A Question for Us All

Post by Marsha Philitas for the Love for Love series.

A Question for Us All

I found the “self-love movement,” as I call it, when I was working and living as a volunteer at one of the largest yoga centers in the US. I dove into my experience there and learned from as many of the in-house and visiting workshop teachers as I could. Teachers like Tara Brach, Seane Corn, Jennifer Louden and Stephen Cope introduced me to the concepts of ease, holding space, and radical acceptance. I was hooked.

It took me some time to realize that I was the only person of color in the 80-person volunteer program. Overtime I also noticed that I was the only person of color, volunteer or not, who worked in the administrative offices of the retreat center. The other non-white employees worked exclusively in the janitorial staff. Over my two years at this center, the numbers shifted slightly, but the proportions stayed the same.

This phenomenon wasn’t particular to that retreat center. I saw a similar discrepancy in many of the in-person and online workshops that I explored outside of the center. In many spaces I was, once again, the only person of color. As I stepped deeper into the world of online life coaches and self-love activists, I found myself in a very white, female world.

Some may try to dismiss the color gap by claiming that women of color are, for whatever reason, not as interested in self-care. However, self-care and self-love aren’t only concerns for white, middle-class women. Take a glance at Rosetta Thurman’s or Lauren Coleman’s work, and that much is obvious. Thurman is the creator of HappyBlackWoman.com, a site that has garnered over 22,000 Facebook followers and has launched Happy Black Woman Happy Hours all over the US. Lauren Coleman’s site, Colored Girl Confidential was recently listed as one of Forbes’ 100 Top Websites for Women.

So if the concepts we discuss in our circles are universal, why aren’t our audiences more representative of the communities that we live in? Where are the people of color? I don’t believe that this phenomenon is intentional, but if you haven’t yet noticed that color gap, or haven’t made efforts to help shift it, I’m inviting you to honestly ask yourself why.

To be honest, I’m not completely sure why this color gap exists. What I can speak to are the major shifts in self-love blogging that would help me to feel like I can bring my full self to these spaces. I’m hoping that by sharing my opinions we can have a compassionate, yet honest, discussion about inclusion in our blogs and websites. My views are my own and I can’t pretend to speak for all women of color, but I hope that by sharing my experiences will help to peel back the veil on this question.

Suggestions for Creating a More Inclusive Blog/Site

1. Start using stock images of women from all races. Have you noticed that many life coaches have the same stock images of women running through fields with their arms in the air? How many of those images are of women of color? I’ve come across so many sites that only contain images of white women, even the partial images or sketches are white only (hands over hearts, a teary eye, cartoon drawing of woman lying in the grass, etc). Sites that only contain images of women of color send the subconscious signal that women of color aren’t welcome. Even worse, we were forgotten. The creator of the site may not have even noticed that women of color weren’t included. And while some may see that as being color-blind, or post-racial, many people of color interpret that oversight as an indicator of just how often you think of us. Think of how you might feel if you came across a site for a self-love coach whose written message you resonated with but whose site was filled solely with images of men. Note: As with any action, this step only works if it is done from a place of integrity, not just to increase the readership for your blog.

2.Thoughtfully write about current events that are, on the surface, issues for communities of color. I say “on the surface” because in reality, there aren’t any world issues that solely affect one group. Some may feel the repercussions more than others, but as Martin Luther King, Jr said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This bullet point may seem like a tricky one, because most of us claim not to write about politics or current events. But when the shooting in Newtown, CT occurred I read so many posts and Facebook statuses from the online coaching community that touched on the event. Those that shied away from a conversation on gun laws or lives lost, at the very least put up a blog about how to handle the grief and onslaught of gruesome news stories. Very recently, when the verdict of the Zimmerman trial was announced or the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington came and went, there were very few posts that even hinted at either event.

Personally, the Zimmerman trial was a painful time for me, and I hoped to see a post by at least one of my favorite bloggers that would help me to view this event in light of the personal work that we are all engaged in.
The world is ripe with events that attack our ability to love ourselves thoroughly; it would be a great lesson for all of your readers, not just those of color, to see how you process the negative messages held in those moments while keeping your heart intact. Bridget Pilloud, for example, wrote an amazingly honest and thoughtful post on her experiences around the Zimmerman trial that is a must read.

3. Acknowledge that institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, etc. exist. These prejudices exist and affect my everyday life. It could be as “simple” as the woman clutching her purse when I walk onto the elevator or the one presuming she can fondle my afro because she’s “Never seen hair like mine before, it’s so….exotic.” Then there’s the nail technician refusing to paint my nails hot pink because that would make me look, in her words, “too black.” These occurrences aren’t just inconveniences. Taken together, they are the real world circumstances that stand in the way of the all-loving existence that you hope to lead your readers into. You don’t have to be a scholar on these issues, or try to singlehandedly end oppression, but at least acknowledge that the battle for self-love isn’t all in your readers’ heads. Tara Mohr does an excellent job of gracefully referencing sexism while leading her readers to lives that are greater than those sexist messages dictate. I believe that same can be done when discussing any form of prejudice.

4. If you’re not already doing so, do the work of examining whatever type of privilege you may have. Any work that you do to improve your existence as a human being shows up on your website and in your business. Just like all of your self-love work came spilling onto the page as you wrote your blog posts, once you start to examine issues of diversity and examine the ways in which you’ve internalized some of our culture’s messages on those issues, that work will spill onto your business as well. We all have something we need to work on.

Wondering where to start? Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? is a great launching pad if you’re looking into the issue of racial diversity.

I take my own advice here. I am working on my privilege as a cisgender person and working to make my work more inclusive of all women of color, not just black women.

I invite you to dip your toe into this conversation. Have you noticed the lack of diversity in our corner of the online world? Do you have any ideas about why it exists or how we can be more inclusive?

Remember that conversations about race can be tough, complicated and sticky. We all have our own baggage about the topic, some of which is still super fragile and tender. Let’s try to have this conversation in a way that is full of heart. Assume positive intent and ask for clarification if something seems to rub you the wrong way. We’re working together to strengthen our community.

With compassion,
Marsha

Marsha is a life coach, curator of compassion, and founder of The Trifecta Tribe. The Tribe’s mission is to help queer women of color fall in love with themselves, their lives and their purpose.

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