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Is yoga racist? XOJane raised the question earlier this year when a contributor wrote a personal piece about seeing a black woman in her yoga class for the first time. The backlash on the site was swift and fierce (comments included "She [the author] is a typical left wing 'progressive' totalitarian who thinks other races need her hand up to stand up") but the discussion hasn't stopped there. The Atlantic raised the topic again this morning in an article that examined the lack of diversity in the yoga community, suggesting that the racism was so ingrained in stateside yoga culture that it is practically the norm.
"You go to classes and you're the only black person, or there are very few," Robin Rollan, the blogger behind Black Yogis, told the Atlantic. "People who find my blog say, 'I thought I was the only one.'"
"You can look at all those journals and you'll not see one woman of color," Raja Michelle, the founder of Green Tree yoga studio, told the Atlantic. "We associate yoga with being skinny, white, and even upper class." Fewer than 1% of the residents in the South L.A. neighborhood where Green Tree is located are white.
In fact, those yoga journals and magazines that are so predominant in yoga culture may be part of the problem. The Atlantic cited a 2012 Yoga Journal study that stated that out of the one in every 15 Americans who practice yoga, more than four-fifths of those people are white. This may be one of the reasons why month after month, young white women land the covers of well-known yoga publications.
"Racism is so implicit that you never even notice that it's a white girl on the cover every single time," Amy Champ, a PhD from UC Davis who wrote her dissertation on American yoga, told the Atlantic. "But when you begin to ask yourself, 'What does yoga have to do with my community?', then you begin to question all these inequities."
The article points out that a lack of diversity in yoga publications contributes to the mentality that yoga is for white, wealthy people. "That upscale white woman is the image of yoga," Rollan said. "I think a lot of us see yoga as something that's not for us, because of the lack of imagery [of people of color in yoga]. It is changing, but the image of a white, affluent, thin person is still very entrenched."
Below is photo evidence of exactly what these women were questioning in the article. Out of all the LA Yoga, Yoga Journal, and Yoga Magazine covers so far this year, only one publication featured a black woman on its cover (one time). LA Yoga also featured a young Indian girl on their May 2014 cover.
· Why Your Yoga Class Is So White [The Atlantic]
· Yoga Pants and Jeans Have Merged. Meet Joga [Racked]
· How Tara Stiles Ignored Her Haters, Reinvented Yoga and Found Success [Racked]