“It Happened To Me: There Are No Black People In My Yoga Classes And I’m Suddenly Feeling Uncomfortable With It.” That headline would be peak trolling, if the accompanying essay wasn’t so painfully earnest, and troublesome, and goddammit, white people. Jen Caron, an essayist for XO Jane, was at an “exceptionally crowded midday [yoga] class” when she saw a “young, fairly heavy black woman put her mat down” behind her.
Jen quickly surmised that this woman was at her first class, commenting on her “panic” and “despair.” Poor Jen had “no choice but to look straight at her every time my head was upside down,” due to where she was positioned in the room, and she couldn’t stop thinking about her. Because Jen is white, the woman was black, and she needed help.
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 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? (Via)
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.
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.
I am 100% certain that Jen’s favorite movie of 2013 is 12 Years a Slave. As for the anonymous black woman, I look forward to her essay, “The Day I Slapped This Racist White Girl in the Face at Yoga.”
Banner via Getty Image, via XO Jane