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Photo: Black Yogis Tumblr

By now you’ve probably read about the totally ridiculous yoga post heard-round-the-Internet that got Jen Polachek dragged so hard she changed her byline to “Jen Caron.”

Without going into too many details—because believe me, her piece had waaaaay too many—I’ll give you the short version.

One time Jen Polachek, uh, I mean Jen Caron, went to a yoga class  in Brooklyn and saw a “fairly heavy” Black woman on the mat behind her. After not being able to keep up with the bendy routines, the woman spent the balance of the class “staring directly” at Caron, who watched as the woman plunged into “despair” then “resentment and then contempt.” In the end, Caron felt so disturbed by the Black woman because she assumed the woman was focusing all her mind power on Caron’s “skinny white girl body,” because…why wouldn’t she?

Caron’s long, completely self-absorbed essay would have been utterly laughable if she wasn’t trying so hard to be serious. I mean, Caron was so unnerved by a fat Black woman attempting yoga she went home AND CRIED, y’all. CRIED!

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Here’s why:

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? 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. Trying to ignore it only made it worse. I thought about what the instructor could or should have done to help her. Would a simple “Are you okay?” whisper have helped, or would it embarrass her? Should I tell her after class how awful I was at yoga for the first few months of my practicing and encourage her to stick with it, or would that come off as massively condescending? If I asked her to articulate her experience to me so I could just listen, would she be at all interested in telling me about it? Perhaps more importantly, what could the system do to make itself more accessible to a broader range of bodies? Is having more racially diverse instructors enough, or would it require a serious restructuring of studio’s ethos?

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 really don’t know what’s worse about this essay. The fact that the writer heaped a myriad of assumptions on a “fairly heavy/heavyset” Black woman without even speaking to her, or the fact that she subjected us to her narcissistic ramblings.

As I said on Facebook, this essay is the personification of White privilege. Nothing SCREAMS White privilege more than a White woman in a yoga class who thinks her “skinny white girl body” is surely being coveted by a heavyset Black woman who is most-likely just trying to learn how to properly hit the warrior pose.

Potos: Black Yogis Tumblr

Photos: Black Yogis Tumblr

In the midst of her navel glazing, Caron failed to realize or even acknowledge that Black women—like many other types of women—practice yoga as well. While they may not be sweating it out in her studio, which she admits is overrun with male hipsters, many of us are yogis and yoga devotees, even if we happen to be “fairly heavy.” Just because Caron’s never taken a moment to notice—or even speak to–a Black student in her class doesn’t negate the fact that many Black folks practice yoga.

A quick Google search of “black yogis” would have pointed Caron in the direction of several African-Americans who regularly practice yoga (I mean, there’s a whole Tumblr dedicated to Black Yogis). Women like Faith Hunter of Embrace, Sariane Leigh of Anacostia Yogi, and many, many more are not only practicing, but are teaching others as well. But Caron’s piece wasn’t about learning more about Black people who practice yoga, it was about turning herself into a victim.

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  • kiki80

    This will not be a popular opinion, but I think that this reaction is the reason that non-hateful white people avoid discussing race like the plague.

    Yes, this chick is as naive and entitled as they come, but even a broke clock is right twice a day.

    Maybe the other young lady *was* giving her the stink eye (don’t pretend this is not a possibility as we do it to each other daily).

    Why not discuss white privilege and how it might impact us as black women (or black women ‘of size’)?

    Pundits and scholars work overtime trying to convince white folk that white privilege still exists, then we bash this child for finally admitting it?

    This is not a defense of the girl…it’s a case for being HONEST about discussing race without strangling it with too many rules of engagement.

    • noirluv45

      The author of the original article, who was arrogant, condescending, and made assumptions about this “heavy set Black woman” gets put on blast, and it’s the fault of those who clapped back?

      There are even White women who found her attitude offensive. The reason many Whites don’t want to discuss race is: 1) Many of them don’t believe there is a racial problem, 2) They think Blacks just love “playing the race card,” and 3) They will no own up to their part in this mess called racism/White supremacy. Many of them are in denial. Even Tim Wise says that.

      We do discuss White privilege. The problem is many of them refuse to admit they are White and privileged. Conversation is a two-way street. If the offending party isn’t willing to communicate, it won’t do any good.

      The yoga instructor has a chip on her shoulder, and like I said, there are White woman who were offended by her stank superiority.

    • kiki80

      I see things differently. As much as I hate arrogant whites who think they know me, I also get tired of overly-sensitive black folks who want to dictate 1000 contradictory rules for how to talk about race.

      Either we all have permission to ‘go there’ with honesty, or expect the impasse to continue.

    • Me

      this ain’t have shit to do with some whit chick tryna self-check her privilege. not with a full essay about ***assumptions*** she made about what’s going on in one person’s head just because she fat and black. this ain’t nothing but smoke and mirrors: “i saw somebody today that i thought was lower than me and now i feel bad about her being lower than me because i’m pretty sure she’s mad about being lower than me because anybody lower than me obviously would be jealous of me and it made me think about all the other people that are lower than me too that don’t get the privilege to do all the awesome things i get to do just because i’m so awesome. and that’s what made me cry.” i wish they had posted pia glenn’s response from xojane too because she wrote EVERYTHING i was thinking about this shitty ass article/writer.

  • Nika

    I’m a white woman and I cannot EVEN remember the last time I was this uniquely embarrassed by something that a white person did.

    I mean, the ‘normal’ kind of racism is obnoxious enough, but this was made so, SO much worse by her dumbass navel gazing and completely tone-deaf insults. The whole damn thing was disingenuous and super bratty.

    It demonstrates total self-absorption on her part, the actual belief that everything and everyone revolves around her, because of COURSE the black woman was obsessed with her, of COURSE she envied her skinny ass, and of COURSE this brought up all kinds of apparently repressed guilt which she then felt compelled to heap upon the rest of us.

    I mean, I guess it’s good that I finally have something I can print out and show to my friends when they claim white privilege no longer exists. Cause good god y’all, this is essentially the most textbook example I’ve ever seen of it. It was every cliche in action.

    I hope she really thinks about what was so hideous about this, and that next time she just keeps her mouth shuts and seeks some mental help or something, because damn.

  • amy vegan
  • UnflinchingSpirit

    The black yogis site is NSFW. For those of us who are gainfully employed in a professional corporate environment. It would behoove the author to put some effort in thinking about those things before simply hastily recommending links.