Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

On “Yoga Girl,” Race, Writing, White People, And Knowing When Not To Share

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***Yesterday, I had separate conversations with Panama and Maya Francis about everyone’s favorite Skinny White Yoga Girl and the reactions her piece generated. (If you’re not aware of this story, here’s a quick synopsis. Skinny White woman writes very, very awkwardly about feeling very, very awkward about seeing a heavyset Black woman at her yoga class, internet reacts.)

The conversation with Panama and I took place on Gchat. Maya and I also talked on Gchat, but she decided to send me something longer later in the evening. Both the conversation between Panama and I and Maya’s piece are below.***

Damon Young: You saw that yoga piece everyone is talking about, right?

Panama Jackson: Of course, lol. Poor white girl. Opened a shitstorm and was probably as sincere as sincere could be. THAT is an example of white privilege. Macklemore is not.

Damon Young: The most favor-ed comment on XO Jane literally had me laughing out aloud for 10 minutes. I think I even woke up my girl.

Panama Jackson: Yeah I saw that shit…I laughed hard as f*ck too. Thing is…its a weird but honest ass look into how white people feel. To that end, its actually educational. Like this white broad REALLY felt that way. Its white guilt at its best

Damon Young: We want white people to be honest. but we really dont. We just want them to listen and not speak

Panama Jackson: EXACTLY. Shut up and let us think you suck. We don’t care how you feel. But its like…look…I’m f*cking sharing here. THIS IS really how I think.

Panama Jackson: Do you remember some years ago I wanted to put together a collection of essays about race from white and black people anonymously?

Panama Jackson: This is EXACTLY what i’d expect to get from some overly empathetic white folks. Naive but necessary to keep the convo going. And folks are going ham. I appreciate this shit. I mean she needs a good talking to. But that kind of honesty from white people? Priceless

Damon Young: I wonder if people are more upset by the thought or the expression of the thought

Panama Jackson: That’s a good question

Damon Young: I think it’s the thought. Like, it’s great that you were honest and bared your soul and shit. but what the f*ck is wrong with you?

Panama Jackson: Yeah. At the same time…her biggest problem was using race as identifiers. If she hadn’t used race, it would just be body size insensitive, and it doesnt get traction. You throw skinny white girl and heavyset black woman in there? HIROSHIMA.

Damon Young: Thing is, every 25 to 35 year old black chick I know does yoga at least occasionally. Like, literally every single one.

***I received an email from Maya a few hours later***

When I decided I wanted to be a writer, I was 10 years old and had just suffered the loss of my great-grandmother. It was a deeply personal, life-altering thing, one that had me contemplating my own mortality, long before a person should have to think about such things.

As I sifted through her personal affects, I craved something tangible that would remind me of the music in her voice, the firm delicacy of her touch, the way she always knew exactly what to say when it needed to be heard. I wanted to read something that would instantly put her in the room with me.

I took the week off from school in mourning, and when I returned found myself even more invested in my favorite books as a means to escape the sadness that plagued me. At some point in the following months, we learned about the advent of the printing press and the role of the written word for the modern world.

“Words are given greater importance when they are written down,” my teacher said. It was at that moment, that I realized that my byline would become my closest shot at living forever. It was then that I started collecting my favorite quotes from people who’d long since been dead (a practice that I continue even now), and think about the legacies left behind. I thought about what my name, on paper, would mean when I was gone.

Things have changed since then, particularly in terms of what it means to be a writer. Like any writer, I am still a bit self-serving, but more than anything I strive to be an active student of the people, circumstances, and subjects I choose to write about. I write because I never want to stop learning; I write because I cannot see myself doing much else without going completely insane. I write because I’m naturally very nosey, and this is a great way to put it to good use. I write because I think its important to think critically.

Digital media has changed the way we think about writing, and the way scribes go about the practice. What was once an isolated, pensive undertaking is now filled with the loud noise of other people’s thought pieces (which we feel compelled to respond to), deadlines (that come faster than the traditional news cycle), and the crowded lanes of traffic that make up online content. It’s fucking loud in the echo chamber, and there are times that I have to walk away from my computer for a few weeks to figure out what the hell I really think. With a 24-hour news cycle and tweets coming in at 2am, it’s easy to get confused sometimes.

The really intimidating thing about writing in the online space is how quickly (and intensely) readers respond to your world. Most writers, I’d think, don’t read the comments section. I respond to everyone who e-mails me directly, but I never read the comments; it’s like giving birth to your favorite child and the world immediately telling you what an ugly piece of shit they are, and how worthless you are for having her.

In the best case, the forever-ever nature of the internet (thanks, Google Cache!) and the ridicule that comes with it can force a writer to be deeply intentional about the things they put out into the internet. In the worse case, a person will throw shit at a wall and see what sticks.

When a piece falls flat – or worse, when it’s received as roundly offensive to a group of people – there’s an urging to find some greater value as to why it fell flat. We want the failure to mean something. Usually, someone will say that it “helped to start a conversation.” I’ll say now, while everyone is entitled to their opinions, some conversations just aren’t worth entertaining because of the basic expectation that grown people don’t say everything they’re thinking aloud.

It’s easy to fire up our laptops. It’s easy to have an opinion and make it matter because it’s in black and white. Digital media has, in many ways, made us forget (at one time or another) about the labor in our labor of love. The responsibility we have. We owe it to our audiences to not only be exciting, but to be interesting, poignant, reflective, honest, and insightful. It’s not enough to want to live forever; we have a responsibility to push existing conversations forward. To make good art.

If we can’t do that, then we should chop it up Love Jones style with our homies over wine and cheese and whatever other bougie shit we like to do when we’re feeling self-important. Let those conversations help us check our own privileges, assumptions, and naval-gazing. If our names are to mean anything at all, we’ve gotta make sense of the world around us, not further agitate the things we already don’t understand.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for EBONY.com. He resides in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes.

  • iamnotakata

    Albeit irritating and narcissistic of that white trick to feel the way she did about the unsuspecting black woman that entered her class. This is how I always thought white folks felt about black people. I can see it in their eyes, and even their behavior especially when myself of another person of color approaches them, enters a room or even walks by. But actually seeing it written out step by step just made me mad as h*ll and further adds to the distrust I have for many white folks….why can’t I just want to get my life together and do some damn yoga? Why do I have to be envious of her skinny pale a*s because I’m in that class? The letter was true wps..

    • Sahel

      If they could wish black people into oblivion….

    • CrayolaGirl

      Her post irritated me because I couldn’t follow her logic. I tried to figure out the purpose of the post. But chalked it up to po’ tink tink and LMAO from the comments.
      She changed her photo and name but the internet didn’t let her succeed. People had looked up this woman’s info in seconds. Her post didn’t spark any energy for me to go look up any additional info about her.

      • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

        Its amusing to watch black twitter detective agency at work, but I just don’t get how/why they got the time do it

        • CrayolaGirl

          I’ve seen this happen many time on twitter. They also give updates – loss of person’s job, closed accounts, etc. Sometimes, it seems so random how they pick the person to drag. Chey B was stupid, why not let him and his followers live.

  • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

    White woman: Ughh look at that lazy fat black woman over there! Why doesn’t she care about her body! Go hit the treadmill Fatty McFatFat

    Black woman: *quietly enters yoga class, anxious about the aspect of yoga, excited about taking steps to a healthier lifestyle*

    White woman: Ughhh look at this pathetic fat black woman behind me. Doesn’t she know that she can’t hit these poses like me? Can’t she see that she doesn’t belong? She’s so racist I can feel it. She’s staring at me. She’s judging me. Black women are so fat and judgmental.

    • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

      Lol for those of you who down voted, this was actually the dialogue from the story this woman wrote.

      • https://www.dlisted.com/ AGuest

        Downvotes must have come from the crazy pink toe and her identity change after the outrage.

    • Rachmo

      Well you said everything I wanted to say

    • Mimij

      I am curious to see the physical staus of the unknown black woman. It is well known fact that a person’s perception of being fat is different from another person’s perception. I know a few 2520’s who believe Buffie the Body, Emily B., Miracle Watts, Mizz Twerksum and Melyssa Ford are fat and out of shape. The men out of that bunch said that they will smash it (of course), but they believed that those women were fat.

      • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

        Lol it’s funny you say this because I know plenty of black people who are very adamant about what’s “fat” and what’s “thick”. However, their reality is their reality.

        BTW: I hope my fellow southern VSB’s are all doing fine. A special shout out to all the people who helped folks out of cars, up hills, housed them, fed them etc. You are awesome!

      • Deeds

        Especially in the article she just stated that the woman was slight overweight. So, I really don’t have any idea what that means.

        • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

          It means that the white woman views herself as this ideal for the prototypical human in the female form. White people believe that they are the Alpha and Omega of the human species.

        • miss t-lee

          To a white woman that probably meant she was an 8 with booty…lol

          • Deeds

            I guess that means I’m the slightly overweight black chick then.

            • miss t-lee

              You already know they have a different scale of measuring…lol

          • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

            *meekly raises my hand* Can I admit to dating a White woman who thought she was a cow because she was a size…12. With big boobs. Quelle horror. ROTFLMAO

            • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

              Is this a size 12 in pants? Dresses? I’m a size 10 in pants now and I am still labeled as slim by most people I know.

              • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

                Size 12 with dresses, pants and tops. She did have some major T&A (which was part of the reason I was checking for her), but other than that, she was very regular otherwise. Which made the weight concerns strange from my end.

                • DB

                  Major T&A is always a good thing. I applaud your choice.

                  What happened to this white woman?

            • miss t-lee

              Honey, I know how this goes…anything above a 4 is dayum near obese to them. Look at the modeling world where a size 10 is considered plus size.

              • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

                Wait? Lol so I’m considered plus size? That’s hilarious.

                • miss t-lee

                  The modeling world is not the real world…lol

                  • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

                    For a bit, I actually was around the plus sized modelling world. It is the weirdest mix of women, from normal sized chicks whose waists are *just* a tad too big, to women with huge (boobs/ass/thighs) to women who you swear have brothers in the NFL to actually big girls. It’s quite a mix.

                  • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

                    It’s still surreal to know that due to perspectives I can be either plus sized or slim though.

                    • miss t-lee

                      I’m undoubtedly a big girl by all standards. *snickers*

          • SuperStrings

            Sounds like gold to me.

          • https://www.dlisted.com/ AGuest

            I see no lies being told.

    • panamajackson

      LOL. That actually is how it comes across.

    • miss t-lee

      This was the shorter version of that article…lol

  • Losh

    I have been the heavyset black chick in yoga before, and let me tell you, the competition between these white chicks is real in these yoga streets. I would do what I could, (still do, having lost 30 pounds–high five me) and then rest and watch these heffas out-flexible each other. Trust me, ya’ll, it is some HILARIOUS ish. Maybe they thought I was staring at their beautiful, thin white bodies with their yoga capris, but I was really watching the show they were putting on.

    “Watch me do wheel pose, effortlessly”

    “Watch me do wheel AND stretch my leg!”

    “Watch me do wheel and stretch both legs at the same time while doing downward dog and dropping into a split”.

    I would drink some water, watch this mess, and then pop back up just in time for corpse pose.

    They might want to act like they’re all sisters and don’t compete with each other, but that is lies and propaganda.They do. HARD.

    • Sigma_Since 93

      It’s the cheer leading squad all over again.

      • Londa

        Exactly!

    • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

      I just pictured the white women after dark skinned aunt viv nailed her dance audition

    • NomadaNare

      Is it bad that I am now tempted to join a yoga class?

      • Epsilonicus

        Oh it is good… real good.

    • panamajackson

      It makes perfect sense to me. Yoga is such a big damn deal nowadays, it almost has to be competiive. I can’t wait til it makes it to the X-games.

    • Shamira

      Yoga instructor “if you feel comfortable in your practice, try to go down into a toe stand”

      WC #1 “watch me werk”

      WC#2 “who dis heffa think she is”

      meanwhile the random older person on the far corner is silently stunting on EVERYBODY

      • LehcarB

        Ive been shamed by that older person.:-/ It was on the treadmills. I hate the treadmill

        • Shamira

          RIGHT. I’ll be running a trail and someone twice my age will be COOKING me. I get sooooo butthurt..

    • afronica

      If you pick the wrong one, yoga class can be like Mean Girls on steroids.

  • Sahel

    That letter was crazy..am not one to indulge in race battles but this one was highly disturbing.Yoga in her world is meant for Asians and skinny white women..or in her words ” create a space that is not just accessible to everybody but to every BODY ” I was gobsmacked.

  • Andrea

    “You saw that yoga piece everyone is talking about, right?” I never hear about these stories. How do you get into that loop? Maybe its cause I am not on Facebook, and don’t have any friends on twitter? That could be the problem.
    This article reminded me that my best friend told me never to comment on a blog about weight. I will just take her advice and finish doing my cousin’s take home math test.

    • http://trulytafakari.com/ dtafakari

      I found it on Twitter.

    • CrayolaGirl

      Someone had the link in their comment yesterday. That’s how this ridiculous post was brought into my life. The comments were funny to say the least.

      I’m on twitter but I don’t really tweet. That’s where I find many interesting articles and post.

      • Andrea

        Me too. I don’t tweet. I just follow the news. I guess I should add Jane Xo or whatever that publication is for future interesting reads.

    • IcePrincess

      Omg I didn’t think ppl like us existed! Girl I’m not on social media either. I’m alright with being a dinosaur. I choose privacy, the most important civil right, IMHO

  • nillalatte

    I’m gonna take a different approach to this mess. Wow, there are so many easily butt hurt people on the internet! Some folks need to grow some thicker skin. Anyway, yes, I believe the girl was being sincere, ever how naive she presents, which is probably why she ended up the target of such criticism.

    I have to wonder if there were ever any overweight women in her class or she just decided to write about this encounter because as she states at the very end she had a social deficit in “not knowing how to engage.” Just as many black folks are awkward with white folks, it works the same way around. We all lack a bit of trust across imaginary racial boundaries. Obviously, no she is not comfortable around black folks. She wanted to reach out, but didn’t know how. But, to then post that on the internet to garner reaction… well, she did.

    There’s my two cents. No, I don’t need change. LOL :)

    • ratchet dialogue

      Heyyyyy Queen!!! :)

      “She wanted to reach out, but didn’t know how” FAINTS! I call bull on that. You want to tell me there are no fat white girls she’s ever seen or interacted with to know how to approach this girl, who just happened to be black, oh and FAT?!

      PS:// i SOOOOOOOO agree with you on Macklemore. That boy owes nobody an apology!

      • Andrea

        I don’t know why i was soo happy to see TMZ having Kweli talk about Macklemore
        http://www.tmz.com/2014/01/29/talib-kweli-defends-macklemore-ryan-lewis-criticized-hip-hop-community/

        • nillalatte

          My take on it… haters gon’ hate. As I said in my post that is on lockdown, who this day and time cares about Grammy’s? Some of the most successful artists have never received one, so at the end of the day, I’m just watching the bottom line. Forget about dust collectors.

      • nillalatte

        VSB done locked me up, girl. Wait for it… lol

        • ratchet dialogue

          They won’t let you out oooooohh (Akon voice)

    • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

      I can see where you’re coming from, and if this story was relayed to me by a White female friend, I could go there with that. That said, you have to realize that different levels of conversation are appropriate in different spaces. There’s a major difference in saying that one on one and on the internet. On the internet, no one really knows you like that.

      • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

        I think it’s safe to say that people fail to realize how much gets lost in translation via text. No one can read your body language, facial expressions and what not. She might have been trying to communicate her ineptitude to handle being in a space with a black person for all I know. I do know that she failed miserably if that was the case. However, I know plenty of people who fail to effectively communicate their thoughts and feelings in person.

        I mean, she at least tried. Maybe the comments have opened her eyes up. Maybe they haven’t.

        • Rachmo

          i sincerely hope this dragging is her teachable moment

          • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

            It probably hasn’t taught her anything. She’s probably taken all the comments personally and decided that no one understands her white plight. I have no faith in white people who refuse to see their privilege.

      • nillalatte

        True.

  • De_Ann

    What I got out of her article was that she was saying she all of sudden “understood” prejudice and racism because yoga is typically a white girl thing.Like, what was the point of that article? So, she now understands what it means to be excluded from something because of this fat black woman who decided to go to yoga one day? Like why does that set her off over countless of other more important racial or even body image issues? I don’t give a crap about racial diversity in yoga, so this article was even more stupid to me.

    • Sigma_Since 93

      You can look at it from this prospective: yoga classes were set up to give women a place to feel safe from the grunting and ogling eyes of men. One would assume (I don’t) when the term women was used, it was meant to include all women of all shapes and sizes would be covered in this new safe haven. She took the blinders off and saw things were not as she imagined.

      • Deeds

        There are plenty of men in yoga classes.

        • Epsilonicus

          But to be honest, many gyms advertise it for women.

          • Sigma_Since 93

            Word. Women be looking at you like go lift a free weight you perv.

            • Epsilonicus

              As a man you KNOW what the deal is when you walk in.

        • Sigma_Since 93

          Statistical outliers when you look at the entire population of yoga participants.

          • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

            I remember the one time I did yoga in a class. Yeah…I stood out JUST a bit. Thank goodness for the internet. :)

      • De_Ann

        Oh okay, thank you for that explanation.Essentially, this girl felt bad that yoga isn’t as racial diverse as she initially thought.

    • Rachmo

      Yeah yoga is an Indian practice so I’m not sure how she concluded it was a White thing but okay

      • Epsilonicus

        In America though, it is framed as White person thing even though we should all know otherwise…

        • Rachmo

          Basically this woman made me tired…so tired…

  • Negro Libre

    When’s the yoga version of “You got served” coming out? I

  • http://tripsixes.com/ Trip

    To “Yoga Girl”:

    The internet is the strangest full-length mirror. Stand in front of it and look at the whole world reflected back at you. It demands that you focus on more than yourself. Open your eyes and allow yourself to grow because you can’t hide from it now.

    • http://trulytafakari.com/ dtafakari

      I get it…but…real talk, the Internet is too mean to promote growth. Most people don’t address articles in comments or on Twitter with the point of education. Or, if they do, the message is lost in the malice. And if anyone tries to say that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, the Twitterati will accuse you of tone policing.

      Welp.

      • http://tripsixes.com/ Trip

        That’s a very good point, but our personal growth can take many forms. For her, growth could take the form of learning when to use the internet and when to step away, or better managing her expectations if she decides to continue to write in this medium. Her name is out there now. She no longer shares the anonymity of her audience. Maybe that’s another thing she can take away.

        If anyone decides on that line of work or passion these days, what you stated must be considered.

        • http://trulytafakari.com/ dtafakari

          I mean, I guess…but if anybody comes at me sideways spitting insults in the name of education, I will have to call BS. lol.

          • http://tripsixes.com/ Trip

            Absolutely. Please send me links, because I love when the horde bites off more than they can chew. Or as @disqus_YeG1FUyAV7:disqus might say, “Grow on deez.”

            • http://trulytafakari.com/ dtafakari

              aha! The piece I put on xoJane a few months back had some people telling me to put on big girl drawers. (Kanye shrug). I put on thick skin for that. :)

              • http://tripsixes.com/ Trip

                Just checking here, but was that the piece you did on birthing and bullying?

  • helga_g

    well then….. I love that the pic with this entry features a black girl doing yoga and giving sideye. so appropriate