To be honest, I didn’t get what the big deal was about Jen Caron’s article, “It Happened to Me: There are no Black People in my Yoga Class and Suddenly I’m Feeling Uncomfortable With It.” I was reading angry commentary on it (summary: there was a black girl in Jen Caron’s yoga class one time) until I read it for myself.
It made me sad for a few reasons. My normal self would list all of her arguments and implications and tear each one apart, but that’s what my ego wants: yoga teaches us to respond, not react. So I’ll try to productively respond instead.
I work with mostly african american little kindergarten baby students. They constantly make little drawings of me and themselves, but they recently learned how to mix colors. I overheard one of them talking to another when I saw one little boy was staring at me intently.
“What color is Mrs. Lynch?
Another little boy looked at me and cocked his head to the side.
“Try mixing pink and yellow.”
His final work was beautiful – little brown him holding hands with huge pink-and-yellow me.
couldn’t resist – she’s too cute.
Yesterday in yoga class, I had a thought – that if that boy had tried to draw my class, he’d wear out those pink and yellow crayons down to dust. There are too many yellow-pink bodies in yoga and not enough brown ones, and we should stop ignoring that.
I also recently had a conversation with a black colleague where she discouraged me from offering free yoga classes to our student’s parents and families because it would appear that I was trying to impose my own whiteness on them. In the end, I was afraid I was and I would. Sometimes I feel so out of touch.
That last part is why I can understand what I deeply hope is Jen Caron’s underlying dilemma: In trying to do and say the right thing, we can do and say so very wrong.
No, I don’t understand why she chose to preface the entire article with a “January-is-when-all-the-non-yogis-come-to-class” paragraph,
“January is always a funny month in yoga studios: they are inevitably flooded with last year’s repentant exercise sinners who have sworn to turn over a new leaf, a new year, and a new workout regime. A lot of January patrons are atypical to the studio’s regular crowd and, for the most part, stop attending classes before February rolls around.”
or why she decided to see the student’s frustration with the class as hostility towards her own body,
“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.”
or why she was so upset by the fact that there was a black woman in her class that she cried at home afterwards.
“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.”
Pure as her intentions may be, Caron seems to have fallen for a classic reason for unhappiness: she appears to see herself as a victim. A victim to a new student’s judgment, a victim to an hypocrisy in an activity she enjoys, and a victim to a racially-tense world she didn’t create. But seeing oneself as a victim necessitates laziness: to see yourself as oppressed is to rob yourself of all responsibility. Something happens to you, not around you. It’s right there in the title: “It Happened to Me.”
The kindest thing to do is reflect inward: It’s a group class, but an individual practice – as the author of another blog suggested, “Keep your eyes on your own f*#&ing mat.”
A solid piece of advice for everybody.
Have this conversation with me, please: why do white people feel bad about not having enough people of color in yoga? Are we just trying to impose our own archetypes of happiness on others, or is there a barrier there?