Response to Racism in the Yoga Studio

I can’t be silent.

Today, the blog xo Jane posted an article written by what can only be perceived as a closeted racist regarding her discomfort while observing a struggling new student in her yoga class.  The quotes that irk me the most?

“A few weeks ago, as I settled into an exceptionally crowded midday class, a young, fairly heavy black woman put her mat down directly behind mine. It appeared she had never set foot in a yoga studio—she was glancing around anxiously, adjusting her clothes, looking wide-eyed and nervous. “

“I was completely unable to focus on my practice, instead feeling hyper-aware of my high-waisted bike shorts, my tastefully tacky sports bra, my well-versedness in these poses that I have been in hundreds of times. My skinny white girl body. Surely this woman was noticing all of these things and judging me for them, stereotyping me, resenting me—or so I imagined.”

“I thought about how that must feel: to be a heavyset black woman entering for the first time a system that by all accounts seems unable to accommodate her body. What could I do to help her? If I were her, I thought, I would want as little attention to be drawn to my despair as possible—I would not want anyone to look at me or notice me. And so I tried to very deliberately avoid looking in her direction each time I was in downward dog, but I could feel her hostility just the same. Trying to ignore it only made it worse.”

“Wide-eyed and nervous.”  “Skinny white girl body.”  REALLY?  How cliché.  She followed the stereotypes to the letter.  Maybe that was intentional, but it came off as flip in a country where the Black First Lady has better arms than everyone and could probably explode this girl’s chatturanga.

While I believe she eventually found her way to the politically correct response, perhaps she is more upset that she has discovered that she’s been a racist all this time and had no idea.  It’s not her fault, just like it’s not the fault of a clueless mother-to-be to suggest a trained engineer from another country should be her nanny, and it’s not the fault of a Southern restaurant owner to think it’s okay to dress her staff like slaves.

Here is the comment I left (it’s a little angry):

“Please. Wake. Up. 

Black people have been doing yoga in Brooklyn well before gentrification, so maybe the bad feeling has more to do with the fact that it’s no longer hip to live there? 

I don’t understand why this heavy woman got more of a reaction from you than heavy women of other ethnic backgrounds. I admit, I am confused. 

Yoga is an internal practice, not an exhibition. It is about yoking the practitioner with her physical world, not about criticizing the other students. You have no idea how that woman’s day was, who she knows, whether she cares about you in particular. Maybe her adopted white daughter looks just like you and they just had a terrible argument. You literally have no idea. To be so presumptive is the exact opposite of yoga. Your attitude is, in fact, imperialist. She is literally none of your business. 

To connect your suppressed racism with your yoga practice, I suppose is your journey. But please think a little harder. And maybe explore your adopted home and check out some other studios in Brooklyn.

http://sohumstudios.weebly.com/ http://sacredbrooklyn.com/

Sthiram Sukha Asanam.  -Patanjali

Om

About Dunia

dubYoga is my springboard to explore the universality of yoga and reggae and the intersection of the two in my life and in the world.
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