THE BLOG
01/31/2014 10:29 am ET Updated Apr 02, 2014

An Open Letter to the White Woman Who Felt Bad for Me at Yoga

Lise Gagne via Getty Images

Let me start off by stating the obvious: Of course I wasn't actually the woman in your yoga class, but from the sound of it, I could have been, and in fact, I have been that woman more times than I can count. So, while this is written in jest, it's also written in love. Because while I don't want to discourage you from writing about race again, I want to encourage you to learn about it more first.

First, I have to apologize because I honestly didn't notice you in that class, while I seem to have had a profound effect on you. I wish you had come up and said "Hi," because I think you could have saved yourself a lot of mental anguish. But now that we have this chance, let's talk.

I'm not sure what you thought you saw in my eyes, but, believe me, I don't resent your body or your whiteness for a very simple reason. I don't envy them. And please don't take that the wrong way, sweetie, because I thought you were just beautiful, and your sports bra wasn't tacky at all, I don't know who told you that. It's just that I don't strive to look like you. I don't think your body, or your race, are better than mine. And while I knew that practicing yoga was going to involve twisting myself into some pretty complicated positions, honestly, I never desired to contort my body into yours.

I said "Namaste" because our instructor said it, and I thought I was supposed to say it back. But, in truth, I don't actually bow to your form.

Now don't go questioning your yoga class because its lack of inclusivity isn't the problem, I promise. And despite what the undoubtedly over-the-top and hateful messages you have gotten that have forced you into hiding your online identity have told you, you aren't the problem either. Not really, and not in any way that matters.

The problem is that at some point you got the impression that you -- in all your "skinny, white girl"-ness -- was the ideal. And that I would, if given the choice, choose to look like you.
And that didn't happen because your yoga class doesn't have enough black instructors or even because you seem uncomfortable around black women.

It happened because we live in a society steeped in a system of patriarchy so strong and so insidious that we learned from a young age and have it confirmed daily that you and I can't both be happy with who we are. Because, if in order for Cinderella to be beautiful her stepsisters had to be ugly, and if in order to compliment Jennifer Lawrence we have to insult Anne Hathaway, then in order for you to be content in your whiteness, I have to despair in my blackness, and in order for you to be at peace in your body, I have to suffocate in mine.

It happened because we live in a society steeped in so much racism that it honestly didn't occur to you that I don't view my race as a burden that must be "accommodated" in order to feel comfortable doing yoga. It runs so deep, that you assumed that being confronted by your whiteness plunged me into a jealousy so deep, I had no choice but to curl up into a ball and stew in my own anger. But remember, I'm not as unaccustomed to seeing and interacting with white women as you seem to be with black women. If I actually crumbled every time I was the only black woman in any setting, I would have to quit my job, give up a lot of my favorite haunts, and go fold myself into the child's pose somewhere in the middle of Ward 8. This is racism that is so simultaneously powerful and invisible, that it deeply impacted your entire being that I -- a black woman -- was in your yoga class, while it didn't faze me at all that you -- a white woman -- were in mine.

It is systemic racism that runs so deep, that you probably overlooked several other white women in the same yoga class, there because of the same assumed New Year's Resolutions, struggling with the same poses as I was, and did not feel the pity and shame for them that you felt while looking at me. You didn't project anger and resentment onto them because you didn't immediately feel comfortable assuming to know their feelings. You allowed them be complex people with complex emotions, but allowed me only my blackness and its relation to your whiteness. And that can be exhausting. And maybe that's what you saw in my eyes. I was tired. And not just from yoga.

Anyway, since you didn't feel comfortable reaching out to me in class, I wanted to reach out to you here because I genuinely believe you had good intentions in writing what you wrote, and I think good intentions matter. Maybe they do pave the road to hell, but so too must they pave an awful lot of other roads, and I'd like to think maybe you haven't chosen your path yet. Isn't there something about choosing paths in yoga? I honestly can't remember. I only went to the one class.