Updated: Nov 14, 2020
As an Indian woman, I don’t want you to deny my race, culture or color. It’s part of what makes me who I am. And, next, Yes, you do see race, no matter how hard you try not to. And it’s ok. Seeing race does not make you racist or a bad person, rather, you are a person that lives and functions in a racialized society. I want you to see me.
When you wake up to our true stories, you wake up to our shared liberation.
Particularly in the context of the West and in the United States, it remains important to understand that we are operating on stolen land from indigenous peoples that later was used to enslave Africans and where the labor of Black and Brown immigrants has been utilized for the privileged to prosper at the expense of others.
These events are not products of the past, but are resonating now. This is evident in the fact that Black and Native American women are paid less NOW. 58 cents and black women 68 cents, to every dollar paid to white men. Right now, these material realities matter. These realities inhibit us from living in a color-unaware world because since the inception of this country, race has always been a means to distribute and wield power.
Denying this by saying “I don’t see color” doesn’t make you less racist - it makes you more racist.
We need to stop tiptoeing around race and talk about it explicitly. Rather avoiding or not talking about race, we need to address it directly since the power dynamics surrounding it impact us every day.
For those that feel uncomfortable talking about race, it is time to interrogate why. Why are you comfortable with some differences in humans and not others? For many, this means it is time to grapple with the privilege positionality around race inherently provides. Privilege does not mean that your life does not have obstacles, but rather that these obstacles are not directly caused by your racial identity.
BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) don't have the privilege to choose when race is important, because it affects our daily lives. Listening to the experiences of people of color and sitting in that uncomfortability is just the beginning.
And if more of us took a stab at the sweet, silent side of satya (truthfulness and deep listening) authentically trying to listen to one another, communicate and support radical and positive change is guaranteed to happen on this planet.
Let’s use the yoga industry in the West as an example; In the white dominant yoga industry, we need to see race. Or else the white default keeps perpetuating itself.
You see, when you see race, understanding the depths of our differences can be a productive tool in creating safe spaces that lead towards intentional healing. Having truly diverse leadership and non-tokenized yoga spaces where differences are celebrated allows everyone to be authentically themselves while they participate in these restorative practices. If people of color feel as though they cannot fully be seen, are erased and cannot celebrate themselves, then it interrupts the experience that is so special about yoga and certainly doesn’t further yoga as unity.
It gaslights us when you say “yoga as unity” means to stop talking about race. In fact, yoga as unity means to directly address all that is not unity - which is to look directly at what is causing separation.
Ultimately, you see, ignoring the issue, and eliminating conversations about race will not bring us together, but rather it will force us to drift further apart (and to be completely honest, with all that we are going through that’s not what our yoga world needs right now).
It is time to honor that people of color live different realities than their privileged counterparts. Once we can come to terms with our differences, then it becomes easier to cultivate spaces that can unify us all.
We have the power to shape our own narratives, but we must understand that without addressing inequity based on race, that story is essentially incomplete.
Go off into your practice and world today, performing your daily routine -- and challenge yourself to avoid cultural appropriation (the doorway to colonization and empire), disrupt white centering and supremacy, to listen and learn and to talk or ask about race.
There is no change, healing or progress without communicating first.
Our stories are our liberation. Our stories are our practice embodied.
Take some time to practice svadhyaya - self-reflection. What stories are emerging in you - that are asking to be embodied in form, word or movement? What unheard stories are you waking up to?
For more information and wake up calls like this to incorporate into your own yoga practice, follow Susanna on Instagram for daily tips @susannabarkataki