I was first introduced to Down Under Yoga when I began working with a yoga nonprofit, and it was the first time I had seen white people calling out other organizations for their whiteness, like winning Best Yoga Studio in Boston, but not having any diversity represented on staff. If you pop into any of their yoga studios, you most likely can count the people of color on one hand. I took note, but honestly I would see these issues at almost every yoga studio I visited, so I still gave them a try and began practicing at Down Under Yoga.
I have often been the only, or one of two people of color in their classes, but I do appreciate the caliber of teachers they bring to the table. Last year they took over Baptiste Studios and began a yoga festival to welcome and celebrate their new studio. The festival was great: a whole weekend of yoga for 30 bucks; my partner and I were thrilled to do it again this year, and I even knew a handful of people attending who were also POC.
It’s funny because the only time my partner and I have really ever practiced at their Cambridge location has been during this festival….
Fast forward to second day of festival: we roll out our mats next to a white male who defined the space as "his studio".. When I told him I was also a yoga teacher in Dorchester (shouts to my family at Four Corners Yoga!) he did not have one question or comment about the studio or its teachers. Instead he let me know how amazing the upcoming teacher—you guessed it, a white male—was. Not too phased by this, we brushed him off and began our practice.
But when this latest incident happened, we were just kinda like, wow... How can we even fuck with this place anymore?
My homegirl, my man, and I are putting away our mats, and a white male walks over to us and says, “Excuse me - can I say something? I don't know if you are a family or not, but if you are—it’s so great to see you guys here.” They both rolled their eyes, but I (still on a yoga high) offer him, “Yeah they need some diversity in here, HUH?” He returns, “No, I wish my family came here. I think it’s so cool you came here and practiced as a family. My mom and dad would never do this.”
We walked away. We said no words. Did not continue the festival. We went to the car, and while we did laugh for a solid 15 minutes, there was hurt and frustration behind it.
We then analyzed what had just happened to us:
We are ALL THREE different nationalities. African, Haitian, and Jamaican/Italian, and are clearly not related in the least. And do you say "awesome" when you see groups of white people practicing? Or assume they are related?
Can we just be 3 friends who practice yoga and are just REGULAR SHMEGULAR? Why the fuck are you applauding us?
Wait, is my bf the dad? Are we both the daughters? Is he our uncle? WHAT EXACTLY DID YOU THINK OUR RELATION WAS?
What stereotypes fed this? We got a really great scholarship after our parents kicked their crack habit, and white parents saved us and introduced us to yoga, and here we all were just waiting for you to affirm our existence???
WHITE PEOPLE, PLEASE DO BETTER. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE.
I want to state loud and clear that he did not oppress us or victimize us, but he did hit us with something that is a continuous problem as a person of color, and I am so damn tired of it: the total mental exhaustion of how non-POC perceive you. This is something that white people do not need to spend much mental energy fixing.
It only takes one ignorant, awkward comment to serve as a reminder that you "don't fit" according to other people. Doesn’t this just take the wind right out of you? Yoga is supposed to be a safe and supportive environment, and WHY is it that only for white people? I have gone through some shit, and have come back to the other side, and forever am grateful to yoga, to my practice, to my breath for that. How can POC focus on our healing, our breathing, when we are waiting for the next ignorant, head-in-ass comment to come our way? Yoga is supposed to be a way to recover from all that bullshit, not expose you to it.
Down Under Yoga, I don’t have the answers for you, and it’s not my job to fix this problem. I will encourage you to look at your yoga faculty, to look in your yoga classrooms, and to ask yourself is this a fair reflection of the city? I will remind you that you do have a responsibility for creating an inclusive environment. I implore you to start hiring and training a community that respects and champions diversity. Whatever you do, don’t ignore POC voices. We deserve space, and we certainly deserve healing.