Today in yoga class, I learned that not everyone wants to look exactly like me
Here’s an article that was recently put out on xojane.com titled: THERE ARE NO BLACK PEOPLE IN MY YOGA CLASSES AND I’M SUDDENLY FEELING UNCOMFORTABLE WITH IT
Unfortunately, the article is about as terrible as it sounds. The writer’s heart is in the right place and she means well, but she makes some very troublesome assumptions about beauty and race.
I knew (“fairly heavy black woman”) 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… 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
Ugh. UGH. UGHHHHHH. All these opinions are not supported by actual conversations between the two women, it wasn’t even based on something materialistic, like her choice of outfit or her yoga shoes, but based entirely on facial expressions and ego. And even if there was a conversation, the “fairly heavy black woman’s” opinion does not represent the opinion of all black woman. That’s another problem with racism – one person does not shoulder the collective burden of their race/culture.
Fortunately, there was a response written by an African Amercan woman that hits on most of the problematic points in the xojane piece:
I don’t resent your body or your whiteness for a very simple reason. I don’t envy them…. It’s just that I don’t strive to look like you. I don’t think your body, or your race, are better than mine. And while I knew that practicing yoga was going to involve twisting myself into some pretty complicated positions, honestly, I never desired to contort my body into yours.
The problem is that at some point you got the impression that you — in all your “skinny, white girl”-ness — was the ideal. And that I would, if given the choice, choose to look like you… in order for you to be content in your whiteness, I have to despair in my blackness, and in order for you to be at peace in your body, I have to suffocate in mine.
…you assumed that being confronted by your whiteness plunged me into a jealousy so deep, I had no choice but to curl up into a ball and stew in my own anger. But remember, I’m not as unaccustomed to seeing and interacting with white women as you seem to be with black women. If I actually crumbled every time I was the only black woman in any setting, I would have to quit my job, give up a lot of my favorite haunts, and go fold myself into the child’s pose somewhere in the middle of Ward 8. This is racism that is so simultaneously powerful and invisible, that it deeply impacted your entire being that I — a black woman — was in your yoga class, while it didn’t faze me at all that you — a white woman — were in mine.