Dear white yoga community,
I recently connected with a dear teacher who encouraged me to be courageously vulnerable and powerfully tender, and that is where I want to move from in this letter.
When I first read Bob Smith’s response to the Northwest Yoga Conference I was angry. I was so angry I felt shaky. I sat with that anger and turned to read the wise and powerful words of Reverend angel Kyodo williams. Underneath that anger was grief. I am heartbroken by the racism that occurred at the Northwest Yoga Conference and by the subsequent responses from white yoga teachers justifying the racist behavior while denying race was a factor at all. I could talk about tone policing, white solidarity, looking at individual acts without consideration for the systems of power at play, victim blaming, etc. but I’m not. I am going to share from my grieving heart.
I’ll admit I hope white yogis can hear me from a place of grief more than a place of anger. I can feel the agenda I have in my body, the longing, the deep desire for white people to understand the harm we are causing by not looking at our whiteness. Regardless of this hope the grief is still real. My grief also includes remembering and reflecting on the times I hurt friends and students of color with my own unintentional yet impactful racism.
I have been a part of the Seattle yoga community for 14 years, and it is part of my heart and my home. I love it and hate it. I desperately want this community to be just, equitable and able to talk openly, honestly and lovingly about the ways we hurt each other because harm happens all the time within our community due to racism, sexism, sizeism, transphobia, ableism, etc. This was a moment where a mistake could have been acknowledged, accountability could have been taken and healing could have happened and didn’t. This will forever be a missed moment that could have created a shift. Maybe it still will create a shift, but with each public response from many well known white yoga teachers I feel more hopelessness settle in.
I was first enraged to see white yoga teachers use spiritual language to dismiss accountability and responsibility. Then I realized I have done the same thing, and I softened into grief again for my fellow white folks conditioned to deflect being the bad racist while grasping to the good white person identity. I have a narrative that if I meditate or do yoga I will rid my mind and body of racism. I have a newer narrative that doing yoga or meditating will not magically eradicate racism without explicitly looking at the ways white supremacy is conditioned within me as a white person. I have seen the practices of yoga and meditation support me and other white practitioners begin to dismantle racism within, but without intentionally bringing awareness to whiteness it remains unconscious. Some of my teachers of spiritualized racial justice asked me these questions, and I would like to offer them to the white yoga community to explore:
When did you realize you were white?
When did you realize race mattered?
As I connect to my own stories of whiteness and realizations of race mattering I feel the well of grief again. I see how unconsciously white supremacy has impacted my body, mind, relationships, communities, teaching, and every aspect of my life. I feel heavy knowing the pain I, my ancestors, and the white yoga community have and continue to cause people of color. I grieve the missed moments of waking up and I also grieve our collective waking up moments in the Seattle yoga community such as this one. I have hope this will be a moment where more white people wake up and I have hopelessness that this is a moment of violence while there is another one right around the corner. What will it take for the white yoga community to realize that race matters? What will it take for the white yoga community to interrogate their whiteness?
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