Yoga back in Alabama schools... Along with a Punch to BIPOC and South Asians
Updated: Mar 16
March 13th, 2021
"All poses shall be limited exclusively to sitting, standing, reclining, twisting, and balancing" and "all poses, exercises, and stretching techniques shall have exclusively English descriptive names"
What is most upsetting is that this makes clear: public schools will not offer high quality education to its students. It is more focused on propagating white supremacy. Accuracy, depth and quality will be reserved for the rich.
The version of yoga that Alabama's state lawmaker Mr. Gray has compromised on to re-enter schools is not yoga at all. It is exercise and by calling it yoga, he is arguing that the practice has nothing to do with Hinduism or South Asia, therefore harmless. This message takes a punch at South Asians, including the South Asian children who attend those schools. It also takes a punch at all children of color who will receive the message loud and clear: assimilation is necessary for acceptance. For many children, erasing their Otherness is impossible. This legislation does not give children access to yoga at all but it actively harms children of color. Closing the disparities in academic attainment is what the yoga community should be focused on. Offering connection to one’s body, breath and to every living being and their inherent value on this earth through this spiritual practice could help with this mission. Stretching cannot. Alabama has made clear that yoga, a transformational Indigenous knowledge system, will not aid in closing this gap, it will just be exercise. Children from affluent families will continue to travel and immerse themselves in cultures and languages to the extent that they benefit them. Legislators’ wives will continue to wear Mala beads and bow their heads after a sweaty workout. Their privilege and wealth allow them to mimic the wellness goddess lifestyle with the right dose of cultural appropriation. Alabama's legislators know this. This is consolidating the privilege of the wealthy and denigrating South Asians at once. Being an orientalist is cultural currency in America's caste system- the extreme white washed version they will teach will be the most contact marginalized students will ever make with South Asian culture. Why empower these mostly BIPOC students with BIPOC knowledge systems? Why empower any of the most marginalized children with access to languages and cultures that have been enjoyed by the wealthy for generations? No one can erase Sanskrit and chanting from yoga- but making it clear that these are reserved for the most privileged white yoga consumers is largely just a continuation of what was already happening in the yoga industry.
Cultural appropriation is racist. Period. Performing and mimicking it with a colonial gaze on the Indigenous cultures where the practices originated speak to proximity to whiteness, power and wealth. Not respect. Antiracist education is yoga education and this is what we should be fighting for. Drop the bill and write legislation that will empower children to understand the unjust systems they were born into and inspire them to change them. That is yoga.
Central Steward at The Connective