I woke up a few weeks ago with this story filling my feed. You may have already heard about it. A yoga studio in a mostly white, affluent California neighborhood hosted a “Ghetto Fabulous” yoga class where practitioners were encouraged to arrive in “ghetto” outfits like heavy lip-liner, and corn rows to “Get down with yo’ bad self & booty shake all the way into shavasana.” Photos from the event on facebook (now removed but available at Jezebel’s article) show primarily young white women sporting do-rags and flashing gang signs. As you may imagine, the event was met with criticism for it’s appropriation of hip-hop style and tone-deaf trivializing and glorifying of gang culture.
I looked at these photos of people who look, basically, like me (white, young, female, able-bodied) and felt . . . Sad. Angry. Embarrassed. I read the lack-luster apology from the studio owner and pages and pages of comments on facebook. Many from angry people who were hurt and upset, some from people (mostly white) trying to justify the studio’s actions and encourage us all to “move on” and “forget it.” For me, a part of not just forgetting is a renewed realization that, as a white person in a culture where prejudice is normalized, doing nothing is being complacent in harm.
As Beverly Tatum put it in Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race:
I sometimes visualize the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt. The person engaged in active racist behavior has identified with the ideology of White supremacy and is moving with it.
Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking.
Some of the bystanders may feel the motion of the conveyor belt, see the active racists ahead of them, and choose to turn around, unwilling to go to the same destination as the White supremacists. But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt—unless they are actively antiracist—they will find themselves carried along with the others.
Yes, it was a “yoga-related incident” that snapped me out of my haze, but this is bigger than yoga, which is why these suggestions for how to be a white ally (inspired by several resources listed at the bottom) are beyond the realm of hatha yoga.
A white ally is a member of the dominant culture, who actively resist the role of the oppressor, and who act as allies of people of color. As someone who is working to be an effective ally, I write this post as an attempt to do something rather than stand still. These are three practices that I’m working on. I am sharing them with you in hopes that they will be helpful tools.
Three Tips for Being a White Ally (a non-comprehensive list on a topic that can never be comprehensively listed)
1) Educate yourself on the history of race and how white people have been and are systematically privileged and contribute to a system of racial hierarchy. Crossroads Antiracism Organizing & Training has put together this list of readings highly recommended for those interested in expanding their knowledge on race. (if you want a book club buddy, let me know! i’m working on them too)
2) Call out your friends, family, co-workers out when they say or do something racist. Not just when it’s easy, but every time. Not because you’re better than them or oh-so-much-more-enlightened (we all make mistakes. we will all continue to screw up sometimes. hopefully they will call you out when you do it and we’ll all make each other better) but because we’re authentically trying to build a better world with an open heart.
3) Support the leadership of People of Color and the work of organizations fighting for racial justice however you can. This could be super local, like supporting your neighborhood school, or national, like donating to or volunteering with organizations like 18MillionRising, the ACLU, or National People’s Action in their fight to stop foreclosures which disproportionally affect communities of color, ensure every United States citizen has the right to vote, advocate for just immigrant laws, and challenge racial profiling.
The yoga world is not immune to the affects of privilege and oppression. Racism, classism, heterosexism, and other manifestations of bias occur in our communities. We can choose to make things better. Being an ally isn’t an endpoint, it’s a process and a practice. I’m inspired from afar by the work being done at Kula Yoga in Toronto to confront oppression in the yoga community. I hope this has been a helpful list and I welcome your additions and comments.
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh
Rinku Sen on Why Diversity Isn’t Enough
“8 Ways To Not Be An “ally”: A Non-Comprhensive List” from Black Girl Dangerous
White Anti-Racism: Living the Legacy by Teaching Tolerance
How to Be an Ally if You Are a Person With Privilege by Frances E. Kendall