Dear Ashtanga • 11 May 2014

Dear Ashtanga,

I ask you this question in love and respect. I ask because I see how awake you are.

When you are awake, hard questions make you curious. Not defensive.

Ashtanga, this is who we are:

we’re women;

we’re non-white (Latino, Asian, people of color, however you want to talk about it);

and we’re gay.

But those of us with the power: we’re mostly male, and white, and straight.

Unconsciousness doesn’t help anyone. But it’s built in to any hierarchy through this mechanism: the more power you get, the less empathy you feel. Like clockwork. Power increase: empathy decrease. This is what it is to be human.

An unconscious human, that is.

My question is this: can we all become students of women, of people of color, and of those who are not straight?

And this: do straight, white men use power, and script their student-teacher dynamics, with a different sort of force and entitlement than… every one else around?

Leaders: what do you have to give up to take this question seriously?

Do you have too much skin in the game to feel in to this one?

What is the cost to your own personal growth, and to our community, if you do not take this seriously?

Here are some big ideas: structural sexism. Structural racism. These are NOBODY’S FAULT. They happen when organizations reproduce the unconscious biases of their surrounding culture. But check it out, Ashtanga. You are behind the game on this one. Maybe 8% of this student body is straight, white men. But nine times out of ten, the people telling us how to do it come from this tiny minority.

I love this minority, incidentally: the most important people in my life are members of it. And I want them to be fully empowered in this world. But the thing is, they don’t have to try quite so much. Because if someone matches a certain profile, it’s easier to see him – more than others – as competent, as strong, as deserving, as reliable, as knowing things, as a leader.

If we are not awake.

The way that structural racism and sexism die is like this: conscious leadership. Either leaders wake themselves up, and see how the advantages they’ve enjoyed aren’t personal – aren’t just a sign of their hard work and merit.

Or their communities wake them up.

I ask us to wake up.