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How Yoga Became “White:” Yoga Mobilities, Race, and the U.S. Settler Nation (1937-2018)
  • Roopa Singh, Arizona State University
My Critical Yoga Studies investigation maps from the early 20th century to present day how yoga has become white through U.S. law and cultural productions, and has enhanced white privilege at the expense of Indian and people of color bodies. I position Critical Yoga Studies at the intersection of Yoga Studies, Critical Race Theory, Indigenous Studies, Mobilities Studies, and transnational American Studies. Scholars have linked uneven development and racial displacement (Soja, 1989; Harvey, 2006; Gilmore, 2007). How does racist displacement appear in historic and current contexts of development in yoga? In my dissertation, I use yoga mobilities to explain ongoing movements of Indigenous knowledge and wealth from former colonies, and contemporary “Indian” bodies, into the white, U.S. settler nation-state, economy, culture, and body. The mobilities trope provides rich conceptual ground for yoga study, because commodified yoga anchors in corporal movement, sets billions of dollars of global wealth in motion, shapes culture, and fuels complex legal and nation building maneuvers by the U.S. settler state and post-colonial India. Emerging discussions of commodified yoga typically do not consider race and colonialism. I fill these gaps with critical race and Indigenous Studies investigations of yoga mobilities in contested territories, triangulating data through three research sites: (1) U.S. Copyright law (1937-2015): I chart a 14,000% rise in U.S. yoga copyrights over a century of white hoarding through archival study in Copyright Public Records Reading Room, Library of Congress; (2) U.S. popular culture/music (1941-1967): I analyze twentieth-century popular song to illustrate how racist tropes of the Indian yogi joined yoga’s entry into U.S. popular culture, with material consequences; (3) Kerala, India, branded as India’s wellness tourism destination (2018): I engage participant-observation and interviews with workers in yoga tourism hubs to document patterns of racialized, uneven access to yoga. I find legal regimes facilitate extraction and displacement; cultural productions materially segregate and exclude; and yoga tourism is a node of racist capitalism that privileges white, settler mobility at the expense of Indian people, land, culture.
Publication Date
Justice Studies
Lomawaima, K. Tsianina
Citation Information
Roopa Singh. "How Yoga Became “White:” Yoga Mobilities, Race, and the U.S. Settler Nation (1937-2018)" (2019)
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