Gimme $10 every time you use the word “outreach.” Gimme another $10 every time you say “inclusion.” Gimme $100 if you land on the word “diversity.” Gimme $1000 if you use the word “Caucasian.”
Why would I want to grasp your outreached hand? Why would I want to be included in your group? Why would I want to be tokenized to create diversity in your institution?
The language of purported anti-racism is actually perpetuating white supremacy/systemic racism. It doesn’t really change anything.
- OUTREACH implies someone from the inside reaching out to someone on the periphery, to bring them in (to the status quo system of white supremacy).
- INCLUSION, similarly, means including a marginalized person, without necessarily addressing why they were marginalized in the first place, nor attempting to change those conditions.
- Fuck DIVERSITY. The presence of a few people of color or others from the margins doesn’t mean shit has changed. Mostly we’re there to make white folks feel better, and give the illusion of progress and anti-racism. As a life-long token, I will say that the main reason I am welcomed into privileged spaces, an Asian woman, is because of rampant systemic anti-Blackness, which posits me as less threatening or radical. An insult to both of us.
Let’s not forget the most offensive word of all: CHARITY.
- CHARITY reinforces the status quo by providing just enough funding and resources to keep those on the margins alive, without threatening to dismantle the power structure that keeps givers on top, and receivers on the bottom.
To stop using these words means we have to stop applying these concepts. We have to completely restructure how we see each other and relate to each other. Our institutions need to reflect more equitable relationships within our communities.
Instead of OUTREACH: CONVERSATION, COLLABORATION, and PARTNERSHIP
Instead of DIVERSITY and INCLUSION: CULTURE-SHIFT
Instead of CHARITY: SOLIDARITY and REPARATIONS
Actually the alternative to all the above offensive words/practices/philosophies is REPARATIONS. All systems and institutions and individuals need to acknowledge the need to repair the harm which has defined and built America. Anyone who takes this imperative seriously will operate from a totally different mindset, and their actions will reflect that.
For instance, our Iyengar Yoga studio, instead of offering a free class at a mosque (as OUTREACH), in order to connect with our Yemeni neighbors, we could instead participate in community meetings and events. At such gatherings we would meet and dialogue with members of the Yemeni community. As we got to know them, and they us, we could begin neighborly conversations, and share questions, concerns, and needs with each other. Perhaps there would be opportunities to attend each other’s public events. Possibly there would be interest in what Iyengar Yoga could offer to address back pain, or other common conditions. It would behoove us to learn more about our neighbors and what they experience. Maybe there would be mothers seeking activities with or for their children. Who knows? But conversation and relationship-building would precede any assumptions or handouts. By this sort of community-building, we could create collaborations and partnerships that would be mutually fulfilling and sustainable.
What does a CULTURE-SHIFT look like? Once I was in an Iyengar Yoga class and we were instructed to get chairs. One student went to the chair rack and started handing the chairs out, like a bucket brigade. The teacher said, “no, don’t pass them out, studies show it’s faster to just get your own.” This promotes a culture of individualism, and assumes that efficiency is more important than sharing and connecting with each other. This can feel alienating to someone who already feels like they’ve had to make a cultural commute to attend class.
A student at that same studio asked me why everyone was so cold and unfriendly. White folks need to recognize white culture, which is often characterized by individualism, stoicism, and emotional distancing. They may feel they are being polite, unobtrusive, and respectful. In this case, the student felt marginalized by this coolness and felt unwelcome.
Other times, Iyengar Yoga teachers can be quite vigorous and energetic in their instructions, or zealous in their manual adjustments. Those coming with a history of trauma (virtually all people of color, many immigrants, and those with histories of colonization) may find all of that triggering. They may need a gentler approach, or more emotional space to process the instructions.
Sometimes people of color are not comfortable being instructed by a white teacher. Just like it would be inappropriate for a women’s class to be taught by a man, or a yoga for big bodies class taught by a thin person, or a class for seniors taught by a young person, a white instructor cannot relate to a person of color’s experience.
In order to have more CIYTs of color, we need to attract more students of color, and meet their needs such that they may be inspired to progress along the path. Sure, there will always be a few folks of color adequately conditioned to survive in white settings. But I can tell you from personal experience that I’ve paid a high price for assimilation, that I am no longer willing to pay. My body expresses that toll in the form of chronic stress, high cortisol, and autoimmune dysfunction.
Finally: no more CHARITY. Instead, what would it look like to actually take responsibility for harm committed over generations and centuries? In short, white folks are indebted to black and brown folks. Instead of grand public gestures of magnanimity, what about permanently dismantling the systems and structures that have maintained racial inequity? What about redistribution of resources and profits?
Here are some practices Iyengar Yoga Detroit Collective has adopted, or is considering adopting:
- Weekly Black and Brown yoga class. sliding scale/donation (“Community Gift”): Those who are able are welcome to pay full price.
- 10-50% discounts for people of color, according to self-determined financial capacity.
- Cooperative structure, collectively run, community-centered in order to keep class prices low, cover day-to-day tasks, and prevent burn-out.
- Several Community Gift classes each week for various needs (all-gendered Uterine Health, Emotional Health, Restorative, and Philosophy)
- Patreon page to encourage ongoing monthly donations, and annual ask to our immediate and greater communities for monetary donations to support our programs (reparations!).
- Rewarding and encouraging membership with annual profit-sharing.
- Advisory board of community members of color.
- Collaboration with local public schools to bring school teachers to a weekly afternoon class.
These ideas are the tip of the iceberg for rethinking what Iyengar Yoga in the community can look like, beyond charity, beyond outreach, toward collective liberation.