Never ones to shy away from tough topics here at Am I Being Catty, we’d like to invite you to buckle in ladies, because this post may be a bumpy ride.
As a person raised in the Deep South, I am aware of the inflammatory and provocative nature of race and ethnicity. I am a child of the 80’s and 90’s when the popular race-relation strategy was to be “colorblind.” In other words, “let me pretend not to notice the difference in your skin tone and ignore the cultural differences that probably go along with it.” I adhered to this “colorblind” philosophy for many years because I didn’t understand that while we, as humans, share a common human experience that does not mean that I, as a white woman, share the same life experiences as a woman of color.
This brings me to current events. Recently a former (and much loved and respected) professor shared an article from XOJane that was actually a response to this original article. Here are some excerpts of Yoga Girl’s article for those of you who don’t have the time or inclination to read the whole original piece:
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. Within the first few minutes of gentle warm-up stretches, I saw the fear in her eyes snowball, turning into panic and then despair. Before we made it into our first downward dog, she had crouched down on her elbows and knees, head lowered close to the ground, trapped and vulnerable. She stayed there, staring, for the rest of the class.
Because I was directly in front of her, I had no choice but to look straight at her every time my head was upside down (roughly once a minute). I’ve seen people freeze or give up in yoga classes many times, and it’s a sad thing, but as a student there’s nothing you can do about it. At that moment, though, I found it impossible to stop thinking about this woman. Even when I wasn’t positioned to stare directly at her, I knew she was still staring directly at me. Over the course of the next hour, I watched as her despair turned into resentment and then contempt. I felt it all directed toward me and my body.
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.
I got home from that class and promptly broke down crying. Yoga, a beloved safe space that has helped me through many dark moments in over six years of practice, suddenly felt deeply suspect. Knowing fully well that one hour of perhaps self-importantly believing myself to be the deserving target of a racially charged anger is nothing, is largely my own psychological projection, is a drop in the bucket, is the tip of the iceberg in American race relations, I was shaken by it all the same.
Ok, so there are lots of things I could say in response to this article for instance I could comment on Yoga girl’s unbelievable mind reading skills, or her co-opting of the experience of another human being (with whom she NEVER SPOKE) but those comments have already been eloquently covered here by another XOJane contributor.
I could also comment on how Yoga girl takes a narcissistic and biased view of her own body as not only the yoga ideal but also apparently the ideal of the unnamed heavy black woman (again, with whom she NEVER SPOKE). But again that view has been very powerfully expressed here.
Or maybe I could comment on how Yoga girl may need to re-boot her yoga practice by looking at her own mind and heart rather than worrying about who is or isn’t giving her the stink eye, but once again this has been beautifully stated here (this is my personal favorite).
So you may be asking what’s left for me, a white woman, to add to this conversation about race, body types, privilege and yoga? Well, as a matter of fact, not much. The truth is I can only truly speak to my own experience as a middle class white woman. I am not naive enough to believe that I have not benefited from my skin color and class. I have been privy to plenty of conversations with others who share my white skin (and believe I share their “values”) to know that racism is not a relic of days gone by. I am also not so idealistic (or pompous) to believe that my skin color and class have not influenced my view of others in good and bad ways.
I think the lesson in Yoga girl’s unfortunate online debut is remembering that everyone’s life experiences, culture, and racial and ethnic identities color their perspective. And that perspective is probably very different from yours.
Welcome the diversity, embrace the differences and never assume that the craziness going on in your head (which is influenced by your own life, culture etc.) is also going on in someone else’s head. Trust me, everyone has their own crazy.
And maybe next time there is a new person (of any color or body size) in your yoga, kickboxing or weightlifting class just say “hello.”
Peace and love ladies,
#yogaisforposers #namasteyall #xojane