Victimhood

How a Whites-Excluding Yoga Class Reveals the Absurdity of Identity Politics

A yoga class in Seattle was denounced for being for people of color only. On all sides, the politics of identity and biology are making us ridiculous.

Photo Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast

Laura Humpf, the owner of a yoga studio in Seattle, thought she was doing her community a service when she advertised a monthly class specifically for minorities.

In an email to a neighborhood distribution list, Humpf heralded a “people of color space that is lesbian, bisexual, gay, queer & trans-friendly/affirming.”

The class would welcome people who “self-identify as African American/Black/of the African Diaspora, Asian, South Asian, West Asian/Arab/Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, First Nations/Alaskan Native/Native American/Indigenous, [email protected]/[email protected], or Multiracial/Mixed-Race.”

Shoehorned into this community-wide invitation was a gentle caveat: “White friends, allies and partners are respectfully asked not to attend.”

Evidently, Humpf did not anticipate that her well-intentioned addition to Rainier Beach Yoga studios would be met with cries of discrimination from—of all people!—the white community.

Dori Monson, a conservative radio host in Seattle, was tipped off about the class by one of his listeners and denounced it as racist on air.

There is something absurd about a privileged white man crying racism over a yoga class for minorities and using it to make a political point.

But even more absurd is the rush for both sides of the political spectrum to claim victimhood in race and culture wars—the right under attack from the left, the left under attack from the right, bigots like Kim Davis attacking gay people and claiming her religious freedom is under attack.

Responding to Monson’s segment, a local news outlet sneered that Monson was using his “position of privilege to completely truncate the discussion on why such a class might be necessary.”

Speaking to The Daily Beast, Monson said that he had “no problem with a yoga class for people of color, just as I have no problem with the florist in our state who opted not to be part of a gay wedding reception.”

He does have a problem with his state targeting “businesses that exclude because they have a different ideology than the people in power.”

It seems that the more we define our politics with reference to our gender or race or sexuality, the more inclined we are to declare ourselves victims of discrimination or oppression—to interpret a relatively innocuous yoga class as an attack on our personhood, in Monson’s case, while his critics turn their noses up at anyone who ticks the “white privileged male” box.

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Indeed, it’s not just the personal that’s political anymore but the biological, too, to the extent that political arguments are based entirely on skin color or sex.

Jennifer Lawrence argued in Lenny Letter last week that she wasn’t properly compensated as a star in American Hustle because of her “vagina.”

“Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves,” she wrote. “If anything, I’m sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share.”

But her salary on the film may not have boiled down to what’s beneath her underwear after all.

Deadline Hollywood recently reported that Lawrence was brought on to the film later than her co-stars, with whom deals had already been made on a production that was strapped for cash to begin with.

Lawrence reportedly “worked 19 days and was paid $1.25 million and got $250,000 in deferred compensation,” while Bradley Cooper “worked 46 days for $2.5 million and nine points.”

But no one wants to hear the details of why Lawrence may have earned less than her male co-stars: They simply don’t fit the “Hollywood is sexist” narrative that most of us have accepted as fact.

Identity politics are increasingly replacing the politics of ideas, weakening the moral and substantive power of any argument on both sides of the political spectrum.

During the first Democratic National Debate, Hillary Clinton repeatedly emphasized the possibility that she could make history as the first female president.

She didn’t hold back from highlighting an “obvious” difference between her and the majority of presidential candidates, and several times directed policy questions back toward gender.

When asked about a surge in voter support for “outsider” candidates, Clinton said that being a woman certainly made her qualify as an outsider—that she “can’t think of anything more of an outsider than electing the first woman president.”

She was quick to add that there’s a lot more to her candidacy than being a woman, but she’s playing the gender card much more than she did during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Identity politics allow people to claim the moral high ground from a precious position of victimhood, whether they’re the offending party or the offended one. We need a return to a culture that prioritizes the politics of ideas over the politics of identity and biology.

Minorities are victims of very real discrimination, which makes it all the more unseemly when a white man adopts victim rhetoric to make a political point. (Think Bill O’Reilly insisting progressives were waging a “war on Christmas.”)

But to revile and demonize the “white, privileged male” does not make you a more moral person. Likewise to side with the Hollywood star who has a vagina over the Hollywood star with a penis.

The end result is always divisive.