Today’s episode features three guest hosts, Dianne Bondy, Maite Onochie, and Rocky Heron, all guides on the yogagirl.com platform and voices from the Black community.
Coming from different global perspectives, they share their views on how they see the world right now - and how the world has seen them.
Offering up their deep wisdom on everything from white supremacy, complacency and allyship, this episode will help you question your own attachments to race, and align your inner values with your outwardly behavior.
Tune in to listen from the heart to voices that need to be heard, now, and always.
What you see happening in the world today is the result of 400 years of oppression of Black people. It is up to us to create real change today.
Racism is a global issue. The same systems are in place around the world that allow for white supremacy, privilege, complacency and ignorance.
White people need to look at their own attachments to race and ask themselves how they want to show up in the world. If you don’t know where to begin, Google is your friend! There are tons of resources available on how to be an ally to Black people and the responsibility to educate yourself is yours.
Listen to and believe those who are in vulnerable, marginalized positions. Honor their life experiences, empathize with their struggles, and use that as a fire to light you into action.
Black lives matter. It is time to stay united and acknowledge the social injustices the Black community has faced for centuries. This is not only an issue of Black and white, but a conflict of all humanity versus racism.
More about Dianne Bondy
Dianne is a Canadian yoga teacher who focuses on inclusivity, diversity and accessibility on and off the mat. She is the author of the book, ‘Yoga for Everyone’ and offers online courses and workshops at diannebondyyoga.com. She also has two sons, and shares on this show her fears for them, the pushback she receives when she affirms that her life matters - that Black lives matter - and how we can all show up, as spiritual guides and as good human beings.
More about Rocky Heron
Rocky Heron is a musician and yoga teacher. He grew up in California with his mother, and shares his unique view of being a person of color raised in a white culture and how that forged his identity and allowed him to see multiple perspectives. With a passion to always continue learning, Rocky expresses the need for Americans to educate themselves on the history of their country, and demand more from leadership. You can find Rocky on Instagram at @rockyheron.
More about Maite Onochie
Maite was born in Nigeria, grew up in Spain, and is now living in Costa Rica. She has a background in social anthropology and a specialization in international development which led her to work for different organizations around the world, including the United Nations. She is now about to birth her first daughter, and shares in this show the world she envisions her daughter growing up in - a world where she can be her authentic self, feel safe in her own skin, and see no limitations to her dreams. Maite speaks on growing up in a predominantly white society where she was left not feeling represented, beautiful or enough. To continue the conversation with Maite and learn about her current work as a yoga teacher and doula, follow her on Instagram at @maite_yoga.
[0:03] Welcome to the Yoga Girl podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in with me today. I have a very special podcast episode in store for you this week. With everything that’s happening in the world right now, you know, with the hugely important momentum and long overdue momentum that we’re seeing around the Black Lives Matter movement, with uprisings happening all across the United States and protests and marches globally, I really want to dedicate space and time to talk about this this week.
[0:36] Now, if it’s something that I’ve learned, it’s that what we don’t need right now is another white person speaking about their perspective and their feelings. So this week, I have decided to give the space of this podcast to three hugely important voices from the Black community. Today, you’re going to be hearing from Dianne Bondy, from Rocky Heron, and from Maite Onochie. They are three people in my life, three people from the Black community who you might know already, they are all teachers on yogagirl.com; you might have taken their classes, you might have seen their faces, or heard their names before, chances are also they might be totally new to you, and I feel really honored and so grateful that they have taken the time out of their day to share with us and to speak with us today.
[1:25] For this episode, I haven’t, we haven’t given any kind of direction, and I really just wanted to open up the space for them to share what this experience is like right now. No mater how hard we try, we can never, in a million years as White people put ourselves in their shoes or understand what this is like to experience this every day, and what it is like to move through these days with this movement and so many things changing, and expanding, and also coming to an edge right now. So, what you’re going to hear is some story-telling. They are three people from different parts of the world, of course with different backgrounds and completely different perspectives as well. And this is a very, very, very valuable moment in time that we’re in right now. We have the ability to be of service, we have a responsibility to be of service, to unpack and dismantle the systematic racism that we have inside of us.
[2:21] The privileges that we sit with as White people, and the system that we benefit from, whether or not we want to, but that we do benefit from every single day. And the best way to, to educate ourselves, the best way to learn and unlearn is to listen when Black people speak. And that’s what this podcast episode is all about, and I want you to listen deeply. To listen from that space deep within your heart where you can give all of your presence right now.
[2:50] So don’t let this podcast be something that plays in the background while you’re busy doing something else, let this be part of your practice today, let this be part of the work that you’re doing today. Listening from your heart, not from your ego, not from your mind, because this is truly a hugely important part of doing this work: of course we need to support, and donate, and be present at these marches right now, but listening in something that we need to do every single day. And sharing this podcast space today feels like such a small thing to do, and it also feels so important. So, I don’t want to take up any more of, of, of our time right now. A little note: we have one ad in this podcast. These ads are decided and confirmed weeks in advance, and I’ll be donating all the revenues from this podcast this week to the Black Lives Matter movement.
[3:43] So, without further ado…let’s go ahead and take a deep breath, all of us, together [inhales] open the mouth, let it out [exhales]. And now, we listen. Our first guest host for this week’s show is Dianne Bondy. You can follow her on Instagram, @diannebondyyogaofficial or go to her website diannebondy.com.
[4:09] Dianne: Hi, I’m Dianne Bondy. I’m an accessible, or I should say progressive, “yoga for all” yoga teacher. What does that mean? I believe in diversity, inclusivity and accessibility on the mat, so I’m all about equity in yoga practices, and how that shows up in the larger context of the world, extending our yoga beyond our mat, so that we all feel included. [Sighs] How am I feeling right now? Anxious, I would say. Confused, tired, overwhelmed, and hopeful. So I was invited to come on this podcast by Rachel. Rachel, as you know is, you know, the founder, the creator, the visionary behind Yoga Girl. And I’ve had content on the Yoga Girl platform for awhile now, maybe for about three years, and she asked me to come and speak to, you know, what my feelings are, what my perspective is on the world today, and what’s going on in the world today.
[5:14] So for full disclosure, I am not African-American, I am a Canadian. And I live very close to America, so I live on the border of…I live on the border of America, in Canada, in a town called Windsor, you know, more specifically in Essex County. So I have an interesting kind of perspective on what is happening in the world today, and what I’d like to say, speaking as a Canadian as to what I’m seeing in America, from my perspective anti-Black sentiment is a global problem. What we’re seeing in America is based on 400 years of oppression, so what we like to say is that not all police officers are bad. And not all police officers are bad, there’s lots of great people out there doing wonderful work in the community. But we’re not really talking about individual officers, we’re talking about a culture of policing that has it’s history and roots — if anybody is a history buff here, I took a history degree in university — if anybody is looking at their history, what the history of policing is, and what policing has come to signify in the bigger context for people of color is keeping people in place and upholding the tenets of White supremacy.
[6:41] And that happens anywhere where colonization happened, where we had settlers come from Europe. So Europe has run around the world and created colonies and settled certain places in the world, and from those places, it has extracted wealth and money to make the UK what it is today. And in order for that to happen, oppression had to happen: we had to enslave people, we had to steal land — Canada is no different — had to steal land from people in order to create this system of capitalism, which is based in White supremacy. So what you are seeing in the world today with people like George Lloyd [sic], and Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, and Trayvon Martin, and Mike Brown and, and, and, and, and is this system of White supremacy that has been in place for 401 plus years.
[7:46] So it’s not a few bad actors, it’s a system of oppression and it’s an historical perspective that is as American as apple pie, protesting, and…what else is American…baseball, okay? These are things that have been going on forever. So we reached a tipping point with George Floyd, right? We all are home, sheltered in place due to COVID, and I think we’ve had time on our hands to reflect on who we are. And we’re consuming a lot of media, social media in particular, and for the first time in a long time, perhaps we’ve had time to process what we’re seeing. And we watched a Black man die for a counterfeit 20 dollar bill, right? That was a death sentence. We’ve seen a Black man die a couple of weeks ago, for taking a jog in a neighborhood where there may or may not have been burglaries, so the jury’s out on the information that was used in order to kill this young man.
[8:47] And as a mother to a 15 year old and 13 year sons, who are walking through the world as black, young men, I worry. I’m very confused by people reaching out to me that I haven’t heard from in a very long time, asking me how I am and how I’m doing in this current time. I’m, I’m anxious, I’m confused, I’m sad and I’m worried. I’m worried about my sons, and I’m worried that this is a trend that we’re all jumping on, this is a bandwagon that we’re all jumping on. And that no real change is actually going to happen. This is my fear.
[9:29] I’ll be interested to see if real change will happen three weeks from now, three months from now, six months from now, when the heat of the moment has dissipated, and we’ve all gone back to perhaps the mundaneness of our lives, we’ve all been allowed to leave our houses and we’re no longer sheltering in place, will we just fall back into old patterns? Because I think, through COVID, the world will be forever changed, right? We’re no longer going to move with the freedom that we once had. We will no longer be sheltered in place and perhaps forced to constantly look at media and the things around us, and then have these visceral reactions, because every state in America, all 50 states, had a protest. And I’m quite proud here in Canada, we also have had a protest. We had a protest in Windsor, and in Toronto, and in Calgary, and in Vancouver. Because as Black Canadians, we suffer from the same tenets of White supremacy that Black Americans do. What Black Americans are centered in this conversation around White supremacy and racism, which is completely okay, which is alright, because it shines a broader light on what is going on in the world.
[10:47] These same systems are in place here in Canada, and in Australia, and in the UK, so this is a global problem of anti-Black sentiment. It happens in all cultures: there are South Asian people who don’t like Black people, there are Asians that, the Asian culture who has sentiment around Black people. Like it seems to me that Black people are low on the totem pole around racial discrimination, and I’m not really sure why. I don’t know what we did collectively as a culture to illicit all this distrust and hate from all these different cultures. There’s even anti-Black sentiment on the continent, in Africa. There’s even people out there lightening their skin because they don’t want to be Black, and it’s exhausting, like I’m not really sure why this is a thing.
[11:38] Why, as a people, when we were in countries in Africa, and if your ancestry, as mine does, has a background in enslavement, we were on the west coast of Africa living our lives, doing our thing, until we were snatched up, put on boats and either shipped to the West Indies, where my family ended up, or shipped to the southern United States where other members of my family ended up, and then forced to endure 400 years of being told that we aren’t worth anything; that our contributions to this life aren’t worth anything; that our skincare, our skin color and hair texture are wrong; that we’re not as smart as White people; that we don’t deserve the same jobs as White people; and that our lives do not matter as much as White folks. They only mattered when we were enslaved people, and we were property. That’s when our lives mattered most, because we were property, and when we stopped being property, our lives ceased to matter as much.
[12:43] And I’m not really sure why there’s an anti-Black sentiment around the world; I don’t understand that, I don’t know why. And I’m saddened by it. Because, quite frankly, the world is more diverse, there are more people of color populating the world than there are non-people of color. So in the world view, we are actually the majority and not the minority. Only in North America do we see, or other places that are potentially colonized by Europe, that we see that we are the minority and we don’t matter as much.
[13:19] So what can we do to confront anti-Black sentiment, to confront anti-Black racism, what do we have to do? And I get that question every day, in my DMs, and in my emails, and people ask me all the time, “what can I do to be a good ally?” First thing’s first is to do your own work. Don’t ask me what, if, what I think you should do to become a good ally, I need you to do the work for yourself to figure out how it is that you want to show up for communities that are underestimated, that are under-resourced, that are under-represented, and are constantly in the line of fire when it comes to racism, discrimination and police brutality. What can you do, right?
[14:09] What can you do in your own circle, in your own family? When you meet in family gatherings, and you have people who are making racist comments and you don’t say anything because you don’t want to rock the boat, or they’re old and “you know, grandma’s always been like that, she doesn’t mean anything by it.” That, that is where you start: you look at your own attachment to race, you look at your own values around race, you look at your own values around humanity, and ask yourself “how is it I want to show up in the world? And how is it that I want to end what’s going on in the world? And how do I do that in my own home, how do I do that from my own perspective?” And instead of reaching out to people of color to ask them — and primarily, usually Black women — to ask them “how can I help?” Why not Google it? Why not go online and look, “how can I be a good ally to Black people?” In Google. Because I’m going to tell you, lots of resources are going to come up.
[15:06] And when I say “my life matters, Black lives matter,” we’re not saying that Black lives matter more, we’re saying that Black lives matter too. And I don’t know why saying that creates such anxiety, why people don’t want to post that on their social media, when they’ll say to me, “I’m not racist, I never use the N-word, I don’t do these things.” But when I ask them to post “Black Lives Matter” on their social media pages, they can’t. Right? Ask yourself, when I say “Black lives matter,” “why is that so problematic for me?”
[15:45] When we had the women’s march a few years ago, all of these women went down to Washington and marched, it was the Women’s Movement March, and nobody showed up with signs going “what about men’s lives,” right? At this march? Or, I went for a run for breast cancer a few years ago, and when I was running this charity run for breast cancer, no protesters showed up and said, “well, what about pancreatic cancer?” Or, “what about brain cancer?” Everybody knew that we were there for the cause of breast cancer, and nobody pushed back against that. So why is it when I said “my life matters, Black lives matter, my sons’ lives matter,” that I get the retort “all live matter”? If all lives mattered, then Black lives would matter, right?
[16:37] If all lives mattered, then those four police officers would have been arrested immediately after George Floyd lost his life, begging on the ground for his mother. If all lives matter, Breonna Taylor’s killers who broke into her house and shot her while she was sleeping would have been arrested, because to this day, they have not been, and it was the police did that. They had the wrong house, in the wrong neighborhood, and they shot a woman sleeping — a paramedic — sleeping in their bed, and nobody was arrested. So, if all lives mattered, then there would be justice for these people, right?
[17:14] I’m just asking. I just want to know, why is this so hard? And right now, it feels very trendy to buy into diversity. And very trendy to…want to be included in this diverse conversation without actually doing the real work around what it is you believe and why it is you’ve been silent. And why it is saying “Black lives matter” is such a problem for you. What do you believe about Black people? Because it seems to me, for most of our existence, if not all of our existence, we’ve, our only function has been to prove to you why our humanity matters. And because we’ve hit a tipping point now, everybody’s interested in looking at that. Let’s not have this be a trend: let’s actually have this be a shift in consciousness.
[18:12] So for those of you out there who are spiritual teachers, or educators, or a yoga teacher, it is our dharma, our noble purpose, to shape and shift consciousness, and that can only happen when you look at your own. You can only be an ally, you can only dismantle your privilege, you can only be an effective ally if you look at yourself and shift your consciousness first. The seat of the teacher is a powerful place to be. So what are you going to do with that power? How are you going to leverage your privilege to make the world be for all of us instead of just for some of us? And when, as an exhausted Black person, can I say, “my life matters,” without pushback? When can I stop worrying about my sons in the world being killed because they’ve been mistaken for somebody else? Or they were asserting their freedom, and that intimidated or scared somebody, so that meant they had to lose their lives.
[19:35] It’s a larger question, and it’s not a trend, and I hope above all hope that this new hyper-focus and tipping point on racial injustice in the world, as a global problem, is going to continue and evolve so that one day, we can all feel free, right? So instead of asking what you can do, figure out what it is that you want to do. How do you want to show up on the larger stage for everybody to feel safe and included, because after all, as much as we, it doesn’t feel like it, we all are in this together. Diversity happens for all of us. And we have to look out for each other.
[20:23] If you’re interested in learning about accessible yoga, yoga for all of us, you can check out my book, Yoga for Everyone, and you can get that anywhere. You can get it anywhere fine books are sold, or on Amazon, and you can check me out on diannebondyyoga.com for any online courses that I might be teaching, or online workshops that you might be interested in.
[20:48 — Commercial Break]
[22:11] Rachel: Now, we’re going to be hearing from Rocky Heron. You can follow him on Instagram, @rockyheron.
[22:18] Rocky: Hi, my name’s Rocky. I am grateful and honored for the opportunity to get to share in this way, it’s an interesting time, even before everything that’s unfolded in the last few weeks, to be sharing with the world in this way. In many ways, I feel quite alone and isolated, quite literally I am alone at the moment, so the knowledge that what I speak while alone and somewhat isolated in my home at the moment, is being broadcast to many, many people. It’s overwhelming, truthfully, but it’s also exciting and terrifying, and fulfilling. So, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share and to speak what’s on my mind and what’s on my heart.
[23:08] A bit about me, it’s possible if you practice with the Yoga Girl online, that you have come across my classes. And I am a yoga teacher, I’ve taught yoga for the past 14 years. If you’ve taken my classes, you’ll also noticed that I’m a man of color [laughs], rather tall man of color. I’m also a musician and performer, and very much a human being, very much and empath [laughs] and, you know, a voyager on a quest to continually educate myself and share what I learn to those that are interested in learning from me.
[23:50] As a yoga teacher, the people that tend to be interested in learning from me seem to share some of those aspects in, in common with me, save for the, the being a person of, male person of color aspect. I don’t, historically, have a lot of students that are Black men. I’m also a gay man, so Black, gay man is, is not often a demographic that I get the chance to speak to. But for that reason, I, I feel that it is important for me to, to share and speak to the people that do look to me to understand. Understand more of, of whatever it is that you’re wanting, you are wanting to understand more of, whether that’s, you know, the anatomy of, of your knee, [laughs] or how to properly execute a, a particular pose, the subtler dimensions of self, or, in the case of what’s going on right now, what it means to be a Black man in America, and perhaps what you can do from wherever you, you, from wherever you are currently in the world, and whoever you are, to help in the effort to enable equality, and equal access opportunity, and liberties to all people, specifically in the sense of people of color.
[25:16] So, as a teacher, as a leader in my various communities, it has been a very swift and steep learning curve over the last few months to learn how to adapt the context of what I do teach to meet the moment and speak to the deeper dimensions of myself that perhaps my teaching has not previously called upon me to share. So, little bit about me, and I’m happy to share kind of what I’m going through before I launch into any, any type of…actions steps, or encouragement, or educational elements. And perhaps understanding a bit more about me can provide context surrounding the action steps I might encourage.
[26:07] I am a person of color. I also am a mixed-race person, so I am…my dad is Black, he’s from Jamaica. Upon further research of my ancestry in the last several years, I understand now that he is primarily of Nigerian descent, and Ghanian. So I am about a quarter Nigerian and Ghanian, from Ghana, and my mom is White, she is mostly Scandinavian and British. So I am, I’m very much a mixed-race individual, half White, half Black. And I was raised predominantly by my mother and the White side of my family, and I was raised primarily in a White town [laughs]. I was born in the Bay Area and grew up in a pretty, pretty mixed, cultural…culturally mixed neighborhood in the Bay Area, Alameda, had many Black friends, White friends, Filipino friends, Asian friends, which all felt very normal to me. And when I, I was nine years old, my mom decided to move to be closer to her family, my extended family, to the foot hills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, so I moved to a pretty small, somewhat Conservative, predominantly White town when I was nine years old.
[27:31] Grateful to be from there, I’m grateful for the upbringing I had, in many ways I had a very privileged upbringing. I definitely experienced a significant amount of racial bias and ignorance — I still do to this day — but never, never any overt examples of racism that I encountered in my life that I can remember. My mom certainly did, coming home from the hospital with a little Brown boy, as a White woman. And a lot of the, you know, a lot of the hardship she encountered, truthfully, were not only from White people, but also from Black people that didn’t quite love so much the fact that she had a little Brown boy. So, you know, the context of my life is, is very much a part of the story of race and racial relations and progress and, and the lack thereof in, in America. I wouldn’t be who I am, I wouldn’t be here were it not for many, many of the forces that were at play, obviously, preceding my birth.
[28:46] So, you know, my experience as a Black man in America has been very unique, and in many ways I, I am able to see things from many sides. As a White person, I understand guilt, I understand privilege, you know. Part of the reason why a lot of my struggles do not directly correlate to my Blackness, or at least I didn’t see it that way until more recently, is because I was raised by White people, and because I am able to communicate clearly and effectively with White people; most of my students, most of the people that are in my community are White women. I was raised by a White woman, I know how to speak to the White women of the world, [laughs] I think, and I understand White culture because it was the culture that raised me.
[29:42] I also understand, I do understand racism, as a Black man, because while I maybe have not experienced overt forms of racism, I do know what it’s like to be viewed as a Black man in America. My White brothers and sisters see me primarily as Black, and my Black brothers and sisters perhaps see me as Black, but they also see my Whiteness. In many instances, the, the…the ways in which racism has not touched me is because of my Whiteness, and not because of my Blackness. And so, you know, as a gay man, I understand also prejudice, and bigotry, and bias, and, and bullying, but I also understand how all of those struggles are uniquely different. So I am, I am a blended being, and I have struggled a lot of my life with trying to understand where I belong and where I fit in i the spectrum of color in America, and identity in America.
[30:44] When I left home at 17, I moved to Los Angeles, and throughout my adult life, I have, for one reason or another, always gravitated towards living in neighborhoods that are predominantly occupied by people of color. I, I don’t, I don’t know exactly why that is, but I have connected more deeply with my culture in my adult life because, because I’ve had to, you know. I lived in south-central L.A. for several years, I lived in Harlem, New York for a time, I currently live in West Lake, which is largely populated by the Latino community. And, I think I, I never quite understood my Blackness in America until living amongst other people of color, and connecting with the culture and, and also understanding how, even though culturally it was not a part of my upbringing, in a way, it’s absence was.
[31:49] My father is an immigrant from Jamaica, and he grew up in a political system that functions very similarly to our own, and history in his country that, likewise to the history of America, is one that’s riddled with the exploitation of human energy for the purpose of capital gain. As a result, his education was very poor. His, his skills and access to opportunity was, were very low. He was a musician, incredible musician, and he moved to America in pursuit of the American dream. But, you know, because of his lack of, of education, access and opportunity, he struggled financially his whole life, and, and, and as a result, was not able to be a contributing factor in, in my life. I grew up, you know, seeing him from time to time, had a relationship with him and a relationship with his absence. But, you know, a lot of that relationship was informed by the means of coping with systemic racism that he had developed, primarily drug use, alcohol abuse, and his resulting treatment towards me.
[33:17] So, my connection to the Black side of my, my identity, was via him, and in many ways, the pain that I have experienced is the pain that has been passed down or inflicted due to both his presence and his absence, which is very much connected to, to his Blackness. It’s only been in the, the last few, few weeks, I think, that I’ve been able to understand that the rage, the anger that I feel towards…other people, towards myself, towards, towards my country — when I feel it, you know, it’s not, it doesn’t pervade my life — that that isn’t some mysterious force that I have to deal with, it is a byproduct of the almost mathematical equation of systemic racism, wealth and income and equality, and, and human exploitation that riddles our country’s history, and can’t help but touch every person that, that is a part of our country, on either side.
[34:37] I say that I’m privileged because of my Whiteness, because I can pass as White. I’ll never forget being in fourth grade and a, one of my friends, this is after I transferred schools to, to the country, and to this primarily White town. And I, I had a hard time fitting in in school, I was the Black kid in my town, you know, which tells you a lot about my town if I’m half-Black. But I was kind of the Black kid in town, and that wasn’t a point that I made, that I made to people, it was just that I assumed it was, it was understood. And one of my friends in fourth grade, we had hung out for months at this point: we had met each other, and were playing together after school almost every day, and six or seven months of knowing each other, mentioned that I was Black and he was shocked because he has never met a Black person before.
[35:34] And I asked him, “what did you think I was if not Black?” And he said that he assumed I just had a really great tan and a perm [laughs]. I said “do you know any other fourth grade boys with a perm? My mom gets a perm, but I don’ go with her.” You know, so that obviously was not a, an example of racism, but it showed his racial ignorance, and it was the first time that I, it kind of occurred to me that people were going to have a hard time understanding who I am or what I am, and as you’re coming into your identity, and, and seeking to develop a sense of who you are, it can be difficult to source that from within, it’s very much something that, that develops in response to how people see you, how people view you, and what, how people expect you to be.
[36:22] In many ways, I feel that people expect me to be, you know, the things that I’ve perhaps endeavored to show them that I am, which is sensitive, and compassionate, and eloquent, and understanding, and patient, and helpful, and strong, all qualities that I seek to embody. But I know that people don’t often expect me to be angry, and terse, [laughs] and broken, and, and rage-full at time, and these are also qualities that I have in me as sort of a build up of so much of what I’ve experienced both personally and just empathically towards people that, towards, towards my brothers and sisters, towards people. Being mixed-race, everyb…we are all each other’s brothers and sisters, and what happens to any one of us is happening to all of us.
[37:19] That’s the nature of empathy, is to understand someone else’s suffering. Not to fix it, not to go speak to the manager about it, not to try to make it better so it doesn’t feel so bad when you look at it, but to really sit with it and really feel it. And, it is, it has always been easy for me to, to feel another person’s pain, and, and to understand it when I have enough information with which to do so. And the history of our country, as it relates to exploitation, to slave-labor, to racial inequality, to greed, in on public record. There is, there ought to be no mystery as to why what’s happening right now is happening. And so I even do push back a bit about the notion that I am somehow charged with the task of now educating people when no one taught me.
[38:26] The history books didn’t teach me about my Blackness, and the struggle of, of my people, and the mistreatment of my…I learned about slavery, but I, I was not…in a sense, I was taught that it ended back in the 1800s when the truth is, it hasn’t. Our country still operates on the, the exploitation of, of human labor, you know, our criminal justice system, our treatment of the working class people of our country, the, the consistent abhorrent funding of programs that would actually help to raise the quality of life to the people of our country, is a consistent failure.
[39:15] And so what’s happening right now all makes good sense to me as a sort of mathematical equation: one plus one plus one equals three [laughs]. And, while I’m grateful to, I’m grateful to see people taking to the streets, because that certainly beats the alternative. When you witness a modern-day lynching and you, and you don’t feel anything about that, or you just feel like that’s normal, that would be terrifying to me. And we have, we have had that response over and over and over again.
[39:57] So anyone that feels surprised in any way, or feels like racism is something that’s only just flared up under the current administration, certainly they have fanned the flames, but let’s not forget that the Black Lives Matter movement started under a Black President, with Black Attorney General [laughs] and that, that even with the appearance of, of Black faces in high places as Dr. Cornel West says, the underlying issues that contribute to the mechanism of racism in our country were not solved by putting every color of the rainbow in the, in the roles of leadership. You know, these are deep issues that our country has never properly atoned for.
[40:51] If I have any action items or suggestions for anybody listening, it…yes, they would center around taking action, but what I want to first say is that in order to properly take action to solve a problem, you have to be willing to understand what the problem is. I don’t think it is Black people’s responsibility to teach anybody what the problem is. The problem is our problem, it’s a shared problem. Because it was not created by Black people. We are a part of the story, we can tell you what it’s felt like, we can tell you what our grievances are, we can tell you what our pain is, I can tell you what my pain is, which is connected to my Blackness, but it’s different. I can tell you what the quality of life I would like to experience, and what I’d like my brothers and sisters to experience, is.
[41:45] But I don’t think that I need to explain to anybody what the problem is, because the problem, the problem is obvious. And if I understand what the problem is, it’s not because I’m Black, it’s because I’ve, I’ve paid attention and I’ve educated myself. So, I encourage everyone to really take a look at the, the history of our country, and the things that we perhaps deem as normal, or we accept as the way things are, are only that way because that’s, they’ve gone unchecked for a very long time. When I say that, that what’s happening right now in the streets, and what’s going on around me, around us, makes good sense to me, it’s not to say that I, I, I support it, and I love every aspect of what I see, but it’s a natural consequence. We live in a world of karma: karma suggests that we live in a world of consequences. That causes produce effects.
[42:55] And when, you know, I don’t know how many listeners are, are in America, but I will suggest that, that we are, you know, we’re experiencing, first time in my lifetime that I’m living through this, that I’m experiencing it, but we’re going through a Great Depression in our country, economically. And in the midst of a Great Depression, any effort to provide a Universal Basic Income to citizens has been thwarted. We’re also living in a time where we’re seeing the, the emergence of the world’s first trillionaire [laughing] like, as we go through a Great Depression. We’ve also just gone through many, many, many years, decades, but certainly most recently, of, of hearing political hopefuls share that they would like to see, or are willing to fight to see, the increase of social welfare programs in America that can provide things like healthcare, and equal access to education, and, you know, universal basic living wages to American citizens are, or, you know, whatever that looks like.
[44:12] And to be told over and over and over again that we just cannot afford that, which is a myth. We live in an abundant universe, an abundant planet, and an abundant economy that benefits certain people provided that a majority of people believe that there is a shortage of resources available to them. We’re also living through a pandemic, and in the midst of a pandemic being told that not only are many people going to be out of a job, and therefore out of healthcare, but that any aide provided by the government is going to primarily be up-leveled to benefit the wealthiest among us, the corporations and stock markets. So, to be experiencing a Great Depression, to be experiencing a pandemic, and I don’t mean to be negative, but just to state the facts, the consequences, the, the, the factors in this equation: to be going through all that and then to be told that we don’t, we’re not granted access to healthcare, or Universal Basic Income to subsidize and assist us through this time, and then to witness a modern-day lynching…it’s, it’s a perfect storm to produce massive levels of civil unrest.
[45:39] And so, the questions to be asking right now, I think it’s important to demand more of our leadership, but also to recognize that our system, unfortunately, seems to lack the capacity to reform itself. So new leadership needs to emerge. We have, unfortunately, neofascist leadership currently in place that doesn’t seem to care much for the well-being of the people, and an entire sort of neoliberal wing of our Democrat Party that wants to solve this just by putting more Black faces in front of us [laughs] to create the illusion of progress. So what we have to demand is the democratic sharing of resource to the people in our country, and nothing less than that can suffice.
[46:29] If you are wanting to help Black people, do so by more deeply listening to and understanding their pain, and being willing to be uncomfortable for awhile. Black people have been uncomfortable for hundreds of years, and you know, to really empathize with somebody, in my view, means to be willing to be with then in their struggle. And await, await instruction. There are no shortage of resources and guides to action steps you can take in terms of demanding justice and reforming our criminal justice system, and, you know, the, the legal system, the criminal justice system, Nation-State, to demand that they equally protect and provide liberties to the people of our country, primarily Black people, who they have largely failed. To understand that, the the perspective of most Black people in America is a perspective that has confronted us over and over and over again with the failure of the social experiment that is America. Because it’s failed to provide decency to people that have played the game as dutifully as possible, and, at every turn, then shown that it is rigged against them.
[47:52] One of the reasons that I think so many of us have committed to the yoga practice is because we recognize that our world and our, our political systems, our social systems and structures do not adequately provide us with the nourishment that our souls and our hearts need to feel most empowered, and thank God for these practices; now is not the time to turn away from them, because they are one of the few places that we can encourage that deep listening, both to ourselves and to others. The processing of somatic experiences that can hopefully leverage us into taking more clear action. Thank God for humans like, like Rachel, and, and, you know, other leaders in the community that are providing space, and nourishment, and conversation, and somatic processing, and healing on an individual level, we can share that with the collective. Because that does not come from our elected officials and leaders.
[48:53] I don’t have a solution for everybody in terms of what we all do right now to solve these larger, systemic issues, but I will say that systemic issues require systemic solutions, and we are all part of that. My hope is that, that we can look at the issue that is right in front of us, but to examine more thoroughly the mechanisms at play which have led to that. And those aren’t, in my view, White and Black issues, those are human issues, those are humanitarian issues, those are issues that deal with the priorities that we hold as individuals, and what we are willing to do to achieve those priorities.
[49:33] So, if the system cannot reform itself from within, we have to reform ourselves individually, which is what we’re doing right now, in listening and feeling and processing, and educating ourselves. And as we come to these conclusions, you know, we will need to demand more of our leadership, and demand more of ourselves in the pursuit of establishing an equanimous, fair, democratic society for the people that live here. I don’t know if that will get uglier before it gets prettier, or, you know, if it will create more discord before it creates more harmony, I do know that destruction is often the force that precedes creation. It is out of the mud that the lotus flower blooms, and it is out of our pain and our despair that clarity is born, often.
[50:29] So, I, I thank you guys for the opportunity to share, this is what’s on my heart right now. My aim in this is not necessarily to provide [laughs] upliftment, but to provide honestly. For too long, I think our yoga practices have been a, for many, a means to turn away from, or to bypass, or to distract, or to escape, and right now, I, more than ever, I think these practices that we engage in ought to be an opportunity for us to deepen our capacity to perceive, to listen, to sense, to feel, to process, to heal, and to, to, to mobilize. So, thank you again for your time. For anyone that’s, that’s interested in who I am, or my work, or the evolution of the conclusion that I am coming to, I invite you to stay in conversation with me. Thank you to Rachel and everyone at Yoga Girl for really demonstrating what, in my view, true leadership and true empathy really looks like. And thank you for being so powerfully human during this time. I love you.
[51:48] Rachel: Now, we’re going to be hearing from Maite Onochie. You can follow her on Instagram at @maite_yoga, or go to her website, maiteonochie.com.
[51:58] Maite: Hello! My name is Maite, Maite Onochie. I’m…what an honor to be here and to share with you here for a little bit from my heart, how I’m feeling, how I’ve been feeling this week, considering the current state of affairs in the States, but also in the world. Let me introduce myself, for those that don’t know me. So, my name is Maite, I am a yoga teacher, I am one of the contributors to the Yoga Girl platform. I also trained and studied as a social anthropologist. I then went to specialize in international development, and that led me to work around the world for different organizations, but especially the UN, specifically in early childhood development, in the rights of young children.
[52:49] And, but that, at one point in my life, didn’t feel like enough of service, I felt like I needed to do more personal work, and that led me into deeper spiritual practice, my yoga practice. And today, I am speaking to you from Costa Rica, where I am about to birth my baby girl, first girl, and yeah, it’s making me really, it’s making me really envision what type of world she’s going the be stepping into, as we come towards the end of the pregnancy, and particularly because she will be a mixed-race, mixed-race at her core. She will be quarter Black West African, and a quarter White-Spanish, and her father is mix between European descent, but also possibly Indigenous blood, so she will be, like I say, mixed-race at her core, and seeing the current of affairs makes me really wonder, envision the world that I would love her to grow up into.
[54:00] And it’s definitely a world where there will be social justice, and equal opportunities for all, which is something that clearly, we have not fully reached right now, otherwise we wouldn’t see the current situation, and rioting, and demonstrations, and great upheaval that we’re seeing in the US. But also a world where she will, you know, be really a guardian of the Earth, really honor the natural, the natural resources: the water, the earth, the air, the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom. And also a world where she will feel fully comfortable in her skin, where she will feel like she can truly live her authentic self, and not see any limitations to her dreams, and proud of her lineage.
[54:47] So that, in a way, the fact that she’s chosen to come at this time, at a time that also we’re experiencing a global pandemic with COVID, fills me in some way with hope, because I deeply believe in reincarnation and I believe that somehow, she’s chosen to come at this time. So my heart right now is full of hope and joy, and at the same time there is great discomfort, there is…like I feel like many of us are feeling, are feeling right now.
[55:17] I grew up…and the point that comes to me a lot when I think of her, and I want her to feel truly comfortable in her skin is because even though I did not experience the level of racism that I know many of my, many of the population, the Black population in the States has, and continues to this day, I still had consequences of racism. I grew up, I was born in Nigeria, in West Africa, at the age of two, my parents decided to move back to Spain. My mom is the White Spanish, my dad is the Black African. Even though I didn’t experience direct racism, in the sense that I didn’t experience…ooh! The rains are coming here in Costa Rica, you probably hear it now. It’s a bit of rain storm in the background.
[56:06] But yeah, I didn’t feel directly, let’s say, the hatred of anyone in particular. I wasn’t particularly bullied, I certainly have never experienced police brutality or oppression in any way. But there still, there was something, there was something there. Also growing up in a predominantly White society that made me, in some way, feel that I was not enough, you know, for example the stories that I read from the books that we were shared, the films, the cartoons, I didn’t feel represented, there were predominantly White characters. Despite whether they were Spanish or from anywhere else in the world, and I feel like this is where for a lot of non-White people has been the experience. It was certainly for me growing up where in some way, there was this underlying message that I was not, let’s say, yeah, enough, pretty enough. So it, it was difficult for me to fully accept myself.
[56:15] My hair was too curly, and needed taming, need to find ways to straighten it constantly. My nose felt too big, or my lips were too chunky, my voice maybe was too raspy. As I became a young woman, my body figure was also, you know, I had wider hips, more African, let’s say, bone structure, and that’s, yeah, it didn’t always make me feel comfortable, it didn’t always make me feel beautiful, and I feel like this is, this is a big thing, not being represented in the stories, the stories being very one-sided. There was no diversity, no representation, it was not until I went to England to study, and I came in contact with people from all over the world, and I went to the School fo Oriental and African Studies that not only I saw the great diversity and potentiality, but also I became really proud and empowered of my heritage because I started learning more about it, because I started hearing other stories. It was not history, you know, there’s, there’s this saying of “well, history, who really is telling the story?” And it tended to be the White man’s story, not even woman. But from a male, White perspective.
[58:41] Yeah, to the point that still even to the day upsets me when people for example, refer to Africa as if it’s one country, you even often even hear it in the news. I’m often amazed how a news article or spokesperson could refer to different countries and then say “and Africa,” you know, completely disregarding, there’s close to 50 countries in Africa. And, for example, in Nigeria, you know, people will ask me, “do you speak Nigerian?” And you say “how can they…you know, Nigeria is a construct, it’s not only, it’s only 50 years old country that was, you know, a creation from the British, where there’s over 240 ethnic groups, like how can there be one language here? Obviously English had been the dominating language.”
[59:31] And this is not out of malice, it’s out of ignorance, but this is part of racism. That is part of racism, I get the whole world knows about the Romans, and the Greeks, and we know about the goddesses and the gods from, you know, from different parts of Europe. Even recent history: we know a lot about the Holocaust, but do we know what happened in Rwanda, do we know what happened in Congo? These are genocides that were equally, equally brutal, severe, and just…and yet there is so much less coverage. So much less that is shared and this is, this is what I feel is really shaking us right now is that there, racism’s still so active in the world.
[60:19] And particularly yes, in the US, the US has a very particular history that has led to this situation right now. They are still clearly living the effects of slavery and colonialism, still very recent, much needs to change. I fully understand that, you know, the rage and the upheaval because, yeah, the US really needs to reassess their situation right now. They need to acknowledge the level of violence against Black people, against Indigenous people, against people of Brown skin color, and there’s been too mach complacency, so we are at different levels of feeling really uncomfortable what’s happening right now. The riots are part of, you know, they’re a symptom, they’re not the problem.
[61:09] And yet, I feel like this is a also a time that we’re really beginning to, not, not beginning, but it is a time to stay united. And the riots are, I feel they’re, they’re part of this process, but I really dream and hope and pray that it leads into what really needs to change, what the solutions are to change the great disparities that Black people have been and continue to experience. That it’s not time to be divided, this is a time of unity. And yes, 2020 has really shaken us all, has really come to, to shake us all, to make us feel really uncomfortable, and there’s something here, I’m not really sure what it is yet, but something that I’ve been really feeling into is that breath is the constant, like uniting thread throughout.
[62:09] So, with COVID, COVID seems to be a virus that really affects the lungs, and there’s a lot of, you know, people are being challenged in their breath, right? At the core of their breath, at the core of life. Only less than a year ago, the Amazon was on fire, the lungs of the Earth, it was like the Earth could not breathe, and now we have, we have the words, thankfully because someone recorded it, we’ve all witnessed the horrible, violent murder of George Floyd where he continuously said that he couldn’t breathe. And it just feels that we’re all in this pause right now where breath is at the core, which is life, and without life, you know, there is death, and we’re coming towards, yeah, times of big death, of, of, of…systems are dying.
[63:15] And, and racism is one of the complex systems of inequality that needs to die, and we all have a responsibility towards it, to change, you know, our day to day lives with what we can, and this is not just for the people in the US, because racism, racism is across the board throughout the world, in great or less degree. For example here, I live in Costa Rica, in Central America, and there’s great racism throughout the continent against Indigenous people, against Mestizos, mixed-race. Access to health, to education, there’s no social justice, so we need to change.
[64:07] And I really welcome this initiative of giving space and voice to the disenfranchised, to the marginalized, for Rachel to have given up her platform where she has great impact, to choose to give this space to other voices that don’t usually get heard. And I guess my goal is for you, individually, to do that in your communities, in your places of work, in, in your homes. Listen to those that you wouldn’t generally listen to, like what’s their life like? What are their realities, their stories? And what can you do to be more inclusive, to incorporate them more? My dream for my girl right now is that she comes into a world where she can fully, truly be comfortable in her skin, where she can be, feel safe in her body, where she can truly live her most authentic self, and not feel any limitation, any limitation, no need to relinqui…to deem any part of who she is. And for Black people, that has been their reality for too long of a time.
[65:29] [Sighs]. Yes. This is from my heart, to you today, to really, yes, allow the discomfort. Go into it. And listen, listen within and listen without. Listen within your body. And listen to those around you that may be in a more vulnerable, marginalized position. Thank you so, so much. If you wanna stay in touch, if you wanna know more about my, my life, my work as a doula, as a yoga teacher, as a soon to be mom, you can follow me, you can find me on Instagram, @maite_yoga. Let’s continue these conversations.
[66:24] Rachel: Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode, and from the bottom of my heart, a huge thank you to our amazing guest hosts this week, Dianne Bondy, Rocky Heron and Maite Onochie. Please follow them on Instagram: you can find Dianne @diannebondyyogaofficial, Rocky is @rockyheron, and Maite @maite_yoga. I’ll be sharing them on social media as well so you can find their tags on Instagram as well. Please join me in uplifting Black voices, speaking up for change, and educating yourself. Thanks again for listening to this show, if you enjoy this episode, be sure to listen and subscribe to other great episodes of the Yoga Girl podcast. You can find all of them on yogagirl.com, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you normally get your shows. Don’t forget to leave a review while you are there. Thanks to the folks at Cadence13 for their production work. I’ll see you next week.
[67:14 — End of Episode]
The light you are seeking is within your own heart
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