Attacks Against Rainier Beach Yoga Instructor Shouldn’t be Tolerated

(This article originally appeared on the Seattle Globalist and has been reprinted with permission)

by Reagan Jackson

RB Yoga
A screenshot of Rainier Beach Yoga’s website on Monday. “My intention was always to be inclusive,” the owner wrote. (Screenshot of Rainier Beach Yoga.)

“I couldn’t care less if people color said we want to do a yoga class and we don’t want ‘whitey’ there, I have zero problem with that at all,” conservative radio host Dori Monson read in an email sent to him by listener. “Of course the difference is that this yoga class in Seattle is going to be celebrated because it’s so progressive to exclude white people.”

Monson’s listener had received an email from Rainier Beach Yoga, announcing the studio’s plans to host yoga for People of Color once a week.

After Monson’s segment condemning the class as racist, the instructor of POC Yoga and the owner of Rainier Beach Yoga have been harassed and received death threats. People of Color yoga, which has been running for five years, has been cancelled and all the other classes at Rainier Beach Yoga have been put on hold.

Because of the threats and harassment neither the instructors or students of POC yoga feel safe enough to continue their practice at this time.

“It is truly heartbreaking that POC yoga is in the limelight under these circumstances,” Teresa Wang, the co-founder of the class, said in an email responding to my questions. “We have [been] meeting for nearly five years without any incidents of participants feeling discriminated against or excluded. We have never advertised our classes. Any outreach has been limited to other private groups that have members who identify as people of color.”

Wang says the class is meant to make the practice of yoga — which can make people feel more vulnerable — more inclusive, not less.

“POC Yoga strongly believes that our group should have a space in our communities that is safe for people of color. Yes, the people in our group have asked that our white friends and allies respectfully not attend to allow people of color this space. We asked; we did not demand it, and we never turned anyone away.”

As a Rainier Beach resident who would have jumped at the chance to take the class if I’d known about it, I am deeply disappointed that its been cancelled. I’m also disturbed by Monson’s use of privilege to completely truncate the discussion on why such a class might be necessary.

For an analogy, I visited Rainier Health and Fitness (RHF), a community gym where they have instituted a practice of women’s only workout hours. The classes aim to address the reasons that women might otherwise avoid the gym.

“It’s just that, just really being intentional about who are instructing the classes, making sure that they are women creating an encouraging environment, not an intimidating environment,” said Alicia Haskin, operations manager at the gym. Childcare is also provided during those hours, she said.

Gym manager Patrick Otieno said other members have been understanding why a class specifically geared toward women is needed.

“I’ve never met any member whose cancelled because of ladies night, but I think it’s because we do a good job of explaining it,” he said.

Many Muslim women and orthodox Jewish women feel more comfortable working out in single-sex environments because of their religious views.

The Rainier Beach Community Center also hosts women-only swimming hours that serve the needs of a community with a diverse set of cultural attitudes and values around exercise.

“It depends on the demographic you’re dealing with,” Otieno said. “For a typical Somali guy, he would really understand why you’re offering ladies night because they do understand in their culture that women cannot exercise where the men are. So if you offer a safe environment, it’s good.”

But can a white person like Monson understand why a person of color might want to practice yoga in a safe environment? Can there be an acknowledgement that daily injustices — from the trivial to the life-threatening — faced by people of color in this country has an effect how we define safety?

“The uproar that we have seen is exactly why POC’s seek safe spaces such as POC Yoga. In fact, the death threats that we have received are only a reminder of how unwelcome we are among many white people. How could we possibly want to practice yoga in a majority white yoga studio?” Wang said.

Though yoga is a practice from India, in Seattle the demographics of most yoga classes are predominantly white and female. There is no sign saying that someone that looks like me isn’t welcome. But ask me how welcome I feel when entering that environment ostensibly to engage in a practice where I will be vulnerable and in my body.

“Prior to the founding of POC Yoga, all yoga studios in the Seattle metropolitan area were overwhelmingly white spaces where people of color frequently felt uncomfortable. As a result, many people of color chose not to enter these studios and did not have access to the benefits of yoga, which have been well documented and are widely recognized,” said Wang. She and other yoga practitioners decided to address this by creating a safe environment to explore yoga for people of color and people identifying as queer.

Rainer Beach Yoga is being vilified for using discriminatory language for doing what every other gym in Rainier Beach seems to be doing — taking steps to address the needs of the community it serves.

But for now, that won’t be the case. After the uproar, the owner of Rainier Beach Yoga studio, Laura Humpf, posted an apology on the website.

“My intention in offering my space to POC Yoga was to offer a widely inclusive healing space where all people could receive the benefits of yoga,” explained Humpf. “I never intended to exclude anyone based on race or ethnicity. I have several classes on my schedule that are open to everyone, and my intention in bringing this class to Rainier Beach Yoga was to encourage more inclusivity within our diverse community in Seattle.”

What’s next after banning POC yoga? Should we ban prenatal yoga too? Women who aren’t able to get pregnant might feel excluded. The class also ignores men’s needs. What about yoga for people with disabilities or kids?

There are all kinds of yoga classes for all kinds of demographics of people. But because Monson doesn’t see the value in POC yoga, now I don’t get to practice self-care in a community where I might feel more comfortable.

“Yoga for me is a universal concept,” yoga instructor Sweta Saraogi said. Saraogi mostly teaches private classes because she prefers to share the tradition one on one. She is the yoga teacher I turned to for private lessons when I no longer felt comfortable doing group yoga. “I feel yoga should be open to everyone. And its not about just color, shape size, gender, even physical capabilities.”

When asked her view of POC yoga she didn’t view it as exclusionary. “The idea of creating a certain class is not to exclude somebody. The idea of creating a class is to make sure that they feel comfortable practicing. Its not about exclusion, it’s about giving opportunities in different ways so that people can practice yoga.

32 thoughts on “Attacks Against Rainier Beach Yoga Instructor Shouldn’t be Tolerated”

  1. It is physically impossible to be a RACIST if you are part of an oppressed class. You can be prejudiced, but there is no way to be racist. From the very definition that is only possible if you belong to the privileged entitled class of white people. calling these people “racist” for wanting an ethnic only class is a blatant misuse of the term. Sorry but they’re not being racist.

    1. Thats completely wrong. Racism is defined by believing an attribute is true in all people of a given race. Basic, true, racism doesn’t depend on variables of class, its an attitude held towards a group as a whole, and racist is behaving towards an individual based on that percieved attribute.

      I dont have a dog in this fight, but your description of racism is purely wrong.

      1. thedude – you disagree with the definition – fine (although you know don’t know that this IS a LEGITIMATE definition of racism and many sociologists would disagree with you). Let us set that aside – why would you take time to argue with the definition while taking no stand on the DEATH THREATS??? Where are your priorities? What matters to you? Does this really impact you in any way? Does it make your life worse? Do you even do yoga or are you just being argumentative? How many yoga classes around Seattle do you think have a majority of white people in them? Is it so wrong to have a yoga class that invites people of color? As if there aren’t a million other yoga classes around for white folks to go take part in. The people willing to threaten the lives of others when there is nothing about this that infringes on their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The death threats are an act of cowardly racist stupidity. You may not agree with the definition of racism, but the motives here are pure and there is a need for these classes. I went to RHF for years until I moved and it is a terrific place for people of all colors to get healthy and to grow together in humanity. Of course these people don’t know that. They don’t know the back story. Their lives are so full of hatred and self-centeredness and unrighteous anger that they are blind to anything but their own perceived needs.

    2. Nicole. A couple things. A. Racism is not a physical act. B. Racist acts and attitudes do not depend on your class, only your acts and attitudes. C. White is not a class, there’s a whole world outside of your neighborhood. D. Using the term to mean what it actually means rather than an ironically racist equivocation is not misuse of the term. E. Claiming that racism is not racism if it’s against the race you hold as deserving does not alter what racism is. What you’re actually doing is defending certain motivations as legitimate cause for racism. There might be some, but arguing that words don’t mean what they mean is a silly way to espouse it.

    3. Sounds to me like you don’t know what the definition of racism is. Prejudice based on race is racism. Period. It doesn’t matter what race you are…there aren’t different definitions of racism for white people and for everyone else.

      You might be thinking of the sociological concept of “institutional racism,” but even that isn’t really useful in 99% of situations. Like this…a yoga class that isn’t open to white people? That’s an institution that’s oppressing white people, and thus, racist.

      Bottom line, if you’re trying to justify actions by saying “it’s ok, because we’re only disadvantaging white people,” then you’re racist, and part of the problem. Maybe even more of a racist than those evil whiteys, because you like to pretend that you have the moral high ground.

      1. Hey Lisa, I read your comment and wanted to constructively challenge you on a few of the points you brought up.

        First i’d like to talk about your definition of “racism”. A popular definition of racism, (which i already saw mentioned on these comments) is not simply prejudice based on race, but the combination of racial prejudice, and the institutional power to use that prejudice to control and disadvantage someone. Neither of these things are on display in this situation.

        The folks running and attending the class haven’t said anything prejudiced against white people. They even clearly acknowledge that people attending the class have friends and loved ones who are white. They’ve simply asked that to maintain a space that feels safe for people of color, that white people not attend.

        What this class is a response to, is the racist (against people of color) society that we live in. Its offering a space where people of color can practice yoga, hopefully without worry about comments, racist questions and microagressions lobbed at them.

        What people are getting hung up on here is not looking at this situation holistically, which is to say, folks aren’t looking at the wider context that this yoga class exists in. If white people had been systematically oppressed by people of color for generations, had been colonized, enslaved, discriminated against in education, housing, job opportunities; and were still feeling the economic, social, mental, and physical effects of this ongoing and systemic oppression, then yes, a yoga class that asked white people not to attend, would most definitely be racist. This isn’t the case. Thats not the world we live, in fact, its pretty much the opposite of that.

        I would also challenge that asking white people not to attend this class is “oppressing” them in any way. There is no shortage of yoga classes in this city that are filled with white people, and the point that the article very clearly made, was that many people of color were made to feel uncomfortable in those classes. White people can easily attend any of these other classes and feel comfortable. Also, this one single yoga class, is not an “institution” in the same way that say, the police force, or the health care system, or the prison system are. Those are more what folks are talking about when they mention institutional racism. This class, this one, single class in a yoga filled city, was intended to be a place that people who are systematically and interpersonally discriminated against all the time, could go and feel a little safer from that oppression for a short time.

        By arguing that the organizers of this class are being racist against white people, you are not only ignoring the current state of racism in this country, but also effectively ignoring the centuries of oppression inflicted on people of color by white people.

        I hope that engaging with this offers a good opportunity for you to explore some new perspectives on this issue. Best – Dan (a white person)

      2. Lisa – you go to great lengths to establish your own definition of racism and you have nothing to say about the death threats. Where is the real evil here? Where are your priorities? I’ll guess that the vast majority of the yoga classes in the Seattle area are mostly white women. How is it doing harm to provide yoga directed toward people of color. The people threatening RHF are cowards and fools. You are defending a cowardly act of foolishness. Bravo…good to know you’re making the world a better place.

      3. Rushed Quasi, do you even understand what Lisa is saying? How can you like it?

      4. Rishad Quazi, Do you understand what Lisa is saying? How can you “Like” her comment? Are you certain that is what you meant to do?

    4. It is common for members of one oppressed group to demonstrate racism towards another oppressed group. I have often heard Latinos make racist comments towards blacks, or blacks towards Asians for example. Anyone can be racist, regardless of race. The whole concept of race is bullshit anyways. What does it even mean?

    1. This is absolutely ridiculous. Dori Monson did not call for aggressive action. He was doing his job by exposing a story that needed to be exposed. This group is clearly racist. “Asking our white friends to not attend”. I’m sorry, but I find this yoga group offensive and discriminatory. I would never send death threats but I think this group should be shut down. Not including a group based on race is RACIST. I’m so sick of the war against white people, putting all white people in the same box and calling them privileged is prejudice.

      1. This can’t be real; it simply must be satire. If you don’t agree with the practices of this yoga studio, or this particular class, then don’t attend it. Isn’t that the message that is constantly being told to protesters? When you have ideas like “war against white people”, I’m fairly certain you’ve not been attending, or at least paying attention in, a yoga class anyway, so I doubt your business will be missed.

  2. I hope care will be used in not confusing marketing elements with yoga elements. Yoga, by its very nature is all inclusive. Setting aside therapeutic issues (pre-natal, auto immune, etc), where the student NEEDS special attention, all yoga is welcoming, accepting, and safe for the student. The idea of yoga for tall people, short people, wide people, country people, urban people … these things are marketing.

    Like most industries, we have our share of poorly trained instructors with questionable intentions and unwholesome methods. But this is not yoga it is humans. We should not “judge” yoga by those lacking compassion, understanding, or the ability to craft trust in their space with their students.

    I am originally from Baltimore and I can tell you that class attendance there is more diverse than here in Seattle – BUT so is the city. In Bellevue my classes have more Indian students … BUT so does the city. My corporate classes have more men … but so does the company. The point is that the context must be included in the conversation if we expect to create mindful change.

    I hope students of all sorts feel comfortable coming to class to explore their sincere interest in Yoga. And I support my peers in their efforts to make the practice accessible to all, in whatever productive, ethical ways they feel drawn to do so.

  3. Racisim; belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.

    This is the đefinition found on the Internet. Deal with it.

  4. Racism is a part of our american society. It impacts everyone, We are either members of the power and privilaged groups that carry agency, or members of the opressed groups, marginalized, on the fringe, or tagets. This is the TRUTH.

    Providing safe spaces for people to take risks is absolutely essential. Without enough physical or emotional safety, no one can take the risks necessary to step out of their comfort zone. Often those of us who carry so much agency (power and privilage), are unaware other people’s experiences.

    I am saddened by Dori Monson and the email he shared from a “progressive” Seattleite. I fully support Rainier Beach Yoga’s intention of bringing the practice of yoga to people who may not attend a class otherwise.

    May we all look inward into our hearts and minds, before making sweeping, harmful and ignorant comments.

  5. Anyone seen the kinda trim they got in these classes? Nothing should prevent hot caramel skinned chicks in tight clothes from bendin, stretchin & sweatin.

    1. Let me guess. You like big butts and you cannot lie.
      If the world is going to accept people of all shapes and sizes AND COLORS, then we need to accept people of all shapes and sizes and colors. End of story. That doesn’t mean attempting to make white girls feel bad for not having butt cheeks the size of beach balls.

  6. At the end of the day we have white people complaining and even making death threats about one yoga class that they cannot take.

    Our public schools are failing our minority populations with many minority majority schools in Seattle being identified as Title 1.

    Ask POCs again why we think white people feel so entitled?

  7. So racist.
    Also suggesting non-blacks are COLORLESS. What are they, clear? Well, if you don’t want to be discriminated by clear people, then you aren’t justified in discriminating against them. Plain and simple. And then the black owners act like the victims here. So predictable. Like everyone owes something to black people because they’re black.
    So racist.

  8. Something is indeed owed to Black folks, considering how this country was built by enslaved Black people who were never paid for their labor. Google ‘reparations,’, like maybe MacArthur Genius fellow Tahneisi Coates’ essay in the Atlantic, The Case for Reparations.

  9. Yoga classes for different needs are common in the yoga world and in many service industries as a way to target groups that are under represented or not well served in general classes. My particular yoga specialties are for people living and dealing with cancer, anxiety/depression, and back issues. Students in these classes are often overwhelmed in a general classes by the speed and difficulty of poses. But, my studio has many classes general classes as well. To make this a racial issue seems wrong-headed and ridiculous as RBY offers many other classes with no restrictions. Rainier Beach Yoga is not saying if you are white stay away from our studio…

  10. I am completely horrified by this event. I am not a person of color, but I consider myself a friend of the cause. I can’t imagine a person who regularly practices yoga being insulted or feeling discriminated against for not being able to attend a class on one day a week for one time slot. Do I balk at the set-aside for prenatal yoga? Of course not!
    It is difficult to believe how excited I was to move to Seattle two years ago, thinking I would finally be in a liberal, progressive demographic with like minded people. I would never have imagined how far that is from the truth.

    1. Its not that far from the truth, Erin… take heart and make a stand! Your presence makes it one more toward the liberal progressive side.
      There are pockets of extremism every where… help expose and educate them away.