For the last couple of weeks, like many of us, I’ve been paying attention. After the brutal murder of George Floyd (over a $20 bill) in Minneapolis, and the increased media attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, it would be impossible not to.
The real problem though lies in that many of us were not paying enough attention before – and what remains unknown is whether we will continue to pay attention going forward. What happened to George Floyd is not new – I remember protesting the killing of Amadou Diallo in 1999 – and anti-Blackness has a history going back hundreds of years. Nor is it an American problem. Canada also has a long history of racial discrimination and it is still very present today.
If you’re reading this wondering why I’m addressing racism on my professional page dedicated to yoga, mindfulness, movement and health, I have 3 responses:
- For real change to happen, conversations about and actions towards anti-racism need to happen everywhere – in all spaces, in all industries, in all neighbourhoods. We all need to educate ourselves and learn how to be not only not-racist but actively anti-racist.
- There is a huge link between this conversation and the practice of yoga that I will write about in another post soon.
- About a year ago, I became aware of how big a problem white centering is in the yoga and wellness industry and started reflecting on my role in it and how to take action for change. But I was confused and totally lost about where to begin. I want to be accountable now.
One of my biggest mistakes is not integrating any kind of activism with my work at RePose. As if yoga is only about breath, movement, and mindfulness. But yoga isn’t about separation, it’s about wholeness. What is the purpose of mindfulness if it is not accompanied by action? And as for the breath – some people literally can’t breathe right now.
I am not, nor should I be, an anti-racism educator. Yet I believe strongly that those of us that are white need to educate ourselves and take action. “Silence is violence” is a message that is coming through loud and clear. Racism is not a Black problem. It’s not an Indigenous problem. And it doesn’t only live in the fringe pro-racism white supremacy movement. I don’t believe these people represent the majority of the white population – so if most of us are not racist why is this problem still so huge? Because our entire society is constructed and centred around being white and that means those of us that are white have a difficult time “seeing” racism – in ourselves and in the world around us.
If you’re reading this as a white person and feeling strong reactions to the conversation that has been happening around racism, feeling attacked, feeling defensive, feeling that your life has been hard too – I encourage you to sit with those emotions – I understand them. It was only about a year ago, through the work of Layla Saad (author of Me and White Supremacy), that I began to understand what white supremacy is, what white centering is, and why I was still part of the problem – even though I do not consider myself racist.
“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” – Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race
I commit to doing the deep inner work and to learn how to leverage my privilege for good. I commit to not staying silent. I commit to finding opportunities to centre Black, Indigenous and other marginalized voices in my field of yoga and yoga therapy. I know I will make mistakes, and I commit to being open to being called out on them, and to doing better.
One of the actions I can take right now is to promote the work of Black wellness leaders and anti-racism activists and educators. Check out the links below – not an exhaustive list – but a start.
Desmond Cole, author of The Skin We’re In, on racism in Canada:
Robyn Maynard, Toronto-based Black feminist activist & educator and author of Policing Black Lives
Black Lives Matter has 3 Canadian chapters – Toronto, Vancouver and Waterloo
Layla Saad, author of Me and White Supremacy
Rachel Wicketts leads online Spiritual Activism courses (I’m signed up)
Understanding white privilege