Social Justice is Not a NATURAL Byproduct of Yoga (Part Two)
This post is a follow-up to What is Yoga Without A Little Social Justice. And I I know the title for this post may seem a bit off-putting to yogis. But, someone recently posted on my Instagram page, that social justice is a natural byproduct of yoga. And well, frankly, it’s not. When we think of something happening naturally, we associate unconscious efforting or rather that something happens without try. It just organically or naturally occurs. Social justice isn’t one of those things. Even if everyone in the world were to practice yoga, social justice would not naturally happen. The reason it wouldn’t naturally happen is because in order to achieve justice, conscious and concerted effort must be enacted. So what does that mean, it means genuine and critical thought must be applied in order for social justice to be achieved.
Imagine the following statements as being made by two different individuals:
Individual one says, “I love and value everyone”. This is a common mantra and ode to community existence. It’s also an example that social justice or an understanding of social justice has not been achieved. Further understanding of that message suggests that everyone’s experience is known and understood. Now, individual two says, “I value learning that the experiences of others are not mine, and I seek to understand so maybe I can love”. That’s social justice. The difference in the two statements is that the second individual is not taking an approach to which they make a blanketed statements that precludes them from learning who the “Other” is. Rather than assuming to know, they drop the ego and position themselves as an unknowing, unassuming being. They make themselves vulnerable to the idea of not knowing so that they may learn. To achieve social justice we must drop the ego and be willing to understand the experiences of others.
So how do we do that. As a teacher educator of diversity and social justice, I get that question often. “I hear you, Dr. Jordan. But, how do I do it?” My students would be surprised that I’m making a choice to answer the question, so here it goes:
Recognize there is a problem: So that’s self explanatory. There is a problem, hence all the social justice movements and lots of hashtags.
Recognize your positions of privilege: We are all privileged in some way, shape, or form. Privilege exists for all of us. Seems kind of strange of me – as a Black woman – to say we all have privilege, but we do. Some areas of privilege for me include my socioeconomic status, my sexuality, my educational attainment, etc. Not an exhaustive list, but you get my point. My race is not privileged and neither is my gender but, I have areas of privilege that situate me as having a certain seat at the table.
Talk to People: I know that seems silly, but it’s not. Often times many of us make a choice to only talk to people who look like us, who think like us, who have the same values as us – simply put we talk to people who are just like us because it’s comfortable. Get uncomfortable. If you care about social justice, talk to people. Make a choice to hear the other side. Once you’ve heard the other side, challenge your preconceived notions and perceptions – essentially drop what you think you know. Thich Nhat Hanh (1987, 2005) teaches, “Understanding means to throw away your knowledge…Knowledge is solid, it blocks the way to understanding” (p. 49)
Challenge your preconceived notions and perceptions: This statement more than anything is the reason why social justice is not a natural byproduct of yoga. You can do the work for feeling connected to others, to the earth, to this life, etc. You can do the work of being mindful and attending to your breath. And then what? None of those things require you to challenge the status quo, social conditions, oppression, marginalization, micro-aggressions, etc. Once you’ve learned that an experience in this life may not be yours, how do you challenge it and critique it so things can be rewritten and justice can be achieved.
Commitment to Equity not equality: The idea of treating everyone equally is a farce. Equal under the law sure, and well, that’s a conversation for a different blog. But, every person is different and deserves to be treated equitably, meaning each person is entitled to what they NEED. Read that again. Each person is entitled to what they need. An example of that, if you have someone that needs ADA compliant access or resources and your company or home or yoga studio doesn’t provide those accessibilities then you are not equitable. Another example, a 3rd grade teacher in her classroom knows she/he has 26 students who all have different needs, maybe someone in the class needs to stand while they work, maybe someone else needs to be at the front of the room, maybe someone needs minimal stimuli to help them focus, maybe another child needs to come to school early to do their work because doing it at home isn’t an option – that’s 26 bodies, that need 26 plus different accommodations. Equity, not equality.
Educating yourself: Take time to read up on everything that is social justice related. Listen to all the news networks, whether you agree or not. Take time to learn. Once learning has taken place, then you’ll be in much better place to move the social justice needle.
The social justice movements of the world need people who don’t just care about an issue, but actually show up. The social justice movements of the world need people who actually make a conscious and concerted effort to do the work, to drop their egos, to put aside their knowledge so that they may contribute to a better society. Change requires work. And as yogis, we need to get off of our mats and do the work out their in the world.
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