I Assigned That "Yoga Class" Piece And Here's Why

As the assigning editor, I'd like to respond to some of the criticism.
Publish date:
January 29, 2014

Since xoJane published this piece yesterday we have received a lot of feedback and speculation on why we published it. It has been suggested by some that we were motivated by pageviews, and that we don't care about our readers and contributors of color.

As the assigning editor, I'd like to respond to some of the criticism.

Because there are a lot of things that I don't give a fuck about -- pageviews among them -- but the one thing that I give a huge fuck about is race, and the conversations surrounding race.

Throughout my life as a person, a black woman, a writer and editor, author, mother, daughter, partner and friend, it has always been an integral part of my existence to listen and question, invite and engage in dialogs about race. How can we look at issues surrounding race, racism, cultural appropriation and race consciousness in nuanced, unprecedented ways that will help move not merely the conversation, but the actual systemic foothold of the segregationist, tribal thinking that hurts and hinders the growth and emotional health of both black and white Americans alike.

There is so much work to do on this issue that sometimes it can be difficult to discern between the astute opportunities to engage and the knee-jerk impulses to include all voices, raw and unedited, with the sincere hope that the inclusion will open up an as-yet-unexplored aspect of this byzantine beast of race in America.

Such was the case when after running into Jen, the author of the original post, who I know from my Brooklyn neighborhood. She shared with me in casual conversation her experience of being in her yoga class and suddenly realizing the impact of her white privilege in reaction to a black woman in the class who appeared to be uncomfortable, and I asked her to write about it.

As she described the scenario, it rang familiar to me. Real familiar. And I was reminded of an experience I had when I was in college.

During one spring break I went to Florida with a white girlfriend and several of her white friends, all of whom came from wealthy families, were blonde and thin and almost prodigiously pleased with their body privilege, without any real awareness of its impact, or that addressing me as "Hey curvy," would be offensive to me.

I am not a big girl, but I am curvy, and the way they so freely referred to me as curvy by default because I'm black, all while lounging in their bikinis, sure, I felt resentful. And angry, and invisible. Maybe the black woman in Jen's yoga class felt that way too, or maybe she didn't, but the fact that Jen was willingly offering up this explicit admittance of her white privilege struck me as valuable in some way. At the very least, a good jump-off point.

Those of us who write about race in the media, and who are race conscious, are often expressing our frustration over unaccounted for white privilege, or the rampant cultural appropriation that goes on constantly. Mostly we hear privilege couched in this way: "I know that black people are disadvantaged, but that doesn't mean that I as a white person am at an advantage because of it."

But actually, it does. The white girls in Florida and Jen are at an advantage when they may decide, unknowingly or otherwise, to use their privilege to make assumptions about how one individual black woman feels about her body in whatever environment.

I truly did not anticipate the response we have received from xoJane readers and commenters, or from media colleagues who I admire and respect. There have been some really excellent responses, though, including Pia Glenn's on the site today. And in reading her piece as well as the comments and Twitter threads about the original post, I am compelled to think more deeply about my own intentions in publishing it, and its effect.

After taking a step back, halfway through my fourth week as an editor at xoJane, I realized that in all likelihood if I were a reader who hadn't had the initial conversation with Jen and knew the background and context of the story, I would have been equally as offended as the most critical commenters. Because I SHOULD have asked Jen to do more work and questioning before writing about her experience. Instead, I read it too quickly before running it by only one other editor at xoJane, and published it without giving a thorough enough consideration to the response of the xoJane community, and readers at large.

One of the main tenets of my writing and work surrounding race is that I want people to understand that these conversations and racism itself can actually hurt people’s feelings. And I don’t want people to be hurt. Not readers, not Jen, and not the xoJane community, who I have learned is spirited, impassioned and tough as nails. I hope I can better serve you with more carefully provocative pieces in the future, and that you will hang in with me as I figure out the right tenor moving forward.