A Yoga Musical with No Songs, except for the Overture.
Act 1 – White Normativity
The thesis from Yoga and The Roots of Cultural Appropriation recently circulated through a series of Facebook Yoga groups due to The Independent highlighting bits of the original content in an article with a more inflammatory, but nevertheless honest title, ‘Americans who practice Yoga contribute to White Supremacy.’
A fury of white denial ensued. It was like having the same endless conversation with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. Carlson, in addition to denying that white supremacy exists, also denies the science on climate change and is anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-refugee. There is an unsettling ideological similarity between Tucker Carlson and a growing number of white euro-americans in Yoga.
I have been kicked out of every Facebook Yoga group I have ever participated in and was therefor surprised to see the headline, ‘Americans who practice Yoga contribute to White Supremacy’ in my feed as part of a post from the Yoga Discussion Group moderated by English Yoga teacher and author, Peter Blackaby.
Group member Bruce Sachs, initially posted the article run by the Independent. The first post I captured was from well known American Yoga teacher Donna Farhi, who is now part of the Standards Review Project, a predominantly white group newly created and touted by Yoga Alliance as something relevant.
I couldn’t resist…
In their article Yoga and the Roots of Cultural Appropriation, Shreena Gandhi and Lillie Wolff begin with making a request to their readers,
“…please do take a moment to look outside of yourself and understand how the history of yoga practice in the United States is intimately linked to some of the larger forces of white supremacy.”
“Yoga, like so many other colonized systems of practice and knowledge, did not appear in the American spiritual landscape by coincidence; rather, its popularity was a direct consequence of a larger system of cultural appropriation that capitalism engenders and reifies.”
Andrea Smith, a feminist and anti-racist scholar, outlines the template for white supremacy in her well known essay, Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy.
“This framework does not assume that racism and white supremacy is enacted in a singular fashion; rather, white supremacy is constituted by separate and distinct, but still interrelated, logics.” -A.S.
I’d like to highlight the pillars/logics that Andrea Smith defines.
“One pillar of white supremacy is the logic of slavery. As Sora Han, Jared Sexton and Angela P. Harris note, this logic renders Black people as inherently slaveable – as nothing more than property. That is, in this logic of white supremacy, Blackness becomes equated with slaveability. The forms of slavery may change – whether it is through the formal system of slavery, sharecropping, or through the current prison-industrial complex – but the logic itself has remained consistent.
The logic is the anchor of capitalism. That is, the capitalist system ultimately commodifies all workers – one’s own person becomes a commodity that one must sell in the labor market while the profits of one’s work are taken by someone else. To keep this capitalist system in place – which ultimately commode- fies most people – the logic of slavery applies a racial hierarchy to this system. This racial hierarchy tells people that as long as you are not Black, you have the opportunity to escape the commodificaiton of capitalism. This helps people who are not Black to accept their lot in life, because they can feel that at least they are not at the very bottom of the racial hierarchy, at least they are not property; at least they are not slaveable.” A.S.
“A second pillar of white supremacy is the logic of genocide. This logic holds that indigenous peoples must disappear. In fact, they must always be disappearing, in order to allow non-indigenous people the rightful claim over this land. Through this logic of genocide, non-Native peoples then become the rightful inheritors of all that was indigenous – land, resources, indigenous spirituality, or culture. As Kate Shanley notes, Native peoples are a permanent “present absence” in the U.S. colonial imagination, an “absence” that rein- forces, at every turn, the conviction that Native peoples are indeed vanishing and the conquest of Native land is justified.
Ella Shoat and Robert Stam describe this absence as “an ambivalently repressive mechanism [which] dispels the anxiety in the face of the Indian, whose very presence is a reminder of the initially precarious grounding of the American nation-state itself….In a temporal paradox, living Indians were induced to ‘play dead,’ as it were, in order to perform a narrative of manifest destiny in which their role, ultimately, was to disappear.”
“The pillar of genocide serves as the anchor for colonialism – it is what allows non-Native people to feel they can rightfully own indigenous peoples’ land. It is okay to take land from indigenous peoples because indigenous peoples have disappeared.” A.S.
“A third pillar of white supremacy is the logic of Orientalism. Orientalism was defined by Edward Said as the process of the West defining itself as a superior civilization by constructing itself in opposition to an “exotic” but inferior “Orient.” (Here, I am using the term “Orientalism” more broadly than to solely signify what has been historically named as the Orient or Asia.) The logic of Orientalism marks certain peoples or nations as inferior and as posing a constant threat to the well-being of empire.
This logic is evident in the anti- immigration movements within the United States that target immigrants of color. It does not matter how long the immigrants of color reside in the United States, they generally become targeted as foreign threats, particularly during war time. Con-sequently, orientalism serves as the anchor for war, because it allows the United States to justify being in a constant state of war to protect itself from its enemies.
For example, the United States feels entitled to use Orientalist logic to justify racial profiling of Arab Americans so that it can be strong enough to fight the “war on terror.” Orientalism also allows the United States to defend the logics of slavery and genocide, as these practices enable the United States to stay “strong enough” to fight these constant wars. What becomes clear then is what Sora Han states – the United States is not at war; the United States is war. For the system of white supremacy to stay in place, the United States must always be at war.” A.S.
Andrea Smith envisioned Heteropatriacrhy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy as a way for women of color to reconcile the multi-dimensional mechanisms of oppression they experienced among themselves during political organizing.
When white people refer to identity politics they generally refuse to see these interlinking struggles for liberation, because it serves white supremacist, cognitive dissonance to dismiss calls for justice as a failure on the part of identity to “unite” into the dominant paradigm, where race can be ignored and capitalism simply spanked for reducing Yoga to the lowest common denominator.
Peter then offers the classic, historical deflection used by those, who refuse to acknowledge their own transgenerational post traumatic slave owner syndrome. Bruce, the original poster of the article, does his best to not have the discussion he himself initiated. He deflects responsibility by scapegoating my behavior, even though he exposes his own racial bias, which has nothing to do with me.
(This photo is marked public on Sheena’s page. The first comment is by Leigh Brook, ” I love how you got someone looking after your bag even on holiday!! They know you well already!” Sheena gave the comment a thumbs up and the orginator of the program Fazilah Bazari says, “Love this photo.”)
Act ll – Yoga Missionary and the Paternal Savior
At this point I’d like to explore how white supremacy operates within the realm of Yoga charity. Sheena Grigor and Neilon Pitamber are closely aligned with the British wheel of Yoga (BWY), England’s equivalent to Yoga Alliance.
If you go to the BWY website, you’ll find a video of the Yoga Unites initiative in Papa New Guinea. The video is rather alarming as it reproduces certain colonial stereotypes. It paints a very one dimensional portrait of Papa New Guinea, one that of course embraces the need for outside intervention. There is no mention/critique of colonization or how colonization has contributed to the material conditions of present day Papa New Guinea.
In researching Papa New Guinea I found that it is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world with over 800 languages representing different traditions, rituals, dress and other collective practices. The video doesn’t display the complexity of island identity, or how communities were left impacted from over a hundred years of resource extraction by Dutch, British, and German colonization.
I’m not entirely sure what the connection is between Sheena Grigor, Neilon Pitmaber, The British wheel of Yoga and Fazilah Bazari, the founder of Yoga Unites program in Papa New Guinea, but they could definitely use someone in the Public Relations department, who has a nuanced analysis of how not to blame indigenous populations for their poverty and everything that emits from it as if it is their personal problem to fix and then their lives will be okay.
I’m glad the initiative is working to bring attention to sexual violence against women, but violence as a means of power is also endemic to the trauma of colonization. I’m curious if a decolonial study has been undertaken to understand gender relations in Papa New Guinea prior to their first contact with Whites…But more than that I wonder, HOW IS IT THAT A GUY LIKE NEILON PITAMBER, who uses the word cunt on women he cannot otherwise dominate, be part of a Yoga initiative to end gender violence in Papa New Guinea?
Hetero-Patriarchy and White Supremacy
“Heteropatriarchy is the building block of U.S. empire.” Andrea Smith
We could easily say the same thing about Britain, ‘heteropatriarchy is the building block of British Empire.’
“As I have argued elsewhere, in order to colonize peoples whose societies are not based on social hierarchy, colonizers must first naturalize hierarchy through instituting patriarchy. In turn, patriarchy rests on a gender binary system in which only two genders exist, one dominating the other. Consequently, Charles Colson is correct when he says that the colonial world order depends on heteronormativity. Just as patriarchs rule the family, the elites of the nation-state rule their citizens. Any liberation struggle that does not challenge heteronormativity cannot substantially challenge colonialism or white supremacy.” AS
There are certain behaviors endemic to the dogma and dominance of cis-heteropatriarchy. Sexism, rape culture, homophobia, violence against gender non-conforming individuals and transmisogyny. In order to dismantle cis-heteropatriarchy we have to be wiling to see how euro-centric, Judeo/Christian hetero-hegemony interfaces with the three pillars/logics of white supremacy.
After a few days, Peter Blackaby decided to gag the conversation and closed comments, so Kerry Dawn Porter started another post.
Shortly there after without notice, Kerry and I were kicked out of the group. The reason given to those that remained? We were aggressive, disrespectful and just out right mean, but let me again highlight some of the other member comments, so you can see that the group isn’t opposed to meanness, especially sexist and racist forms of aggression and in the case of Sheena, no one in the group seems to be opposed to direct threats of bodily harm.
The discussion continued after I was removed.
The admins were not the least bit alarmed that Neilon, an Acro-Yoga teacher with the British Wheel of Yoga, who is part of an organization to undo sexual violence in Papa New Guinea, repeatedly uses a word like cunt.
In fact, not only is Peter Blackaby un-fazed by these misogynistic attacks, he actually sees them as part of the decency that good Yoga people must enact in order to stand up to those who would try to dismantle the group’s racism, sexism and general xenophobia.
This is how white people alleviate their responsibility to the trauma of racism…they reduce structural discrimination and the violence therein to an ‘interesting subject’ that depending upon the tone of the messenger, they may or may not engage with.
After all was said and done, Peter Blackaby deleted the original post and cleaned up the current thread that exposed the hypocrisy of the group, by erasing any mention of the word cunt, but here’s the sinker…If you want me to think about race, about my racial identity, the socio-political dynamics of my racial privilege or the economic gains I receive because of my racial positionality, you don’t need to argue with me for days on Facebook, a simple statement or question is all I need to consider myself on these levels.
Sadly, this is not true for Peter Blackaby and thousands of Yoga men and women, who have spent years deflecting these conversations, insisting race is not an issue in Yoga and that those who suggest it might be, are trolls trying to derail an otherwise civilized conversation.
Some forums like Diane Bruni’s Yoga & Movement Research, actually forbid discussions on race…no politics at all, because they don’t see their racial identity as a political construction. Bruni & Associates refuse to acknowledge the logics of white supremacy and trivialize anyone, who provokes their white fragility.
Comments in the Yoga Discussion group continued with Neilon Pitamber
Now then, what is Neilon’s excuse for being nasty? Or Sheena’s? They don’t need an excuse because their nastiness will not cause them to be ostracized by the group as the group needs their nastiness to keep white supremacy intact and you don’t have to be white to participate in upholding the dynamics of power attributed to white supremacy as Neilon Pitamber so generously proves. Note: Neilon is white passing…he is not black despite his Facebook profile picture.
Act lll – Yogaland’s Nasty Sham
We all know aggression and tone are not the issue, because there is plenty of hostility from men and women in these online groups with very little internal pushback that could potentially rectify the behavior.
Todd Daniels is a moderator for the Facebook group, The Yoga Show. He is notoriously sexist and racist and deeply Hinduphobic when it comes to Yoga. He was recently embroiled in the following conversation and to the best of my knowledge has never been kicked out of a single Yoga forum.
When people like Neilon Pitamber assert that discussions around race and gender can a prod a person towards the alt right, what he fails to mention is he was never far from that ideology to begin with.
Nothing anyone says could induce me to veer towards the alt-right. The presence and articulation of identity politics does not make me want to cling to my notions of whiteness. The fact that these men are coddled by the Yoga community says something about the collective complacency of the Western Yoga world in upholding white-supremacist hetero-patriarchy.
After I was removed from the Yoga Discussion Group, American author Carol Horton saddled up to the English alt-rightian boys. She said nothing about the rampant misogyny, the repeated use and now defense of the word cunt, but rather lamented the ambiguity of the liberal center.
How can Carol see anti-racism as aggressively Left, when the rest of us see being anti-racist as a moral imperative.
Carol loves to see herself as the Yoga darling in the center, but the center is precisely that white-euro-american status quo that produces the sociogenics of colonial racism Fanon despised.
How does a site like Decolonizing Yoga perpetuate white supremacy? By running articles that conflate radical, anti-colonial thinkers like Frantz Fanon with white liberal women, who co-opt radical ideas and use them to uphold white settler colonial hegemony.
The worst part of this white women political theater is that neither the author, nor the editor can spell Fanon’s name correctly…it’s Frantz, not Franz…
Carol Horton is also part of Yoga Alliance’s Standards Review Project. She recently encouraged people to take part in their “new” and “improved” Yoga survey. This is not the first time Horton has supported industry organizations notorious for exploiting the Yoga community.
She agreed to be involved in an event on “leadership” in Yoga, which was really just a public relations stunt to introduce a select crowd at the NYC Yoga Journal Conference to the new CEO of Lululemon. Carol wrote about her experience here. I feel compelled to issue a Trigger Warning due to her unbridled willingness to cater to white supremacist corporate patriarchy.
This was her recent post for Yoga Alliance.
While Carol was busy upholding the single greatest manufactured sham in the history of American Yoga, her peers on Valentine’s day launched a movement to Boycott Yoga Alliance.
Maya Georg had this to say in her blog post, It’s Time To Dump Yoga Alliance.
“A few years ago I wrote an article about Yoga Alliance. I wasn’t defending Yoga Alliance then, but I urged people to participate in the process by joining their boards and communicating with their staff and leadership.
I’d like to apologize to those that made an attempt, only to have their time wasted.
Yoga Alliance does nothing for yoga practitioners, nor for yoga teachers and studios that are its members. It cashes checks to grant the appearance of legitimacy, all while doing nothing to monitor quality or standards.”
Act lV – The Decolonial Fetish
Be Scofield is a white woman, who single handedly governs the website Decolonizing Yoga, because in her own words, she is the only one who can do the work…This is from a conversation I had with Be about her site in 2015.
Clearly she needs editorial assistance, because what editor would ever agree to couple the qoutes of Frantz Fanon with Carol Horton, who by her own admission is desperate to stay in the comfort zone of the liberal center. Only someone who has no intention of actually decolonizing and worse, doesn’t seem to know what decolonize means, who can do it, how and why?
“Decolonization and indigenization are words used to benefit the colonizer and settler culture in order for them to look good in the eyes of those who are trying to create positive change in communities.
But truthfully, colonial systems can never be decolonized or indigenized. And indigenous systems do not need to be decolonized or indigenized.”
The above quote is From Indigenous Motherhood
If we consider Yoga in the West by the logics of genocide/colonialism and orientalism/war, we can see the dynamics of the disappearing Indian, especially the Hindu in order to legitimate white consumption with its new territorial claims on the image of Yoga…We could even go so far as to say there is an epistemological genocide occurring within the Yoga philosophical framework, a neo-reification of colonial Indology, which seeks to re-interpret and assimilate Indian ontology into the Western canon of ideas.
When Jacob Kyle’s online learning platform Embodied Philosophy runs an e-course titled, Reconsidering Yoga with an all white cast of characters, we understand that the East they seek to know is really just an ongoing orientalist approach to hermeneutics, where everything is read through the lens of Western revisionism. Embodied Philosophy curated Reconsidering Yoga, without including a single indigenous voice on the subject.
“A movement is afoot within the yoga and scholarly communities to clarify the historical backdrop of yogic practice.
This online conference seeks to highlight contemporary yoga research in an effort to clarify and demystify the historical underpinnings of modern yoga..”
As a result of the above feedback, out of 13 speakers, one male and one female of Indian descent were consequently added. The rest of the contributors are all white, euro-americans and this predominantly euro-centric cast is set to clarify the history and trajectory of Yoga.
Edward Said, in his book Orientalism, foreshadows the dynamics of digestion outlined decades later by Rajiv Malhotra. Said writes, “Truth, in short, becomes a function of learned judgment, not of the material itself, which in time seems to owe even its existence to the Orientalist.”
Act V – Epistemic Genocide
Everywhere we look, Yoga in the Global North is embroiled in white supremacy in deeply systemic ways. From the demographics of studio culture, the freneticism of white-hetero-patriarchal fragility in online Yoga forums, to Yoga industry corporate capitalists pushing everything from mats to registries and an endless array of white pseudo “scholars,” who have never studied what they profess to teach with an indigenous or traditional teacher.
The epistemic violence of such colonial arrogance is routinely paraded by Matthew Remski. I have already extensively critiqued Matthew in a presentation for the Race & Yoga conference at UCBerkeley in 2015 titled, Lost In Translation or The Looting Of Yoga.
Since then, Remski has had ample time to find a qualified teacher to study the Bhagavad Gita with, but because he can get hired by any number of Yoga studios, he sees no reason to put that kind of effort into actually understanding the text. Remski assumes he is an expert, or expert enough for an exploration, even though he has no knowledge of Sanskrit, cannot enter the text without a translation and doesn’t use translations from traditional teachers.
He is scheduled to teach the following workshop on the Bhagavad Gita at the Yoga Garden in Minneapolis in April. This is the same person consulting Yoga Alliance on their Standards Review Project, I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
Remski, Horton, Scofield and Aussie, Patrick Mccartney fancy themselves as part of the intelligentsia of Yoga in the West. They all participate in upholding white supremacy in Yoga and when advantageous, use brown lived experience to defend their own whiteness. Especially in the case of Mccartney, who promotes Hinduphobia and will hide behind Dalit and Muslim causes in an attempt to obscure how his own white male supremacy operates within his “scholarship.”
The following image is a taken from a larger article written by Mccartney, where he goes so far as to say,
“However, we cannot assume that the casual consumer of yoga-inspired lifestyles knows, or cares, about the questionable activities of Hindu supremacists. They should care, because the global aspiration is to create a pan-global Hindu world, which is eerily similar to ISIS’s caliphate.”
Towards his Hinduphobic end, Patrick criticizes anyone, who unwittingly supports the idea of Hindu supremacy through the use of symbols, textual narratives and methods of Yoga that belong to Hindu identity, but here’s the deeply racist twist, Patrick himself teaches Hindu prayers and practices in the very Yoga studios he criticizes as contributing to the globalization of Hindu supremacy.
Patrick’s own wife, the Tattooed Yogini, who he co-teaches with, has a large tattoo of Ganesha on her back and a tattoo of Hanuman on her left forearm as well as a few lines of script that look like Devanagari, but that I cannot confirm. Perhaps Patrick would like to comment on this since his Yoga Studies revolve around how Sanskrit is used to promote a Hindu supremacist state.
It would seem his “scholarship” is disingenuous at best, because when pushed, he has to concede or be caught red handed that there is a difference between Indian nationalism and Sanatana Dharma. Of course he grants this distinction sparingly, I’m guessing it only applies to him and his wife.
After a long discussion in the Facebook forum, Occupy Yoga, Patrick had to admit, albeit by mansplaining, because he needs to make it seem I am not able to discern, when his whole Academic thesis is built around the conflation of Hinduism with Hindutva.
Patrick is not alone as a white male when he deflects his own white-hetero-patriarchal supremacy to cry Hindu nationalist at every Hindu or Hindu leaning person in the room, who dares to confront his colonial gaze. Although none of Mccartney’s own work is focused on Dalit discrimination, he will use Dalit struggle as a convenient mask to obscure his own white supremacist agenda, I believe in the academic world it is called Tenure.
For every Westerner who uses brown struggle to deflect their own complacency to white- supremacist, imperial destruction of brown bodies, culture and identity, I see you.
When the Western Yoga world is ready to have an honest conversation about white supremacy in Yoga, we’ll know it, because the following pyramid schema will be openly and thoroughly discussed. Until then, don’t be fooled by white Yoga practitioners, who pretend white supremacy is not a thing and that they aren’t asserting said supremacy when they cry Hindutva at anyone who interrupts their orientalist approach to the appropriation, commodification and definition of Yoga.
Every time someone like Patrick promotes Hinduphobia and is excused of his racism because of the politics of Hindu nationalism in India, please know, it is a win for Western Imperialism and nothing more.