jamilah malika | Towards an Embodied Understanding of Power

About jamilah malika abu-bakare

jamilah malika abu-bakare makes anti-oppression accessible to mindfulness practitioners by connecting the two as practices. her skill relating anti-oppression as a practice akin to our mindful movement practice is rooted in her work as co-visionary of the (now defunct) Positive Space Initiatives at Kula Annex dating back to 2010. she is currently the anti-oppression facilitator for New Leaf Foundation, Mindful Strength, and Mindfulness Without Borders and has taught upon request from Toronto to Terrace and as far as Rhode Island. she is a proud member of the Brown Girls Yoga collective based in Toronto and in addition to teaching trauma-informed, mindfulness-based yoga, she is a writer and an artist (SAIC MFA ‘19.)

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Woman in triangle pose on a yoga mat

Show Notes

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About This Episode

Kathryn welcomes jamilah malika back on the podcast to expand the discussion of anti-racism and anti-oppression in the movement world. jamilah provides a clear framework for unpacking power in an embodied way and how that may be more accessible to people than dialogues about privilege. The conversation weaves together important threads of trauma-aware teaching, space management strategies, and theories of accessibility that will help guide your practice towards greater social change.

jamilah malika is leading a module on power and anti-oppression in our 300-hour online training

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Podcast Transcription

 

Kathryn: [00:00:08]

Hi Everyone. Welcome back. Today on the podcast I am speaking to jamilah malika. jamilah has been on once before back in 2018. Her and I have collaborated on a few projects since then. jamilah has been one of the main guest teachers for my teachers’ immersion, which has happened twice now. She has also recorded a presentation for the Mindful Strength Membership.

Those of you who are in the membership: you can look forward to having a presentation from jamilah on anti-oppression added to the membership shortly. And for those of you who are not in the membership, just another great reason to get signed up to get started with your seven-day trial.

[00:01:12]

jamilah and I talked about power and privilege and anti-oppression. A continuation of the last time when she was on. Her work has really grown since then. She has completed her Masters, is living back in Canada, and she is really working in this field. She is working with a lot of yoga studios and a lot of different teachers and facilitators.

Her experience is just so broad on this topic. She’s worked in all different kinds of places, studios, and trainings. She has so much to share and I’m always so happy to have jamilah here on the podcast.

[00:01:56]

jamilah is also one of the guest faculty members on my 300-hour teacher training that I’m co-hosting with my friend Carly Stong, which is gonna begin in April of 2021. We are going to be releasing more information about our incredible list of guest instructors. A lot of the same guest instructors from my Teacher’s Immersion course, which some of you may have taken before. But it’s not going to be the same content materials. It’s going to be a continuation.

The 300-hour training is perfect for anyone who’s already done a teacher training program or clinician. If you’re a physiotherapist or something like that, you might really enjoy this as well. It is a deep deep dive into strength, movement science, and inclusion. We’re looking at everything from strength training to heavier lifting to pain science; biomechanics, trauma, grief, teaching online stuff. All of our favorite topics.

[00:03:03]

If you want to learn more about that go to mindfulstrength.ca. We’ll have some information up about the 300-hour on the website. You can also send me an email if you want to hello@mindfulstrength.ca. We’ll get you some more info.

All right everyone here is my conversation with jamilah malika.

Kathryn: [00:03:24]

All right, jamilah. Welcome back to the podcast.

jamilah malika: Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be back.

Kathryn: Yeah. I think the last time we had a conversation was almost two years ago.

jamilah malika: Yeah totally. It was early 2019 and what a different world we’re in.

Kathryn: Yeah. Oh my goodness. I feel that when I talked to you last, I am trying to think of where I was at that point in my development.

jamilah malika: [00:03:54]

Yeah. I know exactly where I was. I was in Chicago finishing my MFA and I had just come back from New Orleans and it was really nice to talk. I feel like it helped me really kind of remember some of what had been out of mind for me for a moment. Being in this MFA program and super focused on art and writing, it’s a really lovely memory in my mind. I’m really happy to talk again.

Kathryn: [00:04:22]

Mm-hmm. Some people have probably listened to that earlier episode but that was a while ago. There are a lot of new people listening to the podcast now. I’m wondering if you want to take a couple of minutes and tell people a little bit about who you are and the type of work that you’re doing now.

jamilah malika: [00:04:37]

Yes. I’ve been doing anti-oppression work in wellness spaces since about 2010. I started managing a yoga studio called Kula Annex in downtown Toronto. Really quickly we started thinking about some of the barriers to the yoga practice and yoga studios.

Myself and the Director at the time Christi-an Slomka started something called the Positive Space Initiative. It was really a way to think about ourselves as managers, as directors, or as people who are caretakers of the space. How are we going to either perpetuate or interrupt systems of power-oppression structures in our society? They really are in every space, right?

[00:05:22].840

Racism is in health care and in the legal system and in the education system and finance. It’s everywhere. A yoga studio being in the world is a part of these systems and structures. We started doing things like having a gender-neutral change space and we introduced consent cards and we had demographic-specific classes. We had brown girls yoga and queer yoga.

We also had eight dollar classes every day to think about the financial barriers and childcare for parents who didn’t want to just pay for their class and potentially transportation and childcare. They could come to the studio with their little ones and there was a space for them to be well taken care of and that work really.

[00:06:11]

It led me to work with New Leaf Foundation, which is an organization that offers mindfulness-based and trauma-informed yoga in schools and youth custody facilities in and around the greater Toronto area.
My work at New Leaf has been so broad.

I’ve been a co-teacher, a teacher, a mentor, and then in 2015, I started to do their anti-oppression facilitation for their teacher training. I think working with youth people have a natural inclination to think like “oh anti-oppression makes sense because I don’t want my bias to affect young people”.

[00:06:50]

You know what’s really cool is that work really made more space for people to think about how anti-oppression is useful to think about working with anybody at any age. It’s important to keep in mind how power is happening in our relationships and particularly as teachers. When we step into the role of teacher, there’s a lot of room for abuses of power and for our bias to play in this way.

At New Leaf, having a trauma important method, we really like to think about our own reactivity and how we could be misreading a situation. Say you have a student who is lethargic; in your mind do you understand this disengagement as a behavior that you don’t like as a teacher and you think to yourself like this is a bad student. When we take a trauma-informed lens, we can actually understand how lethargic could be hunger.

[00:07:51]

For example, it could be a mode of freeze which is like a response to trauma, you know? Shutting down and disengaging is a way people learn to manage and cope in their bodies. It’s an important module. The anti-oppression portion and you know anti-oppression is like such an easier thing to understand right. For me, I think people are like “oh what does that mean”, but it just means recognizing that power exists and can harm.

In that sense it’s like “OK in a classroom there are power dynamics; there’s l who’s popular, who’s getting praised, and who’s getting punished”. All that stuff is power. It’s a really nice opportunity to think about how as a teacher you’re stepping into that. Then that stuff really translates.

[00:08:37]

We started working together for Mindful Strength in the teacher immersion. You’re still really thinking about working with people. You might not have certain experiences of being in a bigger body or maybe some of our students have mobility devices. Our students can have totally different experiences than us. Anti-oppression helps us like open to experiences that aren’t ours and be able to relate in a way as a teacher that’s inclusive.

It’s really nice because I think a physical practice is important. When we think about anti-oppression to think about our bodies and being embodied. Recently I’ve started also working with mindfulness without borders and you know that’s really just like a seated meditation practice. Even there, there’s room to talk about anti-oppression.

[00:09:26]

My work has really grown out of practical space management related ways of how am I going to welcome people. How am I going to teach people? How am I going to teach people who are young? How am I going to teach people who are different than me? It’s really exciting to see people get more and more interested in the work.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve fielded inquiries from a Food Bank and Catholic School Board. It’s like more people are just starting to think about “OK how do we start to be mindful of doing harm”. I think that’s a really relevant conversation in the world today.

Kathryn: [00:10:07]

Yeah. One thing that I think is kind of interesting is over the last few years I would say there’s more of this like anti-oppression education starting to pop up in yoga training and stuff like that.
I think in one way people really get that. There’s yoga and there’s this philosophy. If we’re looking at life and philosophy, then of course anti-oppression and privilege and all these things are part of that: “cool I kind of get that”.

But now what I’m starting to see, which is super interesting, is like pilates teachers are starting to talk about anti-oppression. Sometimes exercise teachers and sometimes physios. It’s really moving out from this type of practice that obviously comes with this philosophy side to types of practices that are just exercise methods or rehab methods. The conversation is moving out into the world.

jamilah malika: [00:11:11]

Yeah, it’s really exciting. You know, there are also some concerns people are having about that which is totally legit. I think you do need to be mindful of the certification and training and education that has to go into the use of the title or use of the word. But even a doctor can be thinking about “am I going to ask my patient if it’s OK to touch them before I touch them”. That’s bedside manner for a doctor.

If you go into someone’s office and they ask “do you want me to leave the door open or are you ok if we close the door?”. That’s being mindful of power. I think there is a real way where it’s actually pertinent and responsible for everybody to think about anti-oppression. Even in a physical practice because like we’re in bodies. That’s the link for me. We’re in bodies and how do we be embodied and relate to other embodied people.

[00:12:14]

his is a word that I use in my presentations. I talk about being present and embodied in the world. Right? For me, breaking down those three things is like present to the fact that I don’t have everyone’s experience; present to like this moment, and what other people might be going through. How do I be embodied? If in my body I don’t have the experience of being racialized, other people do, and can I be open to that experience without having to live it?

Can I just listen to them and take their word for it or am in my experience being like “actually I don’t know that that exists. Racism. Prove it to me”. If you’re being present and embodied, I think it’s about being mindful that bodies have race, age, ability, gender. Not just Man-Woman binary gender but like intersex non-binary gender-nonconforming, two-spirit. All these kinds of modes in the whole spectrum of gender.

[00:13:18]

A body has size. A body has a phenotype. OK. This is a little bit more complicated. Phenotype takes us into a conversation of featureism and colorism. Phenotype is talking about these physical markers that people have that we attribute value to differently. I have like a looser curl you know and some black women have like a very tight curl. Then we start thinking about in movies when a black woman is portrayed as beautiful which is a bit rare to me. I just said that if it happens all the time but it doesn’t.

When a black woman is portrayed as beautiful: what kind of hair does she have? She has straight hair. She has like big loose Beyonce curls. She doesn’t have tight tight tight curls. Bodies have all of these little nuance differences and bodies also experienced trauma. Right. And trauma is held in the body. It is processed in the body.

[00:14:18]

I think a big part of being anti-oppressive is understanding how trauma is oppression. Right? If we’re present and embodied and also in the world, we’re not off in a monastery by ourselves we don’t live in like a vacuum alone. Even in this state of isolation, we’re still understanding how in a global pandemic we’re all super connected.

Those California fires blew through. I’m in Vancouver and I could smell smoke. I think we’re really understanding how being in the world is a state of connectedness right. How are we being with the pandemic? How are we being with the Black Lives Matter movement? How are we being with climate crisis?

[00:15:03]

How are we understanding the climate crisis as the result of indigenous people’s genocide and dispossession of their land in Canada, for example? As Canadians, how are we present to our identities as settler immigrants or settlers on this land? I was born in Nigeria. I’m Trinidadian and Nigerian, and still, I’m here on this land that is unseated. This land is occupied.

How do I be as this dominant group of settlers? How do I be in relationship with the indigenous people around me? I think our practice of mindfulness is a way to understand mindfulness is noticing what’s happening, and being present and embodied in the world. I think it’s about noticing what’s happening.
For me, it kind of makes sense but I understand that people who don’t have certain experiences are like “oh” and that’s cool.

Your experience has not necessarily made you mindful of these things. Maybe the news that you watch actually is informing you in a certain kind of way and informing your bias. Can you be open to the news of waking up to a world where we need to think about these things for all of our benefit?

Kathryn: [00:16:24]

It sounds like there’s a lot of listening that has to happen right now. I mean nobody has everyone’s experience. It sounds like we all need to listen to other people.

jamilah malika: Yeah. I think we really want to grow and learn and expand in our physical practice. Right. Like that’s our goal. We’re involved in an ongoing process of growing and learning and expanding. For me, it’s that same process. Can we use some of that motivation to also grow and learn and expand in this process of listening?

Kathryn: [00:17:06]

When I teach movement it’s all about strength building and building resilience. There is this progressive loading approach. It’s like you start with a little bit and then gradually over time you increase, your body adapts goats. If people are maybe at the beginning of this learning progression about anti-oppression and listening, where should people or where could people start?

jamilah malika: That’s a really great question. OK in New Leaf we call that process titration. Is that the same word?

Kathryn: I’ve definitely heard the word titration but I don’t use it when I speak.

jamilah malika: [00:17:49]

Oh, interesting. OK. I know it’s a science word and it’s the way that I understand this process of a little bit at a time or loading like the word that you used. Yeah. I think a great place to start is self-inquiry. I think people want to do certain kinds of inquiry and then this kind of inquiry gets a little tricky because you have to be really honest with yourself. At first, you’re gonna face answers, internal answers that may be hard to process. Right?

OK here’s a question that I ask people: “in our physical practice, how do you push yourself and how do you punish yourself?” I think sometimes in our practice we have this aspirational real drive. We look on Instagram and we see this very, very thin hyper-flexible body doing inversions and that’s our practice goal. That’s our desire for ourselves. And it may be totally unattainable.

[00:18:57]

It’s like the least accessible goal for ourselves but we’re actually holding ourselves against this standard you know. And the thing about Instagram is: who even knows what that person is going through? If they’re taking care of themselves like those things aren’t on Instagram. I think we kind of push our bodies by policing what we put in our mouths.

I have this physical practice, I don’t eat three hours before and I only eat these very certain things. We don’t give ourselves room to enjoy and take pleasure in food because we have what we deem this healthy diet. But if you eat a piece of pizza because you go out with your friends, then you’re punishing yourself. Right? Then you’re like “Oh I hate this pizza I’m the worst person in the world”.

[00:19:47]

It’s like” oh you’re not the worst person in the world. It’s okay to have a piece of pizza, all right?” I think the thing about remembering “OK I’m going to do my practice every day. Right?” There was that yoga hashtag yoga every day. I think ten years ago a lot of people who I know who were doing yoga now are like you cannot do yoga every day. I jammed my shoulders and ruined them forever.
You just can’t.

You got to be able to have a piece of pizza. You got to be able to take a day off. And are you really doing cleanses in a way that’s maybe a little bit overboard? Just starting to look at the ways that you yourself take care of your own body and push or punish or police your body. And then what I then ask people to think about is “OK what we know about mindfulness is the ways that we relate inward are the ways that we relate outward”.

[00:20:49]

How then are you pushing, punishing, or policing your students? As a teacher, are you praising the thinnest most hyper-flexible person? The people in the room who identify as fat, the people in the room who have limited mobility in their knees, they are taking you very seriously. They’re like “Oh my God. Something’s wrong with my body because my body doesn’t look like the best student’s body”. What kind of hierarchies are you creating in and among your students?

There was a thing Kula where we talked to our staff teachers and everyone who supported the space and the energy exchange program. We asked them “what kind of conversations are happening in reception?” If you as a teacher are talking about how you hate your thighs, your students are listening, and as a teacher, you’re a role model.

[00:21:46]

How can you talk about your body in a way that’s loving and kind because you want that for your students to relate to themselves that way? Even if you’re not a teacher to think about: how am I in the world policing other bodies? If we think about Amy Cooper, the bird watching incident, are you familiar with this?

Kathryn: This is the white woman who called the police on someone in a park in New York.

jamilah malika: [00:22:14]

Yeah. That’s policing. OK. So that happened in New York. But Amy Cooper’s Canadian. And in New Brunswick, there was this incident in the not so far past where a black guy was reading by the lake and the police were called on him. It’s not so much an American problem.

It’s also a kind of thing that’s ingrained in the culture to police black people; to see them around and be like “what is he doing? What is she doing?” People imagine that there are criminals; imagining that they’re making you feel unsafe when in fact they’re birdwatching or reading a book.

I think the more that we just actually ask ourselves kind of simple questions about how do I relate to my body? How do I relate to other bodies? We can actually start to unpack some of our biases. I ask people “think about what kind of accents you like”. That’s not for no reason.

[00:23:15]

There’s this Krishnamurti quote “you think you’re thinking your own thoughts. You’re not. You’re thinking the culture’s thoughts”. I heard that in a mindfulness talk by this great new teacher who’s my favorite Sebene Selassie. That quote really helps us. Our preferences aren’t objective, we learn them.
The movie Disclosure on Netflix is a great place to start. The movie called Crip Camp a disability revolution. It’s also on Netflix.

It’s a great place to start to think about “oh what some of my stuff that comes up when I see trans folks? What some of my stuff that comes up when I see disabled folks?” I’ve been doing this work for a really long time, but I was watching Crip Camp and I had to take a notebook out and start writing things down. I tell people to start a journal put all your stuff in it.

[00:24:09]

You need to look at it. When you start to think about “oh my gosh I actually really don’t like this accent and why? I actually really love French accents and why?” Write it down and really just let yourself free write and see what comes up.

I am really a big fan of Lena Peters who is an amazing activist and educator in Oakville. She’s been doing some really great BLM work in Oakville in Ontario lately. S he talks about how we learn anti-oppression in our families in a really simple way when we’re really young. If you grew up in a family and you have siblings and one of your siblings is a boy then you learn about patriarchy.

[00:24:54]

If you grow up and you’re like starting to feel like “oh my gosh maybe I’m queer and like expressing outside of your gender and outside of the binary” then you start to learn about homophobia, queerphobia, and transphobia. If you have a sibling who’s fat then you learn about fatphobia and you understand how value is attributed to different people in your family differently.

You see the kind of power and the kind of respect that your dad gets and you see if you have a stay at home mom what that is like in terms of respect for other people. There is this great NPR podcast that we can also include in the details about this podcast today; it explains that we start learning that race is something that attributes value differently from the age of two.

From two years old, you’re picking up on the fact that race is a thing and that it demarcates people differently. I think when we start to just reflect and give ourselves space and time to write and look at kind of what’s coming up for us without judgment, that’s how you work with bias. The thing that you can’t do is say “I’m not biased. I am actually just I don’t know how I don’t know”. I think the way to address bias is to acknowledge bias and so we can start doing that with ourselves in these really simple ways that are just self-inquiry.

Kathryn: [00:26:28]

I want to take a moment in the middle of this episode to tell you about Building Resilience: A 30-day practice progression. If you want to get started with strengthening in a mindful way and you’re not quite sure where to begin or there are just so many options out there; go over to mindfulstrength.ca and get started.

Each day you get a new class. Every class is 30 minutes or less, so it’s super manageable. Classes range from strengthening with weights and bands and your bodyweight all the way to self-massage and restorative practices. You get a little bit of everything which will help you build resilience. To sign up go to mindfulstrength.ca. Alright everyone, now back to the show.

Kathryn: [00:27:18]

What’s the name of the NPR podcast?

jamilah malika: I think it’s called Talking Race With Kids. I can send it to you. It’s like one of my faves.

Kathryn: Yeah, I’ve been listening to the Code Switch podcast from NPR which is also amazing.

jamilah malika: Yeah. They just had a great one about the term BIPOC and POC.

Kathryn: Yes.

jamilah malika: Yeah super good I recommend that too.

Kathryn: That episode is such a moment of “oh maybe I don’t know how everyone in the world feels”.

jamilah malika: [00:27:55]

Yeah! I think it’s like what’s exciting. OK. Another educator I really love is Kim Katrin. Kim talks about flipping the golden rule. The golden rule is like do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And her ideas like actually we have to start asking how people want to be treated. And the thing that I understood from that Code Switch podcast was you got to ask people how they identify.

I think we’re starting to have that conversation around gender. How do you want to be addressed? What are your pronouns? My pronouns are she or her, for example. I think we also have to be comfortable asking people “oh how do you identify racially? If I spoke to somebody, how would you want me to describe you?”.

We think that’s not a question we’re supposed to ask or that’s rude or taboo. But it actually just mitigates a ton of harm because then you’re not assuming.

Kathryn: [00:28:51]

Yeah yeah. Huh. That was a good one. That one I feel like that’s the type of podcast I need to listen to a couple of times just to be like oh boy.

jamilah malika: Yeah, there’s a lot there. For sure.

Kathryn: OK. This is all really incredible. I think what you said about notice what accents you like is just such a great example. I think especially the people who are listening to this podcast and people of the world who want to do good and have really amazing intentions when we start to say: “notice which bodies you prefer”. People are like: “oh no I don’t prefer any bodies, I like all of the bodies”. But then like would you say “notice which accents you prefer”.

It’s like that feels like maybe a little less painful for the person to have to deal with and be like “oh no wait, yeah. There is a bias here. Why is that and what is that?”.

jamilah malika: Yeah. I think people are really afraid of, I’ll just say it, being called racist.

Kathryn: Yeah.

jamilah malika: [00:29:50]

I’m like that’s the worst thing that could happen to people? It’s really not. It’s really I think what you can think about is like doing this work privately. If you are scared of asking or speaking those things out loud: a notebook, a journal, please just speak those things to yourself. Speak those things with your partner. I think when we are starting to have these conversations it’s clunky; like it’s super clunky and you want to just practice.

Before you start kind of having those conversations with your students and you might have like a ton of fear about your students thinking that you have preferences, talk to your friends. I think the one thing that’s tricky there is like usually in our circles we kind of surround ourselves with similar people. Talk to your friends but also be mindful that like you don’t want to reinforce your bias.

[00:30:50]

If you’re like “I don’t like South Asian accents but I’ve been thinking about how I used to watch the Simpsons all the time and that was like a funny accent” and your friend is like “yeah that is a funny accent”. I could double down right now on my bias I could be like “yeah, I have another person who says it is funny”. I think we sometimes do that. I think it’s a really good place to kind of just start with yourself.

You know another thing if you like to read: Malcolm Gladwell has this book called Blink. That’s all about bias. The title really signals you to this idea that it happens super fast. Bias is happening in your brain. There’s old science about in-group and out-group and identifying what’s safe. That’s literally from the cave-people era.

[00:31:46]

He has this instance where a group of folks who self identify as liberal and progressive are asked to be a part of an experiment. They’re shown different pictures of different kinds of people who are from different socio-economic classes than them; homeless folks, sex workers. Then they’re recording brain activity. The brain activity (while these folks identify as like good people) is marking how immediately someone who is homeless, someone who does sex work is in your brain. You’re already doing othering.

The question that stops that brain activity is “what kind of vegetable do you think this person likes?” The experiment showed that when someone starts thinking about what kind of vegetable this person likes different openings of like humanity and compassion open up in their brain. It’s so wild right.

I think that’s a real thing. I think I’m good. I think my friends are good and I think we’re just really trying our best. We have to start thinking a bit bigger than that. Maybe try the vegetable test.

Kathryn: [00:33:06]

Yeah. I have not read that book. Whenever you see a book in the airport and you see the title, you make a judgment on what it might be about or something you’re like “ah no, that’s not for me”.

jamilah malika: Totally. It’s a good one. I read a long time ago. I’m not sure if it stands up to the test of time. Someone could reach out and tell me that this book is super dated but yeah it came out a while ago. It was a really good tool to think about bias in a lot of different ways. Yeah, I recommend it.

Kathryn: Do you think that type of research also shows that bias is a natural human thing?

jamilah malika: Yup.

Kathryn: …and we can just do this work.

jamilah malika: [00:33:52]

Yeah. I’ll also share this link with your listeners. You can test yourself for hidden bias online. I haven’t done it personally because I “oh I have bias”. I’m happy to be like “I know I have bias”. But I think if you’re a person who’s inclined to self-testing, it’s cool. I think it’s on a tolerance…I’ll find it for you and we’ll share with the viewers, the listeners.

Yeah, you can totally test yourself. Reading books like Blink and looking up bias online I think gives you a lot of basic information that like everyone has bias. The only way to really start shifting bias is to acknowledge that you have it. That we all have it.

Kathryn: [00:34:39]

OK. I need to ask you this. I’m like “we’re not going to get to all the topics today”. That’s okay. We need to get here. Privilege. A lot of people are talking about this right now. The last time I had my friend Robin Lacambra on this podcast within the last five minutes she said something really incredible along the lines of: “having privilege doesn’t discount the challenges that you face in your life. It doesn’t mean that you have this nice happy life where everything just falls into place. It’s possible to have privilege and to struggle”.

I see this a little bit coming up online right now. Where someone might make a post about “I don’t have white privilege because I have to like go to work every day and do the super hard job and I like I struggle in my life. I don’t identify as somebody who has privilege”. I’m wondering if you could just speak about this a little bit.

jamilah malika: [00:35:41]

Yeah. Jimmy Kimmel this summer said, this is a quote not attributable to him, but he was reminding everyone for white privilege doesn’t mean that you don’t have hard experiences in your life and challenge and struggle in your life. It just means that the color of your skin hasn’t made any of those things any harder.

I think we can go back as far as there’s this seminal work by Peggy McIntosh called Unpacking the White Privilege Backpack or something. I might have just paraphrased that title. We can also put that for your listeners to check out. It’s like an old old paper that is really one of the first important pieces to have this conversation around privilege.

[00:36:29]

I don’t use the word privilege a lot. I did a workshop in 2019 at Yoga Space in Toronto, and afterward, I reflected I didn’t say the word privilege once. I think that’s because people have such a block around claiming it or it becomes even kind of like a hook. In Buddhist mindfulness terms, I’d say it’s so sticky.

I talk about power. I talk about identifying power. I talk about thinking about language. I talk about bias. I talk about being present and embodied in the world. I don’t talk as much about privilege because I don’t find it as useful language as some of the other language I use.

[00:37:19]

There is an artist and educator named Kim Ninkiru and this past summer she talked really eloquently about overly identifying with your privilege, which is like the opposite end of that spectrum of people really resisting the idea. I think you know it can be an instance where people are like “Oh my God my privilege. I have all this guilt around my privilege” and hen they kind of shut down; or like “privilege. I don’t have privilege. I grew up poor.I come from a single-parent family”, and then they shut down.

I think the language of anti-oppression is power is happening interpersonally. I teach there’s like three modes of power. We witness power, we experience power, and we exercise power. Those are things where I think people can relate and understand. They are ways to open your eyes in every moment to “I could be a part of perpetuating systems of power that exist, or I could be interrupting those systems of power”.

[00:38:29]

I don’t know if privilege has ever really helped me do this work the way the language of power has. I find I don’t use it that much. I want people to notice how and when they shut down. The parts of ourselves that we reject, it’s really a huge practice to think about how do I hold the parts of myself that are most complicated, and that gives me the most reactivity.

I think discomfort is a really great teacher in the same way in our physical practice. We notice discomfort and it signals us to pay attention or in our mindfulness practice we notice distraction, and it signals us to pay attention. I think there is really room to think about discomfort but I don’t know if thinking about privilege, it might be like that instance of titration. Maybe thinking about bias and power helps people move towards a place where they can think about privilege in a way that is more accessible.

[00:39:38]

It’s not really a word I use at all. I don’t find it as helpful. In the New Leaf training manual, we talk about unpacking our shiz, which is kind of silly. It’s like a way to think about how like “OK I come into the room and I bring all my stuff. I bring like all my conditioning, all of my bias, my own ideas about what’s best and what’s right, and how a student should be”. I have to think about that before I get into the room. But we don’t really say like “check your privilege” or something. That for me, it doesn’t help people be amenable to doing some of this thinking and inquiry. It actually seems to be kind of like an obstacle for people.

Tons of fragility comes up and I don’t know if there’s enough resourcing. When I say resources I mean, I think power helps us think about my own agency, the agency of people around. Being present and embodied helps us think about how am I being open or closed at this moment? How does my body relate to other bodies? I think privilege comes up. I don’t know. I’m not really sure why, but it doesn’t seem to be as useful a word to me in this work. Does that make sense?

Kathryn: [00:41:11]

Yeah. Hundred percent. One hundred percent. It’s so great to hear another educator’s perspective.

jamilah malika: When I started doing this work ten years ago, privilege was a word that people were using; it was really helpful to articulate, I think in terms of race, nonwhite people don’t access certain power within the structure of white supremacy. That is a result of colonialism; the transatlantic slave trade; imperialism. This history that we all share.

[00:41:48]

But like as a black person I have to think about my class privilege. I have to think about as an able person the privilege that I have because I’m able-bodied in a world where disability is not the norm.

Able-bodied people are seen as better because this is the structure of ableism. I think that being cis-gendered is a kind of privilege within the system of transphobia. As a cis-gendered person, how do I use or this is another word we use a lot, leverage your privilege.

[00:42:34]

If I’m in a space and someone makes a transphobic joke, as a cis-person I can be like “hey that’s not funny”. Sara Schulman is a great writer. She’s an educator. She has this book called Conflict is Not Abuse that I really love and I recommend.

She’s Jewish and she talks about how as a Jewish person it’s really important for her to do advocacy work on behalf of Palestinian people in her Jewish community. She’s like “I recognize that being Jewish and talking to other Jewish people about the state of Palestine is really important work. My Jewish peers are not going to take that advocacy the same way from Palestinian protesters the way they would from me”.

Privilege can help you understand like “OK I’m part of this group and I can talk to people in my group and do a level of mediating that other folks might not be able to do because we’re in this identity together”. If you’re white and you’re at your dinner table and people are like “oh these black lives matter protesters”. You could be like “actually, there’s a lot of police killings and people are really stressed out and upset. We have no experience of that. How can we decide what’s best for people to do?”.

[00:44:12]

“It’s really presumptuous and entitled of us to say when and how black people should demand the value of their lives”. I think that’s a way to be like OK leveraging privilege. But I think when we come to the moment of like educating and training, in my experience, it hasn’t been the best language for me to use. I’m a writer. I’m really into saying what you mean and meaning what you say. I think for me language choices are super important and understanding people’s reactions to language is really important.

I’ve noticed in the past few years that I have better conversations and I really set my students up more for success when I use the language of power; when I use the language of bias; when I use the language of like present and embodied in the world.

Kathryn: [00:45:20]

Well, thank you for sharing that with us.

jamilah malika: Welcome. My pleasure.

Kathryn: Are you doing events? By the time this episode comes out, we’re probably going to be in like November.

jamilah malika: [00:45:35]

Yeah, I’m actually not really doing a ton of public work. In October you’ll have maybe noticed I did a work for New Leaf that that was super public and online available to everyone but more so I work with studios. I work with organizations that do education. I work with people in wellness. I do the work privately and on a kind of referral basis.

People do training with me through one organization and then they’re like “I lead this training, can you come to this training? I don’t have the kind of social media presence that a lot of people who do anti-oppression or diversity and inclusion might. I’m actually trying to take a break from social media right now.

[00:46:28]

I have a great website. I’m really grateful for that; it was built by Amelia Farace. A shout out to Amelia. Awesome work. Thank you so much. I try to keep that website. I’m gonna be working on it in the next couple of weeks to keep it as up to date as possible. I just feel like this work is is really actually kind of quiet. The kind of work that you should do and not tell everybody.

I love working with New Leaf, I love working with Mindful Strength, I love working with Mindfulness Without Borders. That kind of credibility really helps me do work. I’ve done maybe about eight workshops over the summer that were as far as Rhode Island or Terrace, B.C. A lot in Toronto.

[00:47:25]

I did a workshop with Downward Dog. In 2010, when I started doing this work Downward Dog never would have done that. So it’s really exciting. It’s 2020 and Downward Dog called me they were like “help us do this thing”. I was like “I would love”. I worked with Sana Yoga, Modo Yoga. I’m doing a lot of work with them and their community and their YTT.

I’m really happy to work with groups of 8, 10, 20. Small groups and take up a kind of space that’s actually really not public. I think it’s easier for me. I’m the worst you know because I used to be in a band and I didn’t want to be famous. It’s actually hilarious the ways that I try to make sure the work gets done and be in the world doing the work and make myself available, but I don’t do the self-promotion.

[00:48:25]

I don’t have the kind of public profile. I admire a lot of people I see online having super cool graphics, super cool aesthetics, and I understand that’s how capitalism works. This is how do you have to get money. I just feel really really grateful to work on a referral basis. Reach out to me. We will include my email if you have a studio or if you have a working group. I even have this idea to do a reflection group with white women that I am percolating in my mind. How would I do this thing and let it be self-sustainable?

I think white women have a lot to think about. In the recent rise of this idea of Karens and calling the police. What are white women in terms of the patriarchy like thinking about their role as actually having a ton of power and being able to use the vulnerability that patriarchy bestows upon them to demonize people they see as unsafe? My friend Lena Peters was like “how do we get the Karens to be interrupting power instead of perpetuating power?” I’m paraphrasing because that’s really my language but Lena’s like “how do we get Karens to be like I want to speak to the manager of racism”. Lena says right.

[00:49:59]

Instead of like calling please how can we get white women as like a demographic to be interrupting police violence instead of encouraging it. I think there are lots of ways that I like to work with small groups and work with people who kind of know my work.

It’s really exciting someone reached out from this podcast and had me teach yoga in the classroom with their students. I’m really happy to do work on those grounds. That’s where I feel comfortable. Yeah, it’s kind of weird.

Kathryn: [00:50:37]

That’s great. Yeah, it’s great. I’m glad that people are calling you and emailing you. I’m glad studios like Downward Dog are doing the things.

jamilah malika: Isn’t that exciting?

Kathryn: Yeah. We will have your contact information in the show notes.

jamilah malika: Awesome.

Kathryn: Yeah. Hopefully, people will reach out.

jamilah malika: [00:51:02]

Yeah, I really look forward to it. I think there’s no better time than now. If it’s scary that, means it’s worth doing. I really encourage everybody to think about how they can be doing their part; how they can be relating with themselves and others in this mode of gentle presence, embodied awareness, and really being grounded and being in and with the world.

Kathryn: Thank you so much.

jamilah malika: Thank you so much. It’s always such a pleasure, Kathryn.

Kathryn: Yeah, my pleasure.

jamilah malika: Awesome.

Kathryn: That’s our show. Thank you everyone so much for listening. If you are listening on Apple Podcast and you are loving the Mindful Strength Podcast, please consider leaving us to review. All of the reviews really really help. If you want to learn more about my work, my membership, my teachers’ course, or my new free course called Mindful Strength Foundations, you can head over to mindfulstrength.ca