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A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

11 days ago
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.

A few weeks ago, as I settled into an exceptionally crowded midday class, a young, fairly heavy black woman put her mat down directly behind mine. It appeared she had never set foot in a yoga studio—she was glancing around anxiously, adjusting her clothes, looking wide-eyed and nervous. Within the first few minutes of gentle warm-up stretches, I saw the fear in her eyes snowball, turning into panic and then despair. Before we made it into our first downward dog, she had crouched down on her elbows and knees, head lowered close to the ground, trapped and vulnerable. She stayed there, staring, for the rest of the class.

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.

I was completely unable to focus on my practice, instead 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—or so I imagined.

I thought about how even though yoga comes from thousands of years of south Asian tradition, it’s been shamelessly co-opted by Western culture as a sport for skinny, rich white women. I thought about my beloved donation-based studio that I’ve visited for years, in which classes are very big and often very crowded and no one will try to put a scented eye pillow on your face during savasana. They preach the gospel of yogic egalitarianism, that their style of vinyasa is approachable for people of all ages, experience levels, socioeconomic statuses, genders, and races; that it is non-judgmental and receptive. As such, the studio is populated largely by students, artists, and broke hipsters; there is a much higher ratio of men to women than at many other studios, and you never see the freshly-highlighted, Evian-toting, Upper-West-Side yoga stereotype.

I realized with horror that despite the all-inclusivity preached by the studio, despite the purported blindness to socioeconomic status, despite the sizeable population of regular Asian students, black students were few and far between. And in the large and constantly rotating roster of instructors, I could only ever remember two being black.

I thought about how that must feel: to be a heavyset black woman entering for the first time a system that by all accounts seems unable to accommodate her body. What could I do to help her? If I were her, I thought, I would want as little attention to be drawn to my despair as possible—I would not want anyone to look at me or notice me. And so I tried to very deliberately avoid looking in her direction each time I was in downward dog, but I could feel her hostility just the same. Trying to ignore it only made it worse. I thought about what the instructor could or should have done to help her. Would a simple “Are you okay?” whisper have helped, or would it embarrass her? Should I tell her after class how awful I was at yoga for the first few months of my practicing and encourage her to stick with it, or would that come off as massively condescending? If I asked her to articulate her experience to me so I could just listen, would she be at all interested in telling me about it? Perhaps more importantly, what could the system do to make itself more accessible to a broader range of bodies? Is having more racially diverse instructors enough, or would it require a serious restructuring of studio’s ethos?

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. Knowing fully well that one hour of perhaps self-importantly believing myself to be the deserving target of a racially charged anger is nothing, is largely my own psychological projection, is a drop in the bucket, is the tip of the iceberg in American race relations, I was shaken by it all the same.

The question is, of course, so much bigger than yoga—it’s a question of enormous systemic failure. But just the same, I want to know—how can we practice yoga in good conscience, when mere mindfulness is not enough? How do we create a space that is accessible not just to everybody, but to every body? And while I recognize that there is an element of spectatorship to my experience in this instance, it is precisely this feeling of not being able to engage, not knowing how to engage, that mitigates the hope for change.

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

11 days ago
Is this Hate Rally 2: Electric Boogaloo | With classic and new topics including black people and fatties? If not, can it be?

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

11 days ago

Please tell me you wrote this yourself.

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

11 days ago
She did not, it's a pre-2008 pasta; which is why I asked, subtly suggesting, if this was going to be a hate rally thread.

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

11 days ago

Aww, mildly disappointing.

It's still funny though.

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

11 days ago
It was cringy then, it's even cringier now. Unlike the pasta in the back of my fridge, over the years this one has aged like a fine wine.

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

11 days ago

I kinda find it hard to believe that you'd go do yoga.

 

Or that you'd go anywhere populated with hipsters.

 

Or that you'd feel bad.

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

11 days ago
While it's true that in the past I would have rejected such things, and if anything been more likely to write a rant about how fatasses should get to the point they can touch (or at least see) their own toes before joining a class where everybody pretending stretching was exercise, I've decided to turn over a new leaf this year and embrace the positive aspects of both yoga and human interaction.

I mean look how happy this woman is!

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

5 days ago
This is probably the kind of stuff that makes young white men shoot up schools and churches. The depth of racial shame after seeing something like this video must be traumatic.

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

11 days ago

lol, why would anyone put anything on your face during shavasan? The name literally tells you that you have to be, a shav (dead body). I’ve known 280 lbs people show much better flexibility than skinny people, it just takes a bit practice and is completely irrelevant of body proportions. ‘Gospel of yoga egalitarianism’ could someone enlighten me on this?

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

11 days ago
Taking another culture's ancient religious practices and turning it into a trendy workout routine with some retarded spin about equality and spiritual and physical wholeness: great, okay

Speaking to a black person: avoid at all costs

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

11 days ago

If I may...her anger, resentment or something like that is a way to defend oneself. I mean, ever been to an exam where you were not able to write more than a few sentences? the first few seconds are pure introspection , then comes some kind of self hate for the mistakes you've done but after half an hour, you're like "fuck this class, lessons were shitty, teacher is incompetent".


Well, you probably felt "vicarious embarrassment" (iirc). No shame in that, in fact it's great to be empathetic. Tough, that's for sure. 
But I guess I'm missing part of the picture because we don't have the same point of view regarding ethnicities.

Any way don't feel bad, she's probably spewing bullshit right now to justify why taking that good resolution was a mistake because of the rest of the world. Or maybe she has no self worth problem and her ego is healed and she looked for some beginner classes after some introspection.

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

11 days ago
I'll take that into consideration, thanks!

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

11 days ago

The last time a black person made me feel uncomfortable was in high school when I had to rethink my whole “no race mixing” ideology because there weren’t many other options there as far as attractive girls went.

Obviously I got over it pretty quickly and went drilling for oil.

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

11 days ago
You know, I had a similar experience to this the one and only time I ever went to a yoga studio. The lady wasn't black, but I feel like it being a yoga story makes it close enough to belong here.

I went with my hippie friend, because at the time I was 17 and still trying to deny my hillbilly routes and pretend to be sophisticated and dumb shit like that. So when she invited me to her yoga class followed by an outing to a vegan place, I thought it sounded like a great idea.

I was so...so wrong.

I didn't own any yoga attire and that shit is expensive, so I just wore some basketball shorts and a tank top. There I was, a poor hick kid surrounded by trophy wives and hippie teens. And there was this one woman who just didn't belong. Being a dumb kid, I of course put down a mat next to her thinking I couldn't possibly stick out more than this middle aged mom bod with 90's hair. I was right of course, but I doomed myself in other ways.

So the class starts, I know jack shit about yoga. Up until this moment my idea of exercise was bucking hay during the harvest or riding horses. I was in shape but not flexible. So we end up in some insane position on our backs with our legs supposed to be going over our heads. The instructor is walking around 'correcting form'. She gets to me and I nearly cried when she shoved my legs down into position and it felt like my hamstrings were ripping apart.

Then she goes to the poor lady next to me and when she pushed on this woman's legs, a righteous fart the likes of which I have never heard before nor since was unleashed. It vibrated the floor it was so forceful. I nearly chewed a hole in my cheek trying not to laugh.

I look around and no one is reacting. These insane trophy wives and rich kid hippies are somehow keeping it together despite the funniest thing ever having just happened. So I sit there chewing on my lip, trying to do impossible positions, not daring to glance in the fart blossom's direction. Then a few minutes later, I hear a distinct toot sound from the other side of the room.

I lost it. I started laughing and had to leave the studio. I'm now 100% certain that yoga is just a fancy way for people with gas problems to deal with their intestinal issues and no one can convince me otherwise.

Also I disowned my hippie friend when we got to the vegan place and I realized what vegan actually meant(had never heard of it before at the time). I'm not a rabbit, I eat meat. Fuck that shit.

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

11 days ago

Can't say I'm surprised by the toots. Plant-based protein tends to have a good amount of fiber. If the yoga milfs ate meat, they wouldn't have to go to yoga class to unload their pent-up air poops. While we're on the subject, I get how no one else was laughing or responding to the "sudden outbursts". I experienced it in wrestling and jiu-jitsu. I'd argue it's worse there since you're actually grabbing the tooters. It just something that happens and you get used to it. It's still funny though. 

A Black Person Made Me Deeply Uncomfortable

5 days ago

I remember a friend of mine let out this gargantuan fart that caused us to restart the final exam because nobody could stop laughing. That was years ago though.