Be Real… Just Not “That Real”:

Tone Policing and My Blackness In The Yoga and Wellness Community

The combination of my race and gender have made me acutely aware of and intimately acquainted with Tone Policing. Whether my message is factual and supported with empirical data or a compilation of anecdotal experiences and insights, I’ve come to expect the altering and invalidation my ‘voice’ all for the sake of the audiences’ comfort.

This muting, editing beyond recognition, or outright discrediting of my full humanity spans across varied arenas. From pre-k to higher education and corporate America to community organizations, I’ve wrangled with balancing authenticity and not ‘offending’ the sensibilities of the powers that be. When I began my yogic journey two years ago, I gave little thought to whether I’d have to negotiate this same dance in the dominant yoga community. Yet, here I am carefully coordinating the tone and degree of my expressed reality on and off my mat.

Many may be surprised to learn the supposed warm and fussy domain of ‘love, light, and namasté’ isn’t some egalitarian panacea where everyone’s intrinsic value and unique voice carry the same weight. The same disproportionate rates of wealth, inclusion, narrow representative imagery, and cultural appropriation present in mainstream society holds true in yoga studios/ communities and “tribes” across the country.

Are dedicated yoga practitioners “nice”, kind, and even at times generous? Yes! In my experience I’d have to say yes. I wouldn’t have received my 200 Hr CYT without the generosity and collaboration of committed (white) yogis. Still, I’ve yet to experience a genuinely egalitarian process that’s predicated on the dominant culture’s desire to have a sincere dialogue, understanding, appreciation, and knowing of a reality and hierarchical position that’s isn’t its own. I’ve not come across one yogi willing to have brave and vulnerable conversations that speak to why poverty and oppression are so very “chocolate” and privilege and opportunity are overwhelming “vanilla” (shout out to artist and lyrical genius Lupe Fiasco). When I’ve attempted to use my voice to broach these deep subjects, I’m usually politely shut down with some abstract hyper-spiritual rational about the universe, past lives, karma, and dharma.

— WARNING ⚠️ I digress all up and through this paragraph. Read at your own discretion ⚠️ —

Spiritual communities often specialize in fruit over roots. Churches and ashrams alike, are masterful at charitable acts and conversations surrounding such. ✨ In the words of my dearly departed mother, “some folks are so heavenly minded, they’re no earthly good”.✨ but … I digress. When individuals, particularly those without the significant social and material capital seek to delve deeper into the historical and structural systems and practices that contribute to continued oppression and disconnection, they are often distracted and diverted. (Note: It’s extremely rare for those who benefit from a system, no matter how unjust, to question, let alone challenge said system — even in the name of justice and equality for all.) Such shifting often takes place by pivoting the dialogue to a “sexy” individual responsibility critique with cliches like, “everything is coming from you, not at you” “believe to achieve” “the universe/ God is giving you exactly what you need”. Such spiritual gobbledygook sounds good and momentarily feels good but does little to address the cyclical pain and oppression of the masses….( It also doesn’t hold up to a strong critical analysis.) But hey I suppose the universe/ God thinks Beth from Boulder, CO needs two summer homes and DeQuan in Flint, MI needs an extra helping of lead in his water 🤷🏾‍♀️…But again …I digress…

On a less macro and more personal level, my most recent and painful experience with being “edited and muted” came about when I wrote a piece last month for a popular Health and Wellness outlet. Having written for them in the past about my Wellness endeavors, I was excited to share how my journey had progressed over the past couple of years. (The piece was and is an expression of my gratitude for the generosity of my patrons, who all happen to be Caucasian.) Yet, when I submitted my article, I was initially met with delay and then flat out dismissal. It wasn’t until one of my patrons reached out on my behalf that my piece was actually published. When it did go live, it was substantially edited without any contribution or consent on my part. (Note: I’ve written four other articles for this outlet and always worked closely with the editors.) I was very hurt and disappointed and at first I decided to just be quiet about it. I didn’t want to be labeled as an “angry black woman” and I didn’t want to harm any relationship between my patron and the outlet. However, when the editor contacted me to inquire if I would be willing to write for them again about my experiences as the ‘lone black woman’ in many yoga classes, I was taken a back. My hurt was now coupled with indignation.

😳{Not only are contributors not compensated for their labor on this site (at least I’ve never been). I’m in essence being told my black yogi struggles and cultural isolation connects with readers[read drives traffic] when highly edited ?!? } 😳
Soooooo….it was then I decided to share how I was disappointed by the handling of my piece, only to be met with a patronizing explanation of the editing process and a half hearten apology. I politely declined to further ‘pimp out’ my struggle as a black yogini via prose.

My “communiqué” may forever fail to fit comfortably into a box of universal-ism or better yet, some “commodifible (I know I made this word up)” assertion. I’ve come to expect to be politely and even blatantly “shushed”. That’s OK! When the hushing and shushing comes from communities and outlets that claim their primary purpose and aim is the promotion of Well-being for all, universal oneness, harmony, and peace… I’m still not shocked but I also won’t shush up.

Tone policing is uncomfortable and even hurtful. My protestations and refusal to alter messages may have negative career and social implications. I’m OK with being less than palatable as long as I’m truthful. Yet, what really concerns me is when the message and tone policing of oppressed and marginalized people results in lack of access, health, and well-being; the basics needed to sustain a reasonable quality of life. Curtailing messages and messengers who are standing for truth, love, justice, harmony and genuine balance isn’t cool and it isn’t yogic.