizing everyone? It must be such an eye-opener for them.

    I guess the pursuit of profit is the only real incentive driving racial “tolerance” in this country, otherwise, why would whites even care about Hindus? Indians? Asians? Anyone else? Whites are quick to write off India as a nation of rapist savages, an image the media is quick to portray, but all of a sudden they are besotted when the big bucks get involved; I see Winston Churchill has left a profound influence on society even after death. A sad state of affairs in a pathetic, self-serving and corrupt society.

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