How many desi / brown yogis do you know?
Ok, so this question is not for the yoga teachers & practitioners in India.. lol… So the context is more western… but do read on, either way, because it impacts all of us…
I recently spoke with a yogi of color who was associated, work-wise, with the pretty problematic lululemon & Yoga Journal. To the suggestion of divesting these whitewashed businesses of the opportunity to tokenise & monetize off desis & POC (and of course culturally appropriate), she asked me 2 very pertinent questions.
First, if there was a BIPOC brand with an equal global reach (comparable to lululemon and/or Yoga Journal)? And secondly, who would we have as role models to look up to if famous people of color like Naomi Campbell or Oprah had not connected to the labels and networks and brands that they did. She didn’t think she’d be where she is had she not seen brown faces on the cover of Yoga Journal.
Funnily enough, Yoga Journal is always in hot water with the desi / BIPOCs simply because of their tone deafness & refusal to actively create change and showcase Desi & POC faces. lululemon similar stories. I have had peers, friends who have been working with these organizations for years to help their management from the inside out to help effect sensitized change – but…. yeah… but!
But today my thoughts are really drawn to the second comment this teacher made. Where would we be if we didn’t see brown faces on the cover of Yoga Journal?
This is what I heard instead:
“Where would we be without Yoga Journal?”
“Would we be successful enough?”
“How would we have shot up to fame and fortune?”
Of course she didn’t say any of these words, but there is this undeniable sense of being saved by these white businesses because, hey! Are there any BIPOC businesses with that kind of reach?
Straight cut answer? No there aren’t!! But any guesses why??? Because the white washed YJs & lululemons have denied us that space – rightful space, if I may! The crumbs they offer by means of split cover images and the occasional brown face they sprinkle like seasoning being the few role models the community is expected to lap up in the name of diversity, inclusion and representation.
Her words bothered me – I felt the cut deep within.
So I’m going to say it out loud & louder one more time.
I’m a Desi yoga teacher. My voice is clear and needs to be heard. I am taking up my rightful space to speak up on behalf of myself and my community. This is a face & voice you need to hear in the conversation of yoga, culture & representation.
Because we desis exist! Because our contribution needs to be acknowledged and we aren’t just talking about asana here – we’re talking about a practice and a lifestyle.
We’re talking about us.
We don’t need the likes of Yoga Journal & lululemon to save us – but they do need to clean up their act. Don’t capitalize off us – UPLIFT us & offer a platform! Don’t tokenize by picking on one model who checks your box of corporate diversity, open your eyes & look at the wider array of people – real authentic people!!
But what am I getting at again? Is is a plea to white businesses to again take the cues and use it to strengthen their position without making the change? Maybe that is what would happen in some cases.. So what is the alternative?
Perhaps collectively supporting desi & BIPOC businesses and doing so consistently. We have all sorts of businesses – teachers, mental health providers, LGBTQIA+ activists, speakers, product craftspeople, educators, musicians….. so many of us doing such diverse things – inside & out of yoga. Support them… uplift them… engage with them…. with US!
I do see the need to work with whitewashed orgs, especially the ones who are looking at making changes from within and I am happy to help – as are many other teachers and activists in the field – but that alone is neither the solution nor the means. It has to be a multi-level and multi-pronged approach. Clean up the gentrification of yoga. Support, encourage and uplift the communities of the original people.
We do not need white yoga saviors.