I just recently returned from a Women of Color Yoga Retreat™. Janni, before I get into how and why my experience relates to our conversation on “post-racalism”, please allow me to say, this was a wonderful retreat. The yoga was fantastic, the women, spanning generations, races and ethnicities, and all walks of life, were inspiring and the presenters were the right touch of thoughtful, tough, encouraging and supportive. I came away with so much to think about and yes to do. Now back to this topic of “post-racialism”
On the last day of the retreat, after a number of intense sessions, we had an opportunity to celebrate and simply breath—like we weren’t breathing the entire time. But this was a different type of breathing. Someone brought out the music and the line dancing began. And in walked in an Euro American woman. Mind you, the sign on the door clearly labeled the room as “Yoga Retreat for Women of Color”. For the time we were there, this room was our sacred space. We laughed, cried, got angry, and we were soothed, and nurtured.
In walks this woman. I was standing in the back of the room having a conversation with a young Asian American woman. We were really into our conversation, although we were in the midst of a dance party. She approached us, and without a word of excuse said, “Oh, is this a private dance party?” The young lady replied, “Yes it is”. “Oh, can I be a party crasher.” I said, “I don’t thinkthat is appropriate as we are part of a group. However, you should speak to the leader.” I then pointed her to the lady that was in charge. She looked at us both and declared, “Oh, I’ll just be a party crasher. I love a good party!” She then walked away, took her jacket off, and started to dance.
Needless to say, we were dumfounded. Our conversation immediately stopped. Hard as we tried, we simply could not move beyond the break. Now it’s easy to say that this woman was obnoxious and simply rude. Yes, she was all of the above; however, her behavior exemplifies more than simply being rude.
Simply put, in the words of the young woman I was conversing with, the only way to explain her behavior is via the lens of “White privilege”. In a nuanced racialized society, White privilege and its intimate relationship to racism is easily ignored. To ignore how, this woman, operating from a place of privilege could recognize that her actions were “wrong” but decide to go ahead and crash the party captures the dynamic that we saw/see in response to the “mixed-raced” Cheerios commercial and even in the actions of the (in)famous Paula Deen (I'll have to blog about this another time since thre's so much to discuss). White privilege, in part, is an ideology that allows some to determine what society should look like and who should have access to some goods and resources.
Sometimes the manifestation of White privilege is blatant, as is the case of the latter two recent racialized events. At other times, it’s a bit more subtle and leaves one to ponder (and at times dismiss) the functioning of race. I don’t really want to spend too much time on the racist actions of these individuals, but more on how do we as women of color respond—and I don’t mean directly to these individuals (although sometimes that’s what we ought to do).
How do we respond to subtle forms of racism that sometimes present themselves as rude behavior? How do we (re)claim our space and vibe? The young lady and I stood for a few minutes simply looking at each other. Eventually, I spoke with the leader of the retreat and she in turn spoke with the party crasher. But was there something more we could have done? Some of us are well aware that the ideal of post-racialism is a tool used across various ideologies to avoid having some conversations. It’s a tool used to justify a type of nostalgia for the past. "Post racism" is also used to suggest that American society has achieved equality. However, it’s like putting your dirty clothes under the bed. They are a) still dirty and b) your room will still stink although they are out of sight. So how do we respond to party crashers? How do we respond to racial conservatives and racial liberals who desire to “move” beyond race while enjoying the benefits of their race?