Help! There’s a Black Woman In My Yoga Class: or Fuck You, xoJane

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Imagine, if you can, how difficult it is for a skinny white woman in Brooklyn to go about her business (I use the term “business” pretty lightly here, because that implies some actual sense of purpose), which includes practicing yoga, only to be confronted by the fact that, whoa! There’s an actual black woman in her yoga class. Can you even imagine that? It’s hard, right? What would you do if that happened to you? Would you spend the whole class preoccupied with your own sophomoric thoughts and then go home and cry because it was just too stressful for you to practice yoga with a black woman? Oh, you wouldn’t? Oh, you’re not a racist, page view-generating troll? Well then, good luck getting something published at xoJane.

“Jen Caron” (real name Jen Polachek, relation to Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek not verified, but damn do they look like sisters or something) is a “skinny white girl” who lives in Brooklyn and has been practicing yoga for six years, during which time she has rarely seen any black people in her classes, and so is stunned to see—live! in the flesh!—a real, honest-to-goodness black woman come to practice one day. Polachek explains how confusing it was for her when “a young, fairly heavy black woman put her mat down directly behind mine” and that despite seeming unfamiliar with yoga and not being able to perform much more than the warm-up stretches, the woman “stayed there, staring, for the rest of class.” Yes, that’s right. Rather than run out of the class once she realized that it was too challenging for her, this woman had the audacity to observe others practice, so that she could perhaps get a better idea of what yoga was all about. Bitch!

Or, you know, maybe this young black woman is not a bitch, but she sure did make Polachek incredibly uncomfortable. Polachek describes how the woman stared at her throughout the class, first with “resentment and then contempt,” which Polachek naturally assumed was directed right at her and her “high-waisted bike shorts, [her] tastefully tacky sports bra, [her] well-versedness in these poses that [she has] been in hundreds of times. [Her] skinny white girl body.” This bothered Polacheck. Oh, not because she’s a narcissistic racist. No, not because of that. No, it bothered Polachek because she’s the total opposite of that. Polachek is an empathetic person who is troubled by the fact that “yoga, a beloved safe space that has helped [her] through many dark moments in over six years of practice, suddenly felt deeply suspect.” You see, the problem isn’t that Polachek is racist, it’s that yoga is racist. Or, at least, the yoga that is practiced in New York in 2014 is racist and leads to situations like this one, where each time she did a downward dog, Polachek felt major “hostility” from a black woman. And even though Polachek wished that she could have talked to this angry black woman, she didn’t, because she wondered, even “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?” Which, maybe that’s the only smart thing about this whole piece, that Polachek isn’t quite oblivious enough to have approached a random black woman and asked, “Can you please articulate your experience for me?”

So, I could make fun of this post for another few hundred words, but that isn’t fully necessary because it’s currently being torn apart by the commenters over on xoJane and on Twitter and probably all over the Internet. But the real problem here isn’t Polachek. Well, it isn’t just Polachek. It is definitely partly Polachek because, MY GOD, how obtuse do you need to be, how ignorant to think that the experience of another woman—especially one of a different race—is actually all about you? UGH. But so anyway, the real issue is that xoJane even ran this piece as written at all. The truth is, there is actually a good article tucked into the racist, narcissistic bullshit of Polachek’s writing. The marketing of yoga in contemporary America as just another fitness routine and the preponderance of skinny white women just like Polachek in yoga magazines and in yoga videos is actually very troubling and worth a discussion. Which, actually, a very good discussion about that issue can be found here, on the excellent site Decolonizing Yoga. But instead, the editors at xoJane recognized that an article that essentially trolls women of color would be a much better page view generator and so abandoned their responsibility to the story at hand. Is it really that surprising in the age of “feminist” websites posting $10,000 bounties for unretouched photos of Lena Dunham? Maybe not. And it’s not a bad time to remember that xoJane has also resorted to publishing idiotic bullshit like Sydney Leathers’ guide to fucking a married politician (an article to which I refuse to link, but that can be googled if reading unintelligible writing is your thing). But this feels like a new low, because the raw material for a thoughtful piece is present in this essay, but seems to have been consciously ignored in favor of starting a controversy. So, yeah. Fuck you, xoJane. It must really suck that your site’s high point was publishing the work of an out-of-control drug addict, but there you have it.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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