it’s happening to us: how do we talk about race & yoga?

it’s happening to us: how do we talk about race & yoga?

Earlier this week, posted an “It Happened to Me” piece on race and yoga, and the Internet exploded. If you somehow missed the article, it was written by a white woman who sees a “fairly heavy black woman” in her Brooklyn yoga class and hypothesizes about what she may be thinking and feeling.

The article was full of unexamined white privilege, sizismm racism, and misguided good intentions. It provoked more than 3,000 comments, as well as a whole slew of responses and commentary (Aghori B rounds up some of the best on The Ba– I mean Simply Aghorable). The xoJane editor who assigned the article explained why she did it, and the real identity of the writer (whose name was changed several hours after the post was published) has been outed, prompting her to delete all of her online profiles.

Things have been busy in IAYB-land, so I haven’t been able to write anything here about the whole situation. But I’ve been watching from the sidelines, and not entirely sure about the best way to contribute to the conversation. How do we talk about race, and how do we talk about race and yoga?

Fortunately, the folks at SAAPYA (South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America) have figured out how to contribute to the conversation – and they know that it needs to be taken offline, discussed in a safe space, and open to many voices, backgrounds and experiences. So they’ve organized a panel discussion in New York City on February 13 at the Third Root Wellness Center. This is how they describe the event:

When SAAPYA imagines a safe space in which to talk about race and yoga, we don’t see judgement, we don’t believe in preaching to the choir, we do envision mindful listening, we do envision taking the discussion offline and into a present and physical public.  Now, together with key journalist contributors to the xojane discussion from across the country, we are presenting, “It Happened To Me: A Public Forum on Race and Yoga.”  On February 13, 2-5pm, at Third Root Wellness Center in Brooklyn, NY, this pre-Valentines Day session will help to use this media moment to actually propel understanding forward.  It is too easy to use an online catalyst to further polarize around race.  The time is ripe to meet in person, share, breathe, and build ourselves more whole, together.  SAAPYA believes that yoga is both personal and political, and that there is no running from challenging truths in yoga.  As a South Asian American platform in yoga, we are uniquely positioned to facilitate public forums that encourage the building, not burning, of bridges in yoga.

It’s amazing to see something constructive and hopeful emerge from a messy and polarizing online conversation! And this affirms why the world needs projects like SAAPYA – support their awesome work by donating to their crowdfunding campaign (ending at 11:59pm, Feb 1!).

the babarazzi closes shop: exclusive interviewEvery subculture needs something that disrupts the status quo and wakes up people from their slumber. In this bizarre little subculture of what could perhaps be called “countercultural yoga,” and the even more bizarre sub-subculture of people-who-make-media-about-socalled-“countercultural-yoga,” a blog called The Babarazzi served this purpose.… Read more


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the babarazzi closes shop: exclusive interview

The trouble-making blog, The Babarazzi closed today, making it a sad day in the strange world of yoga media. An exclusive IAYB interview with Aghori Babarazzi finds out why.
  1. jen’s response,

    Dear Pia and xoJane readers,

    The piece was deeply tactless, problematic, and self-centered, and I am to blame for that. I am sorry.

    I would like to share, however, that I am friendly with Rebecca Carroll, the managing editor of xoJane, which is how the piece came about in the first place. I talked with her about my experience in a yoga class a few days after it happened, not because she is a black woman but because she is a race writer and has engaged me several times in conversations about racial revelations in her own life. She encouraged me to write the story for xoJane, despite my anxieties about how problematic of a standpoint it is and how people might react. She reassured me that the fact that I was having these thoughts at all, problematic as they may be, was a good thing and something worth sharing. I trusted her to be sensitive to the xoJane readership and the ways in which the piece might be perceived. I thought, as she said, that it might be productive. Obviously that was inexcusably ignorant of me.

    After repeated requests on her behalf for the story, I sent

    her what I believed was a fairly rough draft of the piece, reassured by her that it would be edited into something more coherent. It was published almost completely untouched. I’m horrified that what I had intended to be an acknowledgment of my own privilege and complicity in a system that I perceive to be skewed has turned into this. My hope is that Rebecca will give a more detailed explanation of what she had anticipated that soliciting the piece would generate. I can make no excuses for what I’ve written and feel deeply apologetic and embarrassed for all the negativity that I’ve generated.


  2. more from jen, “A Public Apology – Here’s what I’ve learned after writing the “yoga class” article.”

  3. I can’t believe how someone could write such a thing on xojane. Just like you said, full on white privilege and not enough thoughtfulness for putting it into words.
    I thought that yoga was one of the not so many things that people actually do to unwind and not judge for a second. I really don’t think that there’s something to talk about regarding race and yoga. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s way to prejudicious and absolutely unnecessary.
    We all have our rights, that’s for sure, but we also have the ability to reason and think what’s right and what isn’t.

  4. I have not and will not read the article, simply and solely because I believe that race or any other way of categorizing people has no place in a yoga class. We do yoga as individuals, each with our own promise and spirit, each with our own spark of the Divine, each with our own journey to truth. THAT is what matters, not skin, or sex, or culture, or body type or anything else along that line. Namaste!