Though the word Namaste has been a South Asian greeting for centuries, now every yoga student, celebrity (check out Al Gore’s picture in the wiki entry) and creepy guy trying to hit on an Indian woman thinks it’s fine to use it as a way of saying “hey” or “I’m so in touch with what it means to be worldy and spiritual.” It’s been appropriated, along with cultural and religious Hindu icons, saris, yoga, and Bollywood films, with no credit or recognition to the violent history of colonialism and context from which these things derived.
The presumption that I would feel flattered or respond in kind to the “Namaste” greeting is infuriating as well. After hundreds of years of British Colonialism enforcing English as the dominant language in South Asian government and schools, trying to erase the many facets of culture and history that mark the region, I’m supposed to feel flattered that the dominant culture I live in now wants to start using some sort of “authentic” greeting that doesn’t even have anything to do with them? And as a second-generation Indian-American, I’m also perturbed that people assume anything about by my relationship to “Indianness” in the first place: I’ve used “Namaste” only a handful of times, with South Asian elders who I’ve never met before.
When majority culture wants to start adopting the exotic, everyone is supposed to just come along for the ride. My mom and I wince a little when we get asked to be the voice of Indian authenticity – it may be a well-intentioned attempt to appear culturally sensitive, but to me, hearing “Namaste” from complete strangers will always be appropriating and a little racist.
—“Saying “Namaste” Will Not Make Me Want to Date You,” Wiretap Magazine