Brown Girls Yoga
Date #349 – Wednesday, July 16, 2014
A: I was really bothered by this experience:
I recently got back into going to yoga (I go 2-5 times a week for months then stop… Bad!) and I rushed to Kula to catch a class. Yoga keeps me sane and I really needed it today. Because I was rushed, I looked at Tuesday’s schedule instead of Wednesday’s and, when I got there, the only class available was Brown Girls Yoga or hot yoga. Having asthma and anxiety, I can’t take hot yoga. “Can I take that class?” I asked, pointing at Brown Girls Yoga. The woman at reception just looked at me, pausing, then said, “No.” I said, “Because I’m not a brown girl?” I felt really angry. I wanted to say, “I have brown girlfriends.” I hated that I wanted to say that. To identify my friends only by their skin colour, just so I could be included. I was so angry at myself for messing up, for relying so much on needed to be there/to do yoga, and for not being able to take a class at a studio that is so inclusive.
I never thought about Brown Girls Yoga before. It didn’t bother me because I chose my schedule around that class. I get that it’s important to offer a safe space for those that feel excluded, but it was the strangest feeling to feel so extremely excluded myself, knowing that this feeling is exactly what the class was created for. Does that make sense? Yes, I am white, but, in my world, I don’t care what colour my skin is, or yours. I care that I am and you are nice and respected and supported and loved. I care that I and you feel safe and welcome and listened to. I care that we work together to create a great world, and a fun world. If it was queer yoga, I wouldn’t be turned away, I thought. If it was yoga for those with anxiety, or mental health squabbles, I would be able to go. I couldn’t help but think this class was for all the things that you can physically see. Well I felt excluded, and caught off guard. I left and passed a “brown girl” walking with her yoga mat and I felt so jealous. It was awful! I pretty much cried at B’s place, but he was really good at talking to me and making me feel okay about how I felt. I am happy that, of all places, I had his to go to.
B: Let me start by stating the obvious. A and I are white. We are not brown or of Indian descent and will never fully know the plight of brown women. For that matter, I will never fully know the prejudices, hate and other mean things women endure daily. I won’t know this about many groups.
What I do know is that your skin colour does not limit your ability for empathy and understanding. Regardless of skin colour or sex or gender or pretty much anything else we have the ability to sympathize, try to understand, and lend a hand.
Whoever programmed this class and made the “brown girls only” rule missed a great opportunity here. They missed an opportunity for a non-brown woman to walk into a class where she was the opportunity and for her to learn from her fellow human beings. The others in that class missed out on the opportunity to be shown that people of other races are willing to ask, “what unique challenges do you face as a brown woman in Toronto?”
I assume that this class was created in the best of intentions. It was created as a way to make more people feel welcome. I believe that the “brown girls only” rule was a simple mistake in short-sightedness.
When I hear of this kind of segregation I think, “that is not what Ghandi died for.” That may be extreme and I may be missing something. Things may be so bad for brown women in Toronto that they feel they can’t do yoga with people of other races.
If that is the case it is horrible.
I think we need to create safe spaces that acknowledge the imperfections in the world. I also think it is important to do this looking for more creative ways to create these spaces that are focused on inclusiveness.
We can’t try to create more segregated spaces while also trying to promote tolerance. It doesn’t work that way.
After A told me about this experience I told her about how historically black colleges have been accepting people of other races while teaching a black-focused curriculum, and how women’s-only colleges are facing a similar dilemma with transgender applicants.
We spoke about segregation and how in an attempt to create less of those negative actions, Kula somehow did the opposite.
People make mistakes and I am going to chalk it up to that. I hope A returns and I hope she gets to enjoy yoga with many people of all sorts.