OPINION: Namaslay? Western reappropriation of South Asian culture is insensitive

The evil eye pendant, consisting of the colors black, white, indigo and blue, has become widely recognized as it swept numerous social media platforms. The symbol has made its way into several pieces of merchandise, with countless consumers claiming a connection to it. Many of these consumers do not have South or Southwest Asian heritage, and therefore are unaware of the true concept of the evil eye. These consumers actively play into the cultural appropriation of spirituality.

The purpose of the evil eye is to protect one from the dangers of jealousy, and for years, numerous cultures in South and Southwest Asia have upheld this concept. The pendant’s recent spark in prevalence has caused many to treat the concept of the evil eye as a microtrend, through appearing in fast-fashion products from companies like SHEIN, Zara and Urban Outfitters. Microtrends rise in popularity quickly yet lose popularity even faster, as opposed to macrotrends that tend to stay in fashion for longer. Many social media users have made one crucial error in regards to the evil eye: it is neither a microtrend or macrotrend. It is a fundamental aspect of numerous cultures and was never meant to belong in fast fashion to begin with.

Recent popularity of spiritual elements result in improper and whitewashed practices. The evil eye is just one of many spiritual aspects of South and Southwest Asian cultures that have been appropriated and whitewashed due to social media trends. Mehndi, or henna, has always been used solely in religious or cultural celebration, yet its recent usage in creating faux freckles on one’s face completely erases its cultural significance and demonstrates the ignorance present towards numerous cultures in Asia.

Similarly, yoga, with its roots in South Asia, has made its way to the West where it has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Mainstream brands like Lululemon and Athleta directly profit off of these cultures. According to Statista, the yoga industry’s revenue in the United States jumped from $6.9 billion in 2012 to $11.56 billion in 2020. According to the HuffPost, this demonstrates yoga’s second colonization, with its first colonization having occurred in India under British rule when yoga practices were banned. Now, people redefine yoga in the West, ignoring its deep cultural and spiritual significance and history in efforts to appeal to those who are also unaware of its roots.

In order to combat the rising cultural appropriation of certain elements of South and Southwest Asian spirituality, it is vital to decolonize practices through proper education and acknowledgement of its roots. As a concept, spirituality is rooted in recognizing what is greater than oneself, and in order to decolonize certain elements, people must recognize the power and privilege they possess as practitioners.