Seattle Times story on 'Undoing Whiteness' yoga class is tone deaf on what yoga is all about


Just when you think it can’t get any more ‘woke’ here in the great Pacific Northwest, a Seattle Times piece created lots of outrage last week by profiling a yoga teacher offering a class on “undoing whiteness.”

What was problematic wasn’t just the topic of the class, but also the reporter’s brazen use of his platform to lecture white readers on their racist backgrounds.

Naturally this got some online reaction. You know things are heating up when the Times cuts off comments at 89, saying it was due to the “sensitive nature of this topic.”

Is there a religion angle here? That’s a controversial topic, as well. Tmatt reminded us here that while yoga is rooted in a spiritual practice based on Hindu tenets, the media keeps on stripping it of religious content.

That definitely happened here.

Laura Humpf braced herself for fresh salvos of death threats, rage-soaked slurs and indictments of “reverse racism” from media provocateurs.

The Seattle yoga instructor had endured it before, four years ago, after putting out word about a class for people of color only, at her studio.

She was slammed by critics for being exclusionary and promoting likely illegal segregation, but was doing neither, says Humpf. This is racial caucusing, and she sees the time-honored technique of voluntarily congregating by race to oppose racism as a way to dismantle a white-supremacist pathology found in everyday society.

This spring, Humpf publicized an “Undoing Whiteness” yoga class at Rainier Beach Yoga, geared toward white people wishing to “unpack the harmful ways white supremacy is embedded” in their “body, mind and heart.” Along with providing a contemplative space, the class would dissect the “pathology of whiteness” — an obliviousness to the batch of privileges society grants white skin — and how it operates in daily life.

Were there any editors looking over this story before it went to print?

The reporter spouts off about “a white-supremacist pathology found in everyday society” as though it’s fact. Why not throw an “alleged” in there? Maybe some attributions to those shaping this point of view?

Ditto for the last sentence in the next paragraph; the one mentioning “batch of privileges.” Where is the caveat? All the writer needed to have done is put in a “she says” somewhere in that phrase.

But he didn’t because the whole piece is a press release.

Humpf, 39, sees her class as going beyond yoga’s elegant poses. It seeks, she says, to arrive at yoga’s literal meaning: union. White supremacy thwarts achieving that union within the individual and with others, says Humpf.

Last I heard, yoga was a spiritual path and that the poses and breathing are meant to clear the mind, not think about white supremacy. I get the feeling this class contains about as much about matters of the spirit in it as does the stuffed giraffe in my living room.

Nearly the entire piece has large unattributed swatches of opinion leading one commentator to ask if this is the Onion they were reading instead of the Times.

With white people less likely than nonwhites to view white skin as an advantage, according to the Pew Research Center, it’s tougher for a person of color to explain a concept like “white privilege” when someone lacks it, she adds.

The issues are acute in the yoga community, according to Crystal Jones, a certified yoga instructor who also provided racial- and gender-justice-centered consultations to companies such as Disney and REI but became disenchanted with the yoga industry’s dismissal of race whenever it surfaced as a topic.

“Some say … ‘Why see color? You should just see only the spirit.’ But we have to create spaces for critical thinking,” says Jones, who has facilitated workshops nationally focused on healing in the black, queer, nonbinary and trans communities.

This is such a sweeping assertion, it deserves more than one voice. Yoga came from India which, last I looked, is inhabited primarily by people with brown skin. So to call the yoga community racist is a stretch. Or is the writer referring to its white American practitioners? If so, why not be clear about that?

Also, under what branch of yoga would this class fit? It doesn’t sound like any of the Hindu philosophical traditions from which yoga originates. And what are the teacher’s yoga credentials? Is this the right place to try to bring about psychological changes in people?

As for Humpf, she’s moving ahead with her class despite the latest uproar.

“The truth is that we all are one. There’s a divinity that connects us as human beings. But the reality is that we’re in different bodies so we experience the world in very different ways,” she says, before adding:

Her class is open to anyone wanting to face reality.

Whoever edited this piece should lose his or her job. Were they sleeping when the reporter sent this in? Did anyone suggest to the reporter that he needs to attempt some distance from this topic? Who says this woman’s class is equal to reality? Some of the worst parts of this piece didn’t make it into my excerpts but believe me, they were bad.

Had the reporter kept some distance in reporting this, he might have asked if this was part publicity stunt, guaranteed to get lots of social media hits. Let’s hope he talks with the graduates of this class to see if they learned anything.

Please respect our Commenting Policy