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For the inaugural post in our new Tough Questions Answered series, we asked a few thought leaders in the yoga community to weigh in on white male privilege in honor of International Women’s Day.
On Wednesday, March 8th, International Women’s Day, the organizers of the Women’s March are urging women to participate in A Day Without a Woman to recognize the value that women of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, religions, immigration statuses, and sexual identities add to our socioeconomic system. They are encouraging women to take the day off from paid and unpaid labor, avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses), and/or wear red to demonstrate economic solidarity and prove a point about gender justice.
“On International Women’s Day, March 8th, women and our allies will act together for equity, justice and the human rights of women and all gender-oppressed people, through a one-day demonstration of economic solidarity,” the organizers say on their website. “In the same spirit of love and liberation that inspired the Women’s March, we join together in making March 8th A Day Without a Woman, recognizing the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socioeconomic system—while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity. We recognize that trans and gender-nonconforming people face heightened levels of discrimination, social oppression, and political targeting. We believe in gender justice.”
Russell Simmons, yogi, hip hop pioneer, entrepreneur, and chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, raised a similar point last month when he was promoting his “Today, I Am A Muslim Too Rally” to protest President Trump’s travel ban. In a press release about the event, he stated: “Everyone except white privileged males are in immediate danger. African-Americans, women, Latinos, Asians, and LGBTQ are all at risk, but there is no freedom in that privileged status either because the spirit of the oppressor is oppressed as well.”
Simmons’ words are even more powerful a few weeks later, now that Trump has signed a new executive order temporarily barring people from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States and rolled back protections for transgender students. Simmons is also supporting A Day Without a Woman by offering complimentary yoga classes and style bar treatments at his West Hollywood yoga studio, Tantris, on Wednesday, March 8th.
For the inaugural post in our new Tough Questions Answered series (and in honor of International Women’s Day/A Day Without a Woman), we asked a few thought leaders in the yoga and meditation community if they agree with Simmons’ statement, and what yogis can do to take action, on or off the mat.
Q: Is everyone except white privileged males in immediate danger?
Kerri Kelly, founder and president of CTZNWELL
A: Is it true that white males are the most privileged segment of our population? Absolutely. White men have benefited from this country’s legacy of colonialism, racism and free market economics more than anyone else. However, I think a more important quote from Simmons is, “As a yogi, I feel and believe all Americans should feel personally threatened by Trump’s choices to target Muslims. Targeting any one of us is in fact targeting all of us.” It affirms our interdependence and the idea that none of us are well unless all of us are well. Simmons is encouraging us to ask harder questions about who we are in relationship to one another — like, “How do I benefit from the system because of my particular brand of privilege” and “How does my privilege create an illusion of immunity or safety that keeps me disengaged?” Simmons’ quote is not permission to play the victim; it’s an invitation to check your privilege and get to work on behalf of the whole.
The truth is, everyone is at risk. This administration is threatening our economy, our planet, and our humanity. No one gets off scot-free. However (and this is a big however), some are certainly more at risk than others—the most vulnerable, being people of color, immigrants, Muslims, women seeking reproductive freedom, trans and gender-nonconforming people, and people with disabilities. It’s important to understand that we experience different degrees of privilege (or lack thereof).
What you can do:
This is a time to practice solidarity. Solidarity is not just what we do, but who we are. It understands that love is justice. It affirms that our liberation is bound and that no one is free unless everyone is free. It demands that we show up, speak out, and fight for justice, equality, and freedom. It encourages us to strive for relationships and communities that tend to the well-being of everyone. And it knows that well-being is only possible with the full participation and realization of all of its parts.
Nicki Doane, co-owner, Maya Yoga in Maui
A: Russell Simmons’ statement (and rally) concerning the immediate danger and risk that affects all but white privileged males in America was passionate, heartfelt, and within his First Amendment rights as an American to do so. Whether I agree with it or not will prove to be seen as the future is unfolding in the present moment all around us. The second half of his statement—that the spirit of the oppressor is oppressed as well—rings more true for me in regard to yoga practice, because I do believe that our actions and our thoughts and words can create our own prison. Freedom is a state of mind, and when one is oppressing another, they can never truly be free. Yoga is the ceasing of the agitations and the calming of the fluctuations of the mind, and when one is restricting another’s freedom and causing agitation to another, the energy is not clear and the oppressor suffers as well, whether they accept it or live in denial.
What you can do:
Practice tolerance. The way to change people’s minds and hearts is through living examples. We cannot expect children who grow up exposed to hatred and intolerance to be anything but affected. This opening of American’s hearts and minds must be done on a grassroots level, one person at a time. If we are teaching tolerance in our yoga classes, then we must be tolerant in our daily lives, or at the very least, try to do our best daily to be kinder, more tolerant, and more compassionate. If we do not begin with our own self, then we cannot expect anyone else to change either.
Sharon Salzberg, meditation teacher
A: I grew up with my grandparents, who were immigrants from Poland. Now and then in my childhood, a distant relative would appear and stay with us for a while, someone who seemed different, or off, or even haunted or episodically quite crazy. My grandmother would whisper that person’s history in the Holocaust, often something like, “As a child, she hid under the bed and watched the soldiers kill her parents.” Or, “she stayed in the closet as they took her parents away.” The singular heroic story of my childhood was about the King of Denmark (though I understand now it may not be historically accurate, but it formed my idea of the most noble way to live). The story says that when Jews were ordered to wear yellow stars, the King himself wore a yellow star, and so masses of people followed his example, and the order was unenforceable. In a time when lots of people are declared to be the “other” and are under threat, that story about the King of Denmark is something we all need to think about.
What you can do:
Look around your community, read local news, and see if there is a group of people who seem especially vulnerable right now. Start by offering them lovingkindness. This practice will remind you to include rather than exclude them, to recognize that they wish to be happy and secure just as we all do. Then see if there is an action you can take to more actively express that care. Even if it seems kind of small and insufficient to solve all problems, it helps establish a genuine connection.