Yoga Studio Offers Class for People Of Color, White People Sulk

A Seattle yoga studio’s class advertised as exclusively for people of color was cancelled due to accusations of racism. In an apology posted on the website, owner Laura Humpf writes:

My intention in offering my space to POC Yoga was to offer a widely inclusive healing space where all people could receive the benefits of yoga. I never intended to exclude anyone based on race or ethnicity. I have several classes on my schedule that are open to everyone, and my intention in bringing this class to Rainier Beach Yoga was to encourage more inclusivity within our diverse community in Seattle.

That being said I now realize there was discriminatory language used in the advertising for this class. For that mistake I am deeply sorry. My intention was always to be inclusive.

All classes at the studio are on hold until further notice. The class was created by teacher Teresa Wang, who told MyNorthwest that it was started by five queer people of color looking for a safe space to further their practice. The notice for the class respectfully asked that “white friends, allies and partners” not attend. The controversy began when local radio station KIRO’s Dori Monson picked it up, and went on a tear, citing that old chestnut, discrimination against white people.

Monson argued that the language used to describe the yoga class was discriminatory. He said:

“It would be a lead story on national news…It would be blared across all the websites about the racist yoga class in Seattle. And the fact is, this yoga class is every bit as racist as a bunch of white people who say they don’t want to be around somebody of color. That’s why I wouldn’t want to attend either one of those classes … The fact is, they are both racist.”

In a particularly twisty bit of logic, Monson’s main issue isn’t the fact that this class is discriminatory. He’s more concerned with the presumed reaction of the public, applauding a group of marginalized people for doing what they need to do to feel comfortable.

Wang’s intention wasn’t to create a racist class full of racists doing sun salutations and setting their intentions to kill whitey. Most likely, she was simply acknowledging the fact that yoga classes can seem like unsafe spaces to people of color, because all-white spaces can be intimidating and emotionally exhausting. ¬†Being the only speck of melanin in a sea full of lithe, white women peacefully grabbing their toes can feel like an insurmountable challenge. Yoga’s hard enough as it is for a beginner, and the entire point of the exercise is to free the mind, loosen the body, and think about the practice, not the roomful of Beckys staring at you because of the way you look.

Reverse racism is not real. Take that to your practice. Set your intentions to be aware of the institutional and systemic privileges you have benefitted from. Namaste.

[h/t Lindy West]