Responding to the NW Yoga Conference

I arrived in Dubai Saturday on my way home from India (much more on that later) and checked into Facebook for the first time in 3 weeks. I saw I was tagged and messaged about something that happened at the NW Yoga Conference the weekend prior. The conference director, Melissa, silenced and kicked out Savitri Palkhivala, an Indian woman who has been a pivotal member of the yoga and meditation community for over 35 years, while she was accepting an award for her husband, Aadil Palkhivala. If you want to see the video and read her daughter, Zenia’s, response you can go here. Savitri also did an interview about her experience here.  

First, I want to thank Savitri for her service, dedication and commitment to the yoga community. Although I have not had the privilege of studying with her yet I have had the opportunity to study with her husband, Aadil, at the NW Yoga Conference in 2015.

Second, I want to thank Zenia for being a fierce and compassionate force in making sure the yoga community is aware of the way her mother was treated. My heart is deeply saddened, shocked and angry that the Palkhivala family has to endure this pain.

I personally taught at the 2014 and 2015 NW Yoga Conferences, and had some connections with Melissa. I have not been involved with the conference in the last 3 years, and have not had contact with Melissa much since 2015.

I was shocked and confused when I heard the news, When I saw the video I was heartbroken and deeply saddened, and then I felt a sense of urgency to do something. I decided to wait until I got back to Seattle, sleep in my own bed, meditate and then proceed from a place of intention rather than reaction. At this moment as I write I feel anger and longing that Melissa will take this horrible situation as a wake up call. I know I personally needed a wake up call to do the work of unpacking whiteness because I have the privilege of choosing whether we look at it or not, while people of color are forced to reckon with whiteness and racism on a daily basis.

Part of my current work is supporting myself and others build capacity and take action. I see this as an opportunity for me to build capacity for myself as a white person by not solely focusing on Melissa acting in a harmful way but to also look at myself. Yes, the video shows Melissa dehumanizing Savitri, and I can continue that dehumanization by doing the same to Melissa. This feels like using one of the tools of white supremacy, othering, to continue to cause harm. If I can easily dismiss Melissa as a bad person because she did something I find appalling without looking into the ways I have done similar things this is a missed moment for me to do more of my own waking up. As a white person I can take this as a moment to reflect on how have I silenced people of color? How have I metaphorically taken the mic? How have I kicked people of color out of a space or made folks feel unwelcome, intentionally or unintentionally? I have done each of these because whiteness conditions me to other and dehumanize people of color. Whiteness tells me that my voice is more important than people of color, that I need to maintain control, that structure and timing is more important than the human in front of me. I intend to continue to unpack my own racism rather than only pointing a finger at Melissa. I intend to take the time to humanize myself and Melissa in hopes that white people can come together to dismantle the ways that white supremacy is harming white folks while at the same time literally killing people of color. When I say I intend to remain connected to Melissa’s humanity that does not mean I do not want her to take accountability. I want to be in a place where I can offer support and/or resources to myself and other white people to do this work because it is so needed, and if white folks continue to set up a hierarchy of good and bad white people less of the work we need to do together gets done. How can we use this as an opportunity to dismantle racism in a larger way in our yoga community rather than demonizing one individual? Racism is rampant in the Seattle yoga community, and this is just one example. There are countless examples that happen daily that do not get as much attention. 

For taking action my first action was to reach out to Melissa. I emailed her yesterday in hopes to connect with her as a fellow white person who struggles with racism and to see how we can work together to unpack the harmful ways we are conditioned by white supremacy. When I was with Reverend angel Kyodo williams in December they asked us, “what instructions do you hear?” I heard I need to start offering Undoing Whiteness classes at Rainier Beach Yoga, and the first one is scheduled for Friday, March 23 from 6:30-8pm.

Diana Mena, Stacey Prince and I will also be teaching a workshop on Intersectionality, Race and Spirituality on March 17.

Here is 8 Llimb’s response to the NW Yoga Conference. 

Here are some resources for white folks who want to build capacity and take action towards racial justice:
Organizations to support racial justice work:
a. Coalition of Ant-Racist Whites
b. Cultures Connecting
c. European Dissent
d. The People’s Institute
e. Social Justice Fund
f. Social Justice Institute

Books on social and racial justice I have found helpful:
Radical Dharma by Angel Kyodo Williams
Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk
Living in the Tension by Shelly Tochluk
What does it Mean to be White? by Robin DiAngelo
The Way of Tenderness by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
A Different Mirror by Ronald Takaki
Beyond Empowerment Beyond Inclusion by Leticia Nieto

With much love, solidarity, heartbreak, struggle and longing,
Laura