A yoga class recently sparked controversy in Seattle. Rainier Beach Yoga started offering a monthly class for people of color only. The advertisement for the class stated that “white friends, allies and partners are respectfully asked not to attend.” Rainier Beach Yoga said it wanted to provide a safe space for people of color.
The class sparked immediate outrage. Responses on social media and the news scathed the “racist yoga” class until Rainier Beach Yoga relented. The owner apologized and scuttled the class, stating that she only meant to be inclusive. In fact, Rainier Beach Yoga has cancelled all its classes for now due to alleged threats. This bad idea and the backlash that followed demonstrate that good intentions cannot overcome the pernicious effects of discrimination.
Progressives have long promoted the idea of “benign” discrimination. In government policy and private life, many want to fiddle with the makeup of society in the name of racial equity. Affirmative action and benign discrimination do not, however, build a tolerant society. Instead, these policies deepen divides and ignite racial hostility.
Good intentions also don’t exempt businesses and governments from the law. Rainier Beach Yoga’s exclusion of White students probably violated Title II of the Civil Rights Act. Title II forbids businesses open to the public from filtering clients and customers based on their race. The Civil Rights Act does not favor certain races over others. Otherwise, it would betray its very purpose.
Benign discrimination can never achieve Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a world where his children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. We cannot put racism behind us through exclusion and favoritism based on race.
The threats and vicious attacks on Rainier Beach Yoga, however, deserve equal condemnation. Believers in genuine equality should ride the higher road. If we want to be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin, we each ought to cultivate characters worthy of favorable judgment.