Tag Archives: privilege


This post is mostly about the idea of community, but also here is very enjoyable coverage of London Comic Con by Flickering Myth. Seems like a nice bunch, and I do wish that Blade the best of luck. Though the whole thing is worth watching, it’s timestamped to Rila Fukushima making faces in the background as Willa Holland is interviewed.

So anyway, these days a typical “good” community is a bit more tenuous and subjective, but society’s prototypical ideal remains the same and that was generally about a community of one kind of people, largely part of a design in which those who are poor or too ethnic aren’t welcome. Things that are prototypical are somewhat static because they’re the privileged status quo.

The form of community where people come together for the good of more than just some privileged people is less static, as is simple camaraderie — which is mostly a thing people have with over devotees of their chosen or non-chosen religion or pop culture. Camaraderie for people who don’t particularly care about wielding or being next to power, even in the form of a “good” community, sometimes seems like the rarest thing in the world.




If you’ve ever wandered the stacks of a library and thumbed through the books just looking for something interesting, maybe it took you a shelf or two — maybe even a series of shelves, ’cause even when publishing was thriving and not so much about it books, there was of course the catering to privilege — but surely something that spoke to you appeared. Something like, “Unlearning Hemperkin’s Rules for Optimum Snobbery.” Maybe the words were in a book that didn’t even have its cover sleeve anymore, something as tattered for the passing of time as it might have been for being read so much. I think blogs can be sort of like those particular volumes, except of course that they’re an ongoing process.

And that ongoing process isn’t always so big with the going. Some of my favorite bloggers came and went in an instant; I don’t think it was due to a waning attention span, at least not in and of itself. Life is hard, and if you’re not getting paid from some soft-ish perch to write about what it’s like for those folks on the rocks, written word upkeep means having to occasionally tear pieces of yourself off for fuel — metaphorically, of course.

One of the perennial Zeitgest narratives is about apathy; it’s usually more about “care more!” than the reasons people become apathetic. Having to deal with basic human selfishness is hard enough, but there’s also the manifest destiny of privileged comfort. Blogdom has a lot of greatness to offer, but at its generalized best its landscape also has these smiley commerce- and privilege-driven ideals that are nice to disconnect from for a bit.

environmentalism when there’s a lack of resources

With the world’s climate changing the way it is, with permafrost not being so permanent anymore, it’s clear that a much broader sense of environmentalism could have been quite beneficial. But there’s always been a divide between people who are just privileged enough to enjoy a relatively contained experience of fresh air with nice views and those who are considered quite far from nature and heedlessly contributing to litter.  It’s not uncommon for the latter to be disenfranchised and often just trying to get through the day. Between this divide is where most people would probably consider themselves: mindful about their environment, but generally just going with the flow of a world where pollution is the not-overwhelmingly-tangible output of convenience as normalcy. I don’t know that environmentalism has ever really addressed those who aren’t privileged, though I’m speaking only to the privilege-regarded field.  Even in something that is supposed to be as eco-friendly and accessible as urban gardening, it seems like the people lacking in privilege who take it up (particularly in areas that aren’t gentrified) are quite the exception. I figure that most populous among polluters are people who are sort of privileged and those who are underprivileged.  But both of them are utilized and out-polluted by rampant profiteers — folks who  have instilled and created an infrastructure of considerably wasteful and literally toxic values all over the world. A disparity in resources can mean the difference between apathy about the environment due to a lack of solidarity, or apathy that comes from entitlement and convenience.   Generally people with resources are the only ones whose opinions count (or seem to count) in a society that can be all too driven by money; maybe this is why few people have ever really expected under-privileged people and areas to be devoid of (or care) about pollution.   If you’ve lived in a place that’s not considered respectable, you’ve probably seen people from neighborhoods that are (considered respectable) come to drop their garbage off. The world’s changing climate is already affecting everyone to different degrees. People who have no resources and are unable to move to drier pastures (hopefully not so dry that they don’t have a decent supply of drinking water) will continue to be affected most negatively — though there’s little clear sailing all around. It’s an awful lot to ask people who aren’t privileged to care about something they don’t get to enjoy the best of.  But, however it may be subdivided, there is only the one planet.

Andrea MacDonald on the challenges of diversity in yoga studios and sorting out privilege — interview # 2

Andrea MacDonald

Andrea MacDonald

I’ve interviewed yoga instructor Andrea MacDonald before, but she’s someone who has much more to offer on the vast subject of privilege.   It’s easy for me to disengage when someone with significant cultural capital talks about diversity (it often seems subconsciously more about them being champions of an enlightened concept rather than anything really inclusive ) , but Andrea is mindful of her particular privileges and, more than that, she’s working for inclusion — not the easier, superficial kind, either. A second Words Away interview with her follows below :

Often even the kind of diversity touted most comprises people with very similar sensibilities — the preaching to the choir effect, if you will.  Simply because of the way it’s been commodified, yoga tends to be something one is most aware of within a certain income bracket, within a “nice” town, or with a certain kind of education.  What have you found about diversity within that framework?  And, is Community Yoga Vancouver attracting diversity beyond it?     

 I think our organizing attracts a wide range of folks, both people who are already in the yoga networks and folks who are more activist-oriented — and folks who are curious about yoga but haven’t gone for any number of reasons. We’ve had people come to workshops who have never heard of concepts like un-ceded indigenous territory, or what rape culture is. That said, our organizing has limits. We often advertise through Facebook which means the network of people who show up are connected to us by no more than a few degrees of social connection. We’ve also done some street outreach and poster-ing, and folks have definitely shown up to our classes who either can’t afford yoga normally – or have been told it will help them but didn’t feel comfortable in a yoga studio space. We’re hoping the community will grow larger and more diverse when we open our own space and have some money to commit toward outreach outside of Facebook.

It will always be a challenge to host a space that draws in the diversity we are seeking to embody in our community – but it’s a challenge worth taking on. Many of our teachers – though I can especially speak for myself with this point – look like “regular” yoga teachers, but find a lot of yoga culture pretty abhorrent. This has lead us to try to offer something really different from regular yoga studios. We strive to have the difference we offer be felt, rather than proclaimed explicitly. That has been a big shift for us, how to make a space feel accessible, rather than just saying that it is – a proclamation which can feel intimidating for folks who aren’t familiar with more radical politics. We have our gaps of course. Our classes often have more white folks than people of colour, and up until now, we haven’t been able to find a space that is wheelchair accessible. We try to remember, though, that we are up against some pretty big systems that produce real barriers, barriers that take time to dismantle and work around.

 Many of our teachers – though I can especially speak for myself with this point – look like “regular” yoga teachers, but find a lot of yoga culture pretty abhorrent.

We’ve recently found a wheel chair-accessible space, and it’s our goal to offer safer space classes when we open the new space. Classes for folks of colour, taught by a South Asian teacher. Classes for queer and trans folks, taught by queer and trans teachers. Classes for folks with fat bodies, taught by a fat teacher. We have to start somewhere and that starting place is imperfect, complicated and shaped by capitalist, colonial, hetero, ableist, white supremacist patriarchy. Those are some big forces to come up against – all we can do is try. That’s our practice – to just keep trying until it works, or at the very least works better than it does now in regular studios. We evaluate as we go and choose not to give up, even when it feels overwhelming and scary and impossible.  We have to breathe and just keep trying.

How has it been finding teachers who are people of color, disabled — generally outside of what’s most commonly perceived as the yoga mold?  It seems pivotal to Community Yoga Vancouver’s goal — which would have your chosen vocation, the way its defined and the way it defines others not dominated by people with your relative privileges.  

I think you touched on a problematic dynamic that certainly exists. At Community Yoga we’ve had to be very vigilant and make difficult decisions with regard to our collective membership. Quite a few people have expressed a desire to teach with us, and we used to have a pretty open door policy. Allowing whoever wanted to teach to do so and not having clear protocol about how to join and what is required, meant we ended up with some teachers who didn’t reflect the values we wanted to embody. Since then we’ve really shifted gears, especially as we look to opening our own space. Over the course of our collective’s existence we’ve had quite a wide range of teachers – some folks of colour, quite a few queer folks and a self-identified fat teacher as well.  Even so recently we ended up with a collective full of white, able-bodied, cis-gendered women, and we had to ask ourselves – is this the kind of collective we want? This was a really difficult question to answer. Eventually we settled on the decision that some of the original members needed to part ways with the new members so that we could create space to build a more diverse group. We’re in the process of rebuilding now and we are very careful and thoughtful with regard to who we work with.

We’re focusing on building a collective that reflects the diversity we hope to cultivate in our space. It’s a really challenging process because we don’t want to tokenize anyone and it can feel wrong turning down talented teachers and healing practitioners (we’re opening a community-based healing space) simply because they don’t reflect the diversity we’re searching for. It’s a good reason, but that doesn’t make it uncomplicated. That said, as our collective has grown we are cultivating the diversity we want to see and it has made a tremendous difference. Even if you just look at our newly created protocol you can see an indigenous influence that was not there before. You can see the wisdom of older folks influencing the younger founders. This balance is contributing to us doing some of the most solid, thoughtful work we’ve done so far. It gives me faith that our project will grow in the direction we’ve always dreamed it would – a truly accessible, diverse space; rich for learning, growth and social justice organizing.

I think it’s also important to mention that at a certain point we just had to recognize and accept that the yoga world/industry/community is inaccessible – so it is going to be harder for us to find teachers with physical disabilities, or teachers of colour. When we recognize that reality, our work becomes about changing the landscape of what yoga looks like in Vancouver. We’re also connected to projects across the country that do great work opening up dialogue and teaching/learning opportunities for a wide range of people. The teacher training at Karma Teachers and the work of South Asian American Perspective on Yoga in America are great examples.

How so exactly regarding the indigenous influence in the new protocol?

An example would be the ritual that is written into our protocol for when someone leaves the collective. Members who are leaving now have the option to be swept with cedar boughs, and for the boughs to be cleansed in a river so the energy can be released. This ritual ties us to the land and medicine around us, and that is one of the fundamental purposes of our work.

I’m sorry to hear that some potential teachers are being turned away, though it does seem like such comes from genuinely complicated reasoning.  Diversity as a goal is too often conceptual, or something of a mantra,  with both most frequently heralded and crafted by people who are privileged.  How have/do you come to terms with your own privileges in this arena?      

It’s a tough balance for sure. A big part of coming to terms with my privilege has been granting myself the space to make mistakes and take criticism. Part of the reason diversity is so hard to cultivate is that big, huge, seemingly insurmountable systems of power work to keep us segregated and disconnected. When I make a mistake I may not be responsible for the system I’m in that made that mistake feel easy and sensical to me, but I am still responsible for my actions and how they impact people. People aren’t mad because I’m a bad person, they’re angry because my actions fall in line with a system that does violence to them and those they love. Those are big feelings and actions with serious consequences. It’s not about me – it’s about truly and deeply challenging f***ed up power systems. Learning to take meaningful action well is a hard path, but I can’t imagine organizing any other way.

Coming to terms with my privilege has been an emotional, mental, spiritual and political journey. I’m more careful now to question how much space I’m taking up. I try to offer as many opportunities as possible for people to take up space where I am usually relied on for leadership – or spaces where I just feel comfortable talking and teaching, when there may be others whose voices are being ignored. I try to do grudge work with a smile on my face – part of being an anti-racist ally is doing the work that isn’t glamorous, but that needs to happen and lightens the workload of someone whose voice needs to be heard more then mine. I also really take my time to process critiques and have started teaching and learning more and writing less. I do this in order to build relationship with community, rather than fuel my own ego. I basically question myself constantly, but I try to do it in a gentle way, where I’m not attempting to destroy myself to absolve guilt for my privilege.

Coming to terms with my privilege has been an emotional, mental, spiritual and political journey. I’m more careful now to question how much space I’m taking up. I try to offer as many opportunities as possible for people to take up space where I am usually relied on for leadership – or spaces where I just feel comfortable talking and teaching, when there may be others whose voices are being ignored.

Listening more is key – listening and taking action based on what I hear. So when other collective members told me that we need to recruit more people of colour and not more white folks, I stuck to what they said – even though it would be easier in the short-term not to listen.

About the classes Community Yoga offers to specific kinds of people whom are usually under-served, neglected, was there a call from these folks, specifically, about a need for such?

The impetuses for these classes came from a movement that is happening across North America. They also came from people specifically asking for them and from us seeing a gap in services. There are studios and teachers across North America offering populations specific classes, and these classes are changing communities and helping people heal. We’ve also had specific requests through our website and Facebook page. And there is definitely an element of us making an offering that may or may not be desired – an offering that we see as beneficial, that doesn’t resonate for everyone.

My hope is that we can make yoga welcoming, relatable and affordable enough for it to seem desirable to lots of people. Not everyone will be into it – but some people will, and they may even build a rad community with us. And that’s good enough for us.

I’m curious what your experience with crowdfunding for studio space has been like.  Crowdfunding has been praised as a new frontier, particularly for projects that wouldn’t necessarily fit the most commercial model of enterprise.  Your campaign didn’t meet all of its goal, but it was fairly successful (or at least more so than some other relatively ground-level ones are). Any thoughts on crowdfunding in general?

I think crowdfunding, like anything, is a double-edged sword. It’s paving a new path for funding that relies more on community than instructions and the whims of wealthy funders. At the same time, it requires a lot of labour to fulfill perks and keep funders happy. If the people you are getting funding from have more money (and therefore more privilege), you will be funded more easily. It’s not a process that is free of the complications of privilege and power systems – nothing is.

If the people you are getting funding from have more money (and therefore more privilege,) you will be funded more easily. It’s not a process that is free of the complications of privilege and power systems – nothing is.

It takes skill and experience to put together a successful campaign. We will be more successful if and when we crowdfund again, because we learned how to be better fundraisers by partially failing the first time around. Crowdfunding relies entirely on relationships and getting full buy-in from your team. It seems these days that everyone who is doing something cool, edgy, meaningful – or even blatantly self-indulgent – has tried or thought about or a crowdfunding campaign. These campaigns are only as successful as their idea is relevant and well communicated. But the bottom line, no matter what, is that you have an idea that can connect with and galvanize a community.

Thanks again to Andrea for her time.  

 Check out her blog at http://moonlitmoth.wordpress.com/

And Community Yoga Vancouver here: http://www.communityyogavancouver.com

Always tense, but reasonably so

For about as long as I can remember, at least a little fear of people has been woven into the fabric of every backdrop.  If I started to think the world was welcoming as a kid, a bully would quickly emerge with the shadow of a giant.  There was no space a bully couldn’t get to, and I suppose the place they most get to is one’s head.  Your places with a lot of people that aren’t considered the typical definition of scenic — long-term residents either try to live around the natural result of a lack of elbow room/resources, or they become part of the problems that, outside of these places, defines them entirely.  Make this space one full of dark-skinned people of color, and it is typically deemed to be quite scary, a land of bullies, by people whom consider themselves in sync with a “natural” notion of what is picturesque and peaceful.

Lots of people want to live in a world where they’ve minimized the presence of people whom are somehow as scary-looking as they are bad, but that notion is at the expense of anything remotely fair  — and it’s certainly at the expense of people whom happen to be “scary-looking.”  I’m sure some people don’t care, because these are scary-looking people we’re talking about.  “And **** ’em.”  Right?  Well, the last six months or so has seen the tragic slayings of a few people looking for help while happening to be black (And these were just the ones with a relatively high profile).  The kind of paranoia and rampantly internalized fear that often leads to these events is what’s really scary.  Can you imagine being lost and needing to ask for help in a place where you looked “scary”?  Your confusion, your reaching out to someone else for help, somehow warped into something “monstrous.”

If one were lost, one would reasonably feel a certain level of fear, too.  It’s strange to think such a fear can misconstrued, but it’s hardly surprising.  While some level of fear is a boon in a world full of myriad possibilities, it seems like there’s so many people so existentially lost they’re always afraid of anything that doesn’t share the hallmarks of the funhouse mirrors making them look otherwise.

Fear, quite simply, keeps us on our toes, wards off from potential dangers.  We have the kind wrought via personal experiences and, more often it sometimes seems, stereotypes from the twisted strain that is most media (yes, even the one you like that’s the good one).  How much of a reign is one giving these forces in one’s head when someone else is doing wrong by just looking like those bullies?

If someone “scary” gives you the stink eye, or if they make a rude comment, I know that’s not fun and that it can easily set a harsh tone.  But your not-joyful day should not be the ultimate signifier of someone else’s worth as a human being.  Someone being a jerk or terse hardly makes them someone who would do harm to one’s person, but just looking a certain way can result in those attitudes being interpreted much differently.  There’s a cultural conditioning to be afraid of violence from scary people — often easily chalked up to people of color.  One should certainly be wary of certain kinds of behaviors and looks, but in order to even be an effective judge of these in people, shouldn’t one be able to talk and listen to others who happen to not look quite so much like them?   Or, at least, such seems like it’d be quite vital to discerning humanity beyond people we’re conditioned to have an inclination for.

Here’s what some people in diverse areas do every day.  They keep their guard up¸right up until the actions of a person they find scary is or isn’t detrimental.  Guard up around all kinds of potential dangers, including a kind of violence that’s more likely to be inflicted on someone else who is a person of color.  So much violence results from some imagined slight that’s amplified by how insecure someone else is, and such a mindset often seems to regard these imagined slights even more when they’re from someone that’s not supposed to be “better” than them.   So people of color have to fear generally messed up human beings, generally messed up human beings who can see a bit more of themselves in them,  and being seen as scary when they’re in the wrong place and perhaps look like they’re having a bad day, or just look like a certain way at all.

One of the many reasons people in some loosely classifiable groups have a short life expectancy is because they live in the thick of it — of good and bad, from all sides.  There’s no strain to wring out the easiest or the “best” of this or that for them.  On top of such, it particularly wears one down — always trying to be strong enough to both discern danger and still be human.  But people still do it.

Difranco as human ‘hipster’ paradigm?

Beyond what’s already been said about Ani Difranco’s reaction to finding out that a former plantation was the planned locale for her company’s retreat, I think there’s something to discern from it about so called “hipsters” — a quality of which seems to be priding one’s self as being enlightened when it comes to issues surrounding race and class, though one’s background frequently leads to a life separate from the majority of those who have historically lacked much in the way of privilege.

Criticism about hipsters is, of course, rife throughout all of blogdom — but it’s often frivolous stuff about the way they dress (I would not include the wearing of clothes that mock someone else’s culture in this arena).  Also, people seem to pick up on a self-righteousness that comes with defining one’s self as thoroughly counter-culture while being obsessed with culture-as-a-lifestyle.  But most of the people doing the criticizing — and certainly the ones whose criticisms are on the noteworthy venues that, inherently, cater to the at least somewhat privileged  — are perhaps finding fault with those trying to live a romanticized version of their own upwardly mobile lives.  In short, they’re a scapegoat for people who don’t know how to come to terms with the fact that they systematically have more stock than others.

These others are people that hipsters and the upwardly mobile can’t generally seem to connect with — sure, they can do so with people of color whom are associated with the coolness that acts as cultural currency among hipsters, and also occasionally people of color whom they can be self-righteous about (an idea of) equality with.  With the upwardly mobile more generally, they seem to connect more easily with people of color who’d prefer to disassociate with that color — with with what can make you less than not so old-fashioned notions of what a normal guy or gal looks like.  So there you have a fine melting pot,  just not with anyone who really challenges people’s notions of themselves in hierarchies.

Away from that, there’s criticism about hipster re-emergence into the urban world where they frequently define areas in the cultural zeitgeist that had been defined as being “bad (but culturally rich) neighborhoods.” You know — all of those cities, with all of their scary people of color; these were the places fine upstanding people didn’t have to live — not when there’s a perfectly good suburb you can drive comfortably to.

Difranco wrote a song about an element of this.  It’s called “Subdivision,” and it starts with the line, “White people are so scared of black people . . .”   It’s a good song, and much more in the vein of Bob Dylan’s song about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter than “Ebony and Ivory.”  I learned from a documentary that Dylan’s song is one that the great Sam Cooke respected on one level, but on another Cooke seemed to lament that someone who hadn’t experienced racism firsthand hadn’t come out with that song first.   I empathize with the feeling because the simple politics of the music business — certainly even more so during Cooke’s heyday — was such that a black artist couldn’t speak his or her truth forthrightly.

Difranco’s initial response to finding out about the plantation as a setting for a retreat noted that she didn’t pick it as a venue, but, once she she knew, it seems she thought it could be an opportunity for healing.  I have a lot of respect for Difranco as a writer and musician, but I could never listen to her sing about race at length without feeling like it was nice enough — and not hollow, but just on some other planet where people leave their suburbs, or mini-suburbs, to go on things like retreats.

You see, frequently hipsters may live in urban areas, but they’re areas that have been turned into mini-suburbs that cater to them — this is the general downside of a place becoming what we generally think of as being livable.  You can live in a place that’s associated with being some great urban place where people of color managed to get by in hard times, but really it’s separate from the heart of that — the part that knows about what the pain of being in the “less than” part of town added up to.

I’m not someone who thinks Difranco should be demonized (there’s a component of her detractors who salivate over this sort of thing and have no personal regard for black pain otherwise), but it’s worth noting that maybe knowing about subdivisions doesn’t make one as aware of the pain of being “less than” as some people might like to think.

a dream downsized

It often seems that when some people’s dreams are shrunken, they blame others they don’t think are entitled to having that same dream — rather than profiteers who look like them (and therefore look like they deserve respect, empathy and such).  But, anyway,  these thoughts from Tonya are one interesting take on the shrinking of a dream:  “To say people will be happy living on less and having less, almost excuses companies for standing so stern to the unlivably low minimum wage and choosing bigger profits rather than adequate wages for their employees. It’s like saying don’t worry so much that you aren’t and probably won’t ever reach what’s becoming the unreachable American Dream, because we’re moving away from that idea anyway….”