Monday, September 05, 2005

US Open (?)

Today I went to the US Open Tennis Tournament(s) with the Husband and Kiddies. It was great, great fun under the hot, hot sun. Among other matches, we saw Agassi (number 7 in the world) beat Xavier Malisse who is so so so so cute and played so so so well, and got so so sweaty he had to change his shirt halfway through the match, it was hard not to cheer him on) and a doubles tournament featuring Martina Navratilova, who is the queen of reinvention and who just completely ROCKS.

But my personal favorite was a completely ROWDY, highly emotional, totally NOT-starchy-white match between Guillermo Coria and Nicolas Massu. These two put on quite the show, cussing at each other, grunting, and screaming "Si!!!" and pumping their arms for the crowd whenever they won a particularly difficult point. Although Coria won, Massu fought HARD, and again, it was hard to not want to see an upset (Coria is ranked 8th in the world; Massu is way way down, or unranked...not sure which). Both are adorable (why is it that so many male tennis players are so good-looking?)

We left in the middle of a match between NYC hometown favorite, James Blake (a Yonkers boy, and one of a very few - if not the ONLY - men of color in the tournament this year) and Tommy Robredo. Blake is unranked, but so far at the Open, he has been methodically cutting more highly ranked players off at the pass, including Number 2-seeded player, Nadal (who is not so good-looking, maybe there is something to this good-looking male tennis player thing). And today's match was no exception: Robredo is ranked 19th in the world, and Blake beat him in four sets. I wish we had been there to see that victory...but it was a loooooong day, and certain people under five feet tall were getting very unruly.

But the idea of the US Open and how it presents itself (FANCY: tickets that START at $45 per person, fancy little cafes with thirty dollar entrees and a gourmet food court, Ralph Lauren and Lacoste boutiques, professional tennis photography for sale in a neat little gallery...need I go on?), along with what the US Open represents (the fruits of hard work AND the investment of truckloads of money in order to achieve a level of success - sure you can play tennis on public courts, but you can only get good at it if you work with a private coach, which begins at a young age, often with the encouragement of affluent, country-clubbing, suburban parents) happens to dovetail nicely with a comment I received on my blog today from "Naomi". Naomi was responding to a thread that was active several days back regarding looting in New Orleans in the wake of Hurriane Katrina's destruction. Naomi's friend and I had a brief debate about whether the looters should be (a) lambasted, (b) excused or (c) lauded.

My feeling has been and continues to be that it is one thing to take diapers, medication, water, food and other necessities as needed, but that it is another thing entirely to take 10 pairs of jeans, an Ipod and a large screen t.v. Naomi's friend did not really address the distinction because his view of it transcends need versus want, which is to say that Naomi's friend believes that looting (whether for necessities or luxuries) amounts to scoring a "win" in a system (read: capitalism) that consistently beats down the disenfranchised (read: those whose economic and other circumstances leave them struggling outside the system).

I don't remember exactly how I responded to that, but I will say now that I still maintain that the "system", for better or for worse, is the system within which we are expected to work if we are to have order in our society. I don't think that cheating that system is ever justified. To put it another way: two wrongs don't make a right.

Truth be told, as things have unfolded down in New Orleans, I have been feeling horribly sad for those who didn't leave town when ordered to evacuate...and guilty and anxious, as well, wondering...what if it were me? What would I have done? Would I have left? And if so, why me, but not them? I keep wondering - what was the thought process for the people who didn't leave? I guess a part of me wants to believe that they just didn't listen - you know, a blame the victim thing. But the more I go through it in my mind, the more I realize that most of them probably COULDN'T leave...had nowhere to go...had no one to stay with...had no money with which to travel...

In a college course on Adolescent Psychology, I remember studying "learned helplessness" and "conditioned hopelessness" and how such states of mind become ingrained in children who are raised in economically disadvantaged families. Naomi's comment to me brought that all back to me. She explained how where she grew up, the billboards advertised booze (and cigarettes, I am sure), and drug dealers were on every street corner. Instead of yoga studios, there were crack houses, apparently. Instead of rolling lawns and river views, poverty and crime was the background tableu. And what role models were there? Parents, hopefully. But sometimes parents weren't around, or sometimes they didn't present the sort of role models that white upper-middle class parents could.

Naomi went to college, but I am sure that many of her peers did not. Perhaps this was a direct result of lack of funds. But more likely this was an indirect result of many unfortunate factors - including those mentioned above, and also inadequate schooling at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

If Naomi and her friend wish for me to feel compassion for the looters because their circumstances rendered them truly disenfranchised, which is to say, entirely excluded from the system, then I can wholeheartedly say that I feel it. I am furiously angry at George W. Bush for how long it took him to get aid down to these people. I am furiously angry at everyone else in Homeland Security and it's FEMA arm who didn't do anything to shake this sorry excuse for a representative of "the people" out of his moneyed, partisan-prioritized haze.

But where was I going with this?

Oh first, yoga. Naomi and her friend maintain staunchly that yoga is NOT available to those who are outside the system - to the poor, to the isolated, to those who see team sports as the only possibly hope of scholarshipping it to college. My initial comment to Naomi's friend was that I don't see it that way at all - since yoga is so widely available in gyms, on videos, and in many, many public schools (especially those in poor neigborhoods) thanks to the efforts of groups like Anne Desmond and Jennifer Ford's Bent on Learning. But I am giving thought to whether this is indeed the case, or whether it's simply nice for me to think so.

Naomi asked me to consider how many women and men of color I have seen in the yoga studios where I practice and teach. My experience on the Upper East Side has been limited pretty much to New York Yoga and Some Like It Hot. At New York Yoga, I can think of maybe one or two students of color. This could be merely a reflection of the demographics of the Upper East Side, which tends toward the white and the affluent (even the public school where I send my kids has precious little ethnic diversity, although there is some degree of economic diversity, and by some, I mean very little). Or it could be a reflection of the fact that New York Yoga is owned by a lilly-white Barbie Doll and her lawyer husband, who send their children to private school and who employ hardly any ethnically diverse teachers. "Some Like It Hot" is actually owned by a woman of color, but I can think of very few students there who were not white.

Downtown, I tend to see considerably more ethnic diversity. However, this may be entirely the result of the demographics of the neigborhoods. Downtown, there is far more diversity than on the Upper East Side, both economic and racial. So, I can't say that the diversity scale in the yoga studios here in Manhattan reflects anything other than the diversity scale within our neighborhoods.

I guess what I am left with is how Naomi and her friend FEEL about yoga as a pasttime for suburban housewives and affluent others. If that is how it looks to them, then I guess I am going to have to take their word for it. Somehow, it seems much easier to say this about tennis (and skiing). But that doesn't mean that it isn't true for yoga. All I can really say with any confidence is: I don't know, so I will have to take your word for it.

Interestingly though, I think that Naomi and her friend do not see me as belonging to a minority when, in fact, I do. I am Jewish. Sure, Jews tend not to be amongst those who suffer through poverty, poor medical care, and a lack of good schooling and good role models. But how many thousands of Jews were killed less than 100 years ago in Eastern Europe by those who saw us as less than human? And who is to say that that could never happen again? As a Jew, I believe that many doors are not open to me simply by virtue of my being Jewish. It is just that the discrimination is WAY more subtle, WAY harder to pinpoint and WAY harder to prove.

Cry me a river, right? As I sit here in my comfortable, quiet Upper East Side co-op, poor poor Jewish girl, life is tough, right? Well, maybe I didn't grow up with drug dealers to tempt me, but I did grow up with boys who threw pennies at me and my girlfriends, calling us "sinners". And I did walk into a shoe store with my kids the other day and get completely and totally ignored by the sales clerk (I won't say what his ethnicity was - I am not even sure what it was - but I do know that he wasn't Jewish, and I do know that he DID know that I was because I signed in when I walked in, and my married name is BLATANTLY Jewish). When I asked the clerk whether he thought he might help me and my kids anytime soon, he told me that I might have to wait "an hour or two".

We left. And we bought shoes elsewhere. Obviously, not a major deal. But it made us angry, especially my children, who didn't see it as a slight on our Jewishness at all, but rather, as an obstacle to buying the shoes they really wanted, when they wanted them. And that is just the sort of thing that really hurts when you're six or eight years old. That is WAY more visceral, and yet at the same time, disturbingly and confusingly subtle......dontcha think?



naomi said...

hey yoga chickie

great response. Thanks for trying to understand all of the many different thoughts i threw out at you. IDidn't mean for it to be so disjunct and full of so many mispelled words!-- i was in a bit of a hurry this afternoon.... But i am just so utterly dismayed at what the looters seemed to represent to me-- and it was mainly poor people-- many many of color. Though there are some critics out there saying that race has played a factor in the disorganization of how the government prepared That region i would have to take it one step further and say that it has to deal with class issues more than anything else. Some of the poorest people in the united states live in that region. But unfortunately class and race in this country are so intertwined based on economic issues that stem from the way the financial base of the way this country is set up. thats atleast what i believe.
As a person of color everytime i step into a yoga class i am gently reminded of this fact. It doesnt generally bother me, because yoga is wonderful and i just feel blessed enough to have it in my life. But from time to time things happen outside of the yoga world that have a tendency to unearth these issues for me and others that I know who are in similiar situations. And it reminds me that most of my yoga friends are white, most of my yoga teachers are white, and most of the yoga studios i go to are in white neighborhoods.This again i believe is solely based on economics....It's crazy no?but thats the way it is.

And I am sorry please don't get me wrong, i hear you on the Jewish stuff. I thought you were of jewish orgin but i wasn't sure and didn't want to bring that up in case it might come off as offensive.I really wish that the jewish and black communities in the USA could be more of a single force as both groups do know of the horrors that can come from people unwilling to accept the joy in difference. And as a woman i am sure you have dealt with and perhaps continue to deal with some form of blatant sexism as do I.

But as much as yoga should be present in these poorer areas it just isnt, or atleast not in the places I have been. I know there are people out there trying to change this. But when i see desperate poor people who look like me being singled out by others, as I have heard some people do in the past few days, and persecute thier "crimes" based on a very narrow way of defining " "crime"-- ie. not taking into account the conditions that can help to brew these kind of moral break downs, i get disturbed.

Eventhough we are not of the same background, you obviously understand this somewhat. thank you!!! for giving me faith in the idea that yes there are non folks of color out there who are trying to think about these things in a more open way.

lets hope that more people like you will help to continue dialogue on these issues, and perhaps in another 20 years or so i will attend a yoga class that will cross all cultural and economic class lines. Yoga is for everyone, but it's still like a a "secret society" in some areas of this country and thats just plain silly.

peace and many blessings,

vivage said...

Last Friday Bill Maher showed 2 photos during a segment of his show. One was of a couple of color and a caption to the effect of: Couple walks off with looted goods. The second photo was of a white couple. The caption was something to the effect of: Couple walks down the street after finding food on the side of the road.

I'm ethnic, I've heard/felt my share of discrimination and yeah, it pissed me off. It was a good reminder, not to assume based on conditioning.

As for stealing in those circumstances, I have to ask myself would I feed my children/myself or would I take the high road and not take the food. I suspect I'd take the food.

yoga chickie said...

Naomi - I am glad we could have this dialogue. I am always happy to learn from others, and clearly, I have never been in your shoes, so you enlightened me. You never have to worry about offending me here, by the way, I am not one of those people who deletes every post that doesn't tell me how much I rock (and believe me, there are bloggers out there who do so...and I see it as a sad microcosm of the media and the way it is capable of spinning its own perspectives). I have deleted only a couple of comments here - and they were geared to stir up ugly controversy. I do not consider anything you wrote to be of that ilk...intelligent, thought-provoking comments are always welcome.

Vivage - I have to say, I would be the first in line to be banging down the door to get food and water for my kids. I don't consider that to be "looting" though. I think it is terrible the way the media can spin things - we have no idea what the supposed "looters" in the photo were really taking versus what the "non-looting-just-getting=provisions" couple was taking. It could very well have been the white couple that was looting for electronics equipment and the black couple that was simply trying to obtain formula to feed their baby. Who knows? To trust the press on anything, let alone something this controversial, is a huge huge leap.

Be well, both of you...thanks for reading and commenting...


Anonymous said...

I just want to add a thought about Barbara Bush. She thinks the shelters in Texas are oh so nice and comfortable. Well, I think Barbara should spend a few nights in one of the shelters, and stop her insipid smiling about how well things are going for the people who have lost their homes, and many their relatives. And Larry King should stop smiling himself and ask some real questions to the people he interviews.

I am so depressed today. I watched too much TV about the hurricane victims, and I can't get
the misery out of my mind.

The suffering, of course, cuts beyond race and class lines. But it is so so much worse for the poor who do not have the resources to pick up and start again.

Where was our federal government when our people needed it the most. Away from home. Out of sight, out of mind. Why wasn't New Orleans much more important than Baghdad?


yoga chickie said...

Definitely, it cuts beyond race lines. But not so much beyond class lines....

The whole thing is very upsetting. Try not to read it if it bothers you. It's out there. Your reading about it and watching the coverage isn't going to help anyone, including yourself...


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Northern Westchester, New York, United States
I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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