I would like to preface this by saying that I am not an historian, and I am definitely not a social activist, but given the protests of the last few weeks I discovered that I have something to say. Social activism was never in my purview. I grew up in a middle class white neighborhood, went to school with mostly white people, and lived my life without thinking much about how people of different color had very different experiences.
In my college years, instead of social activism, music was my fascination, and all kinds of people made great music, most certainly Black people like Jimi Hendricks and Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin, Sam and Dave. I had a few black friends but never really paused to think how differently our experiences of America were.
The protests in the recent weeks have definitely made me think twice, think a hundred times, more. George Floyd died a senseless death at the hands of police brutality. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Freddie Gray, and so many others for so many years have suffered and lost their lives at the hands of racist bigots. It is disgusting and despicable and unexplainable. It is time for this to stop.
I asked a Black yogi student of mine how he is faring during this crisis and he suggested I check out We Were Eight Years In Power by Ta-nehisi Coates as that has provided some support for him during challenging times. I have never considered myself “white privileged,” but my eyes have been opened. The systemic bias against people of color can no longer be tolerated. It should have never been tolerated. If yoga teaches us anything, it is that diversity is beautiful. It is the nature of things to expand, grow, shift, change, and diversify. It is a yogic practice to welcome diversity as a unique expression of Universal Consciousness. Universal means that no one is left out — no animal, plant, or human being, regardless of race, creed, or color. All people and all beings deserve love, compassion, and understanding *and* a peaceful home in which to live without fear.
We need to talk about this. Even more, we need to listen to what Black people have to say. We need to listen to their stories, keep this dialogue going and make radical changes to weed out the vile racism that has shaped America.
I offer here some words from my teacher, Douglas Brooks of Rajanaka Yoga, because he always seems to say things thoughtfully and with more skill than I ever could.
“We are outraged by the senseless murder of yet another Black person at the hands of America’s police. In the last week we have continued to see police violently responding to peaceful protestors, including Federal officers in front of the White House and the military in battle fatigues at the Lincoln Memorial. These are stains on our present that are the consequences of a past we must address with honesty and seriousness.
We must speak out. We must protest. We stand together with all of the victims of these murders. We reject their silencing, their systemic oppression, and the prejudice waged against them on the basis of skin color. We march with all who seek justice across our country. We will say of the names of the murdered and today we say again his name: George Floyd…
We need actionable, concrete plans to address the deeper issues and so create sustained efforts and relentless commitment.” Find his full statement here.
And here is a list of resources compiled by NPR to educate oneself about the disease of racism in this country: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2020/06/06/871023438/this-list-of-books-films-and-podcasts-about-racism-is-a-start-not-a-panacea
Yoga is a universal practice — anyone of any color, race, religion, no religion, age, sexual preference, socio-economic background, or physical or mental ability can practice yoga and discover its healing benefits. One of the first principles of yoga practice is called Ahimsa – the practice of doing no harm in thought, word, or action. This is a universal principle because it should apply to everyone everywhere. A yoga practitioner attempts to engage with the tendency within oneself to elevate or diminish, to separate or cling in order to recognize that all people come from the same source and all people deserve love, harmony, good health, and a happy life. There is always more work to do, within ourselves and within our communities. Black lives matter.
I pledge to no longer be complacent to race matters and to stand with those who stand for justice.