Ohio congressman and 2020 hopeful Tim Ryan introduced a new piece of campaign merchandise to his followers via Twitter over the weekend, but it wasn’t particularly well-received: shirts that read “Namaste, America” with the official Tim Ryan campaign logo slotted underneath it.
Namaste is a ubiquitous Hindu greeting, and in Hinduism, it means, “I bow to the divine in you.” It has been butchered by granola Westerners who are eager to use it as exotic-sounding filler for their yoga sessions and—to a lesser but no less frustrating extent—vilified by bible thumpers who believe that the phrase’s popularity in meditation is part of an anti-Christian agenda. In short, a lot of people have a very limited understanding of what “namaste” actually means (let alone pronounce it). So it’s strange that the Ryan campaign thought selling a “Namaste, America” (“Hello, America?”) shirt was the best way to promote him, a relatively unknown 2020 Democratic contender.
Ryan’s communications director/senior advisor has yet to respond to our inquiry as to what “Namaste, America” means.
Ryan is very passionate about meditation and mindfulness, using Twitter to promote meditation techniques in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings, endorsing meditation for veterans and school children, and sharing photos of himself meditating with college students and even The Breakfast Club’s Charlamagne Tha God just one week ago. He considers himself a “yogi” and appears to strongly associate “namaste” with yoga practices, as the only time he has tweeted the word was in response to a photo of President Obama doing a yoga pose:
Ryan loves yoga. That’s fine. But selling a “Namaste, America” shirt to show it is a misstep. It’s corny at best, appropriative at worst. Ryan likely hasn’t been updated on the exhaustive cultural appropriation discourse that has dominated the internet for the last few years, so I’m placing some of the blame on a younger, savvier member of his campaign for not putting a stop to this.
But if we consider the rest of the hodgepodge slogan merch that Ryan is selling, the confusion makes more sense.
Take, for example, the “Adopt Don’t Shop” tee for the discerning pet owner demo:
This “Support Farmers” tee, which, yes? Sure? I’m begging the Ryan campaign to abandon this red on gray colorway:
And there’s this “You don’t have to yell” sticker, inspired entirely by that one time Senator Bernie Sanders yelled at him on the debate stage:
Please, make it make sense.