I wanted to write after giving myself some time to process some very painful and current events. I wanted to listen, learn and feel. I wanted to also give myself some time to get angry, disgusted and disheartened. And then I wanted to explore some time to come back to MY roots and MY beliefs of what I know is possible and meant to be for ALL of us not just some of us.
I moved from Toronto to Los Angeles 5 years ago to teach at Modo Yoga La Brea. In my first month, on my way to work, I was stopped by an officer when making a right at a red light. Sirens, lights and all, I was being pulled over. Wait, what? I saw Annie Hall, I know it’s okay to turn right here, why am I being stopped? I pulled over to see a young officer approaching in my sideview mirror. Once at my window (window down) he put his hand on his gun and released the lock to its holster; it made a sound, one that amplified it was ready to go.
He claimed I hadn’t stopped at the red light before turning. I did but I didn’t argue with him. He asked for my license and registration; I tensed up immediately and lost my breath. He had his hand on his gun AND my ID was at the bottom of my very large bag, buried under my yoga clothes. I was afraid to do what he was asking of me while he kept his hand on his gun! I started to tremble, this was visible to him. I told him I was on my way to teach and that my license was in my very large purse with my yoga clothes so it might take a minute for me to dig it out. I told him this through my obvious fear and I don’t scare easily but I was traumatized and had been traumatized long before our encounter, I knew how these stories played out in America. As I went into my purse, I began to cry A LOT, tears flowed out of me, and I could barely keep still because I was trembling. I handed him my license and mentioned it was a Canadian one (I hadn’t got my LA driver’s license yet). That registered with him in some way, though I’m not sure how. While looking me up in his vehicle I called Husband Paul. Through my tears I asked my husband to call Modo to let them know I would be late. My husband was very worried. Once the officer was back at my car, after looking me up, he did nothing to calm me down or reassure me that I wasn’t in any danger, despite seeing my fear. He actually seemed to be getting off on scaring me, even saying, don’t they teach you how to drive in Canada? Our encounter lasted a little while longer and eventually ended with no ticket and him saying, you’re lucky I have to be somewhere. It was terrifying and sadly very sobering, and while driving in LA to this day I never experience ease with cops nearby. Never. My gut is always wrenched and my shoulders are always up. Charles Blow, a fave commentator, writer and activist who writes op-eds for the New York Times, astutely characterized this type of fear and terror as an omnipresent violence and oppression that black and brown people live with every day.
Like so many of you I want to say the right thing about this. I hope to include everyone, offend no one, and not step on anyone’s toes. But in a time of 'safe places', 24 hour news cycles that tell us what’s on trend or what to care about, too many hashtags and statements like ’in our thoughts and prayers’, there really can’t be an easy and safe way through and out of this IF we aren't committed to changing the status quo. It’s gonna be work, it’s gonna mean uncomfortable conversations and painful inward reflection. We need to offer up brave places not necessarily safe places, where we’re willing to examine how we’ve contributed to the inequality and injustice of so many for so long.
We need to risk being unpopular, even with those close to us. We need to confront injustice with more than just protest, and VOTE locally while thinking globally to dismantle the system of laws that allow for where we’re at right now. And we need to - AND THIS IS AN IMPORTANT ONE - always take a stand. That means calling out wrong at ALL times not just in protest times. There is no right time or place for calling out wrong - injustice, inequality, oppression - even at our dinner tables and even among friends and family. There are a ton of teachable moments out there waiting to be seized by us and there has never been a right time for calling out wrong because wrong is wrong ALWAYS.
Everyone’s pretty familiar with Michelle Obama’s convention speech and her line, "when they go low we go high”, BUT what always struck me from that speech was her profound and heartbreaking statement around breaking glass ceilings - "I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters, two beautiful and intelligent black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”
Can you imagine waking up in a house that was built by slaves? Did those slaves ever imagine or hope to believe that someone who looked like them might be the head of that household one day? We’ve come a long way for sure but statements like we’ve come a long way worry me, as they suggest the way has been paved and that we’ve come far enough. Yogis, I’m personally tired of holding space for hate speech, hate initiatives, divisiveness and racist and prejudice diatribes disguised as everyday debate or differing points of view. I will not hold a place at my table for that vision of the world that sees the acts and systems of oppression and racism as fodder for debate. There is no longer a place anywhere in the world for bigotry. That house that the Obama’s lived in was built on the backs of slaves and it still hasn’t been paid for and that’s not nothing! We haven’t come far enough.
The truth is, the price of privilege is oppression. If you’re winning and winning big, chances are someone else is losing AND oppression, privilege and racism AND the acts that go along with them are systematic and deeply seated (and seeded) in our history. When a man - an officer - can kill another man in plain sight over the course of 8 minutes and 46 seconds with impunity, that is taught, excused, even upheld and for sure systematic.
Al Sharpton did the eulogy at George Floyd’s memorial the other day. He very astutely contextualized the systematic aspects of racism. His words were not minced and definitely on point and there was one excerpt in particular that struck me as important to share.
"George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to being is you kept your knee on our neck. We were smarter then the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck. We could run corporations and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck. We had creative skills, we could do whatever anybody else could do, but we couldn’t get your knee off our neck. What happened to Floyd happens everyday in this country, in education, in health services, and in every area of American life, it’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say get your knee off our necks! That’s the problem no matter who you are … Michael Jordan won all of these championships, and you kept digging for mess because you got to put a knee on our neck. White housewives would run home to see a black woman on TV named Oprah Winfrey and you messed with her because you just can’t take your knee off our neck. A man comes out of a single parent home, educates himself and rises up and becomes the President of the United States and you ask him for his birth certificate because you can’t take your knee off our neck! The reason why we are marching all over the world is we were like George, we couldn’t breathe, not because there was something wrong with our lungs, but that you wouldn’t take your knee off our neck. We don’t want no favours, just get up off of us and we can be and do whatever we can be."
That’s the system and as many have cited, the system isn’t broken, it was built that way. It needs to be dismantled, and the folks that built the system or even reaped the rewards of it (privilege) need to be a part of breaking it down.
Even I, as a brown woman, am not impervious to that institutionalized racism. After all, I grew up on the same TV and set of messages that have so clearly identified brown and black life as less than. When I was a teen, many years back, I caught myself crossing the street at the sight of a black man walking towards me on the same side of the road. It was a weird knee jerk reaction that I right away noticed but couldn’t identify or name. Over the years that followed I went back to that moment, time and time again, to look inward and identify what was at the base of that reaction. Yes, we all have gut reactions that serve us in our everyday life from time to time BUT I recognized that moment in my life as different and not founded or justified. Rather it was seated in a world view of brown and black people that I and so many grew up on. It made me mad, ashamed and uncomfortable to know this racist reaction in me but there lies the work that so many of us will have to take on in understanding and dismantling systematic racism.
Why are there still confederate statues looming over brown and black people today? What in God’s name are we uplifting OR celebrating?! What is a black person, who’s trying to make their way in the world and know their worth, supposed to make of that?
Why is the US prison system privatized and why is its population - the LARGEST in the world - disproportionately populated with brown and black bodies? What exactly is the value in that - trading one form of slavery in for another?
Why do cops kill people of colour in plain sight, time and time again, and rarely get charged ACCORDINGLY much less go to jail for their actions? How are brown and black people expected to feel safe, valued and free to express their aliveness under those sets of rules?!
It’s been 30 years since that first - caught on tape - Rodney King atrocity. It’s been over three weeks since a self-proclaimed progressive liberal weaponized the race of a bird watcher. It’s been 400 plus years since enslaving black people. It's been, it's been, it's been... How much more do we all need to see and experience?
It’s simply unconscionable to expect and believe that brown and black people have a level opportunity or playing field for living a dignified and prosperous life. It’s tone deaf, cruel and perverse and this belongs to all of us to change. And please know that folks of colour are tired of going it alone, we’ll need help at getting this long overdue APOLOGY in the form of action AND policy; and it will mean examining ourselves, our compliance and our privilege as we stride forward.
I believe in this community of friends and yogis that I’m reaching out to. I know, from our practice together that we are capable of going deep and I hope that George Floyd’s life and horrific, untimely death will not be in vain. I hope.