Profiting off Hate is NOT Yoga: Updated.

Via on May 4, 2011

The original title of this post was: “Profiting off Hate is not Yoga: Call to Protest Gaiam Mats Peddling Anti-Muslim Xenophobia.” But now that Gaiam posted this statement on their site and elsewhere on the web, and pulled their mats from Cafe Press, I no longer want to have a post out there calling for a protest of their company.

Instead, I want to thank Gaiam for taking such swift action on this issue.

In case you missed the whole thing, here’s an updated synopsis from the original version of this post:

Gaiam yoga mats WERE being used (without the knowledge of the company) to spread anti-Muslim hatred and pseudo-patriotic xenophobia.

Gaiam had a partnership with Cafe Press that allowed you to customize your own mat. Until this controversy erupted, however, the company placed no restrictions on what could be produced using their name and their products. And voila: what should appear but a nasty selection of mats celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden.

If that weren’t bad enough, Mother Jones released a story highlighting yet another Gaiam mat, this time promoting anti-Muslim hate:


In the original version of this post, I suggested contacting Gaiam customer service to protest. Obviously, this no longer makes sense.

However, I do think that this incident should be used as an opportunity to reflect on some of the bigger issues involved.

Perhaps the first issue to reflect on is that some – and perhaps many – people don’t feel that there were in fact ANY real issues at stake here. That it’s all just silly, and not worth worrying about.

I really have to disagree. Some of my reasons are listed in the “comments’ section below. But I’d like to add a few more.

For those who believe that anti-Muslim prejudice is not a problem in the U.S., please take a moment to watch this footage – and to digest the fact that officials of the California GOP were there to endorse this ugliness.

Next, let’s consider the fact that according to the latest figures from the Pew Research Foundation, 31% of Republicans believe that President Obama is a Muslim, and an additional 39% “say that they do not know Obama’s religion.” That means that 70% of members of one of our two political parties is either too uninformed or irrational to know (or be willing to believe) that Obama is a Christian.

Now, is there anything wrong with being a Muslim? NO. But is there something wrong with a country in which so many people insist on believing – contrary to mountains of available evidence – that the President is lying about his religion AND most likely his citizenship?

Oh yes, and that said President just happens to be Black? Hmm . . . is there a pattern here of excluding non-whites and non-Christians from the category of so-called “real Americans”? And – is there any reason to think that this sort of bigotry is a problem? I think (or at least hope!) that the answers here are obvious.

There are SO many critical issues that tie into this – the Iraq War, Gitmo, the list goes on and on . . .

Rather than ignoring such issues when something like nasty mats breaks into our little yoga bubble, shouldn’t it rather be an opportunity to reflect on what’s happening and how we fit in to it all?

Second: I’d like to thank Yoga Dork for picking up on this issue and presenting her own take on it – for which she subjected herself to some criticism. To which I say: Kudos for speaking your truth and taking a stand.

Now, to be fair, I should also thank the commentators on her site (as well as this one) who took stands that I strongly disagree with. And I do – because I value the free exchange of ideas and like to know what others in the yoga community are thinking, even when I find it to be disillusioning.

Here’s part of one of several comments that I think is indicative of an extremely wide-spread sentiment today:

. . . demanding someone remove a product because you don’t particularly like the message strikes me as a violation of someone/some company’s native rights to free speech . . .

Soooo – saying that you don’t like having anti-Muslim slogans printed on Gaiam yoga mats is a violation of free speech?

Say what?

I guess that the only way that free speech is therefore protected is to not say anything critical of any product that a company wants to sell and that someone might want to buy?

So I guess that means that we protect free speech best when citizens shut up and never, ever criticize business and commerce.

Anybody seen the award-winning documentary, Inside Job? Because it was precisely this sort of mind-set that almost brought down the whole world economy – and while we escaped that, millions of people have suffered the very real loss of their homes, jobs, and savings as a result of this sort of blind worship of the “free market.”

Yes, it’s just a yoga mat. But there are some 16-20 million yoga practitioners in the U.S., depending on which estimates you read. And according to Yoga Journal’s 2008 market survey, the yoga “industry” is valued at almost $16 billion annually.

Given these numbers, our collective voice – and actions – matter. Obviously, there are lots of disagreements, which is as it should be. I’d hope, however, to see these unfortunate yoga mats as an indication that we’re a part of the political dynamics of the world too, and that as citizens (and not simply consumers) of a still essentially democratic country, it’s not only our right, but in my opinion our responsibility to be as informed and involved as we can.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

Sadly, I do have lots of doubt about this. But I’d like to believe that it’s true. And if it’s not, maybe we still need to try to make it so.

About Carol Horton

Carol Horton, Ph.D. is the author of Race and the Making of American Liberalism, (Oxford University Press, 2005) and Yoga Ph.D.: Integrating the Life of the Mind and the Wisdom of the Body. With Roseanne Harvey, she is co-editor of 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice. Carol blogs at Think Body Electric, and enjoys social media via Facebook and Twitter.

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28 Responses to “Profiting off Hate is NOT Yoga: Updated.”

  1. Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

    This is so shocking, Carol.

  2. Emmanuelle says:

    Oh no this is so bad, so so bad. Words fail me.

  3. robyn says:

    from the gaiam fb page….Yes, we are aware of this, and we are working to have all associated products removed from the CafePress site ASAP and to ensure that this does not happen in the future. Please know that this is in no way condoned by Gaiam. We did not create these mats but only provide the blank mats for CafePress customers to customize. Thanks for your concern!

    • Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

      Thanks for posting this, Robyn. I have always had the impression that Gaiam is a great company and would not expect that the people who work there would condone this. However I have to wonder what they have been thinking in giving their company name over to whoever wants to put whatever on their mats and sell them via Cafe Press. If you look at the "political mat" collection over there, there are so many that I can only assume that similar but not quite so extreme products have been being sold for some time. Why no company policy on what sorts of political statements are OK to emblazon on their mats? Is it free speech; everything is OK? If not, where do they draw the line – and why?

      In my opinion, these examples show that simply trying to pull the most objectionable mats is not enough – there needs to be a company policy on this issue, one way or another. I think that any yoga vendor who sells their products to others to profit off hateful messages needs to be held accountable by the yoga community. Whoever is behind this will simply go to another mat company if Gaiam cuts off their supply. In which case I would be in favor of finding out who that is and protesting that supplier as well.

      • Martha says:

        Breathe Carol. Gaiam said they are working on it. So the idiots stamping this stuff on Gaiam mats will find a Chinese manufacturer. I think we can spend our time on bigger issues than a stupid gag product.

  4. Wow–this is truly horrifying.
    I was actually thinking a while ago of writing a joke post about a new style of yoga called "Racist Yoga" (though, not surprisingly, decided I couldn't make it work without been patently offensive), but looks like my sick sense of humor's been trumped by reality again…

  5. Gaiam says:

    We did not authorize or endorse the images or statements to appear on our yoga mats on CafePress. We have notified CafePress to remove all Gaiam products from their website. For more information, please read our statement at http://on.fb.me/iABuoU

    • Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

      Thanks for your responsiveness and concern. I will be overhauling this entire pose ASAP so as to shift the focus from protesting your company (which I no longer want to endorse) to considering some of the bigger issues that I at least believe that this incident represents.

      • Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

        whoops, i mean "post," not "pose." I suppose though that in a way all of these issues are akin to yoga poses – there's many different levels on which we can experience them. I'm always in favor of going deeper.

  6. Rachel says:

    I share your distaste for the content that people posted, and concerns about many of the cultural issues that you raise.
    However, I think that your outrage at Gaiam is somewhat misplaced, and may be the result of your having over-identified with both a brand and an object (a yoga mat) in the first place.

  7. laura says:

    unbelievable…though of course I do…but mostly horrifyingly revolting behavior by Giam…what were they thinking???? That said, I appreciate that you changed your title…because even as I write these words in my comment to you I recognize angry violent feelings in my own body in response and that does not sit well with ahimsa, either. We must speak up for what is wrong to protect and prevent violence toward all beings and yet we must also choose our words and actions with complete awareness when we do stand up for others.

    Thank you for bringing this issue to those of us who would otherwise not have known about it, and also for giving me (all of us) an opportunity to contemplate the power of words to harm or heal.

    • Laura Hegfield says:

      oh wait…see I jumped to conclusions by not reading all of the comments thoroughly…this was actually the work of others through cafe press but upon Giam products…yes? Good for Giam for doing what they can to get those products off the Cafe Press website…still this should never have happened…but it did. And now we all have an opportunity to reflect and do what we can to put more compassion out into the world…like LOVE MORE mats or MAY ALL BEINGS BE SAFE, MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY, MAY ALL BEINGS BE PEACEFUL, MAY ALL BEINGS TEACH LOVE mats.

  8. yoga-adan says:

    thank you carol, very nicely put –

    "So I guess that means that we protect free speech best when citizens shut up and never, ever criticize business and commerce."

    yes, what's the use of freedom of speech, and our other freedoms we love in our country, if those freedoms aren't honored for both ourselves and others?

    but the whole idea of freedom, or allowing it, or recognizing it, whichever way one wishes to perceive the concept of freedom, is a process from way back

    a process that still goes on, yes, even in india, meaning cherished lineages and structures from even there, will also undergo change, as yoga opens up to our human experience

    thanks again carol

  9. Under Dog says:

    Hey Bob W – you LOVE the freewheelin' Free Market and yoga mix -and-match don't you? Now what you have to say about this? It is obviously wrong for lots of reasons – the most important one being the principle of Ahimsa (non-harming) but worth noting that being "anti-Bin Laden" is not necessarily "anti-muslim" anymore than being "anti-Hitler" was not really "anti-fascist" but "anti-Third Reich". Many europeans were fascist and many germans were against Hitler. The majority of Muslims are not connected to the militarist objectives of Al-Qaeda.

  10. Rachel says:

    continued:
    Personally, I get more annoyed at gaiam when they directly market products that I feel muddy the yogic image – such as certain beauty products…
    Does at-home electrolysis really fit with the yamas? Not that I'm claiming to not be tempted… ;-)

    Anyhow, I don't mean to pick nits or fights. You raise a lot of interesting questions and have every right to speak your mind.

  11. Pretty great post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I have really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. After all I?ll be subscribing in your rss feed and I am hoping you write once more soon!

  12. Martha says:

    Seriously, you need to step back from your white middle class yoga guilt Carol.

  13. Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

    Martha: No need to be condescending. If you can't handle having your views challenged without becoming nasty, I suggest that you may need to take some time out to breathe too.

  14. Martha says:

    Wow, just wow. You sound really angry and not very yogic.

  15. Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

    Martha: Rather than making personal attacks, why don't you explain in more detail why you think that it's so bad to discuss this issue?

  16. Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

    Sarah: The facts were correct and Gaiam did not dispute them. In fact they agreed that there was a problem and took action to correct it. In my opinion this reflects well on the company.

    How much damage is done when we place the value of never objecting to a company or its products over the value of standing up against religious hatred at a time when it's on the rise and a very real social problem?

  17. This is not a free speech issue. Nobody is calling for laws about what can be a on a yoga mat. We're exercising free speech by protesting the actions of private companies.

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