This day on June 19th “Juneteenth” is mostly celebrated in the USA as it commemorates the Emancipation Proclamation read out loud in Texas 19th of June 1865. The name of the celebration comes from the combination of the June and the nineteenth and many consider it as a commemoration of the end of slavery. However, technically the ratification of the13th amendment in December 1865 was the final strike as the end of slavery was included in the Constitution. More accurately Juneteenth celebrates the day that emancipation reached those still in need of liberation from the tightest grasp of the southern Confederacy. (n.d N’dea Yancey-Bragg USA TODAY).
Indeed it is still a very important day to celebrate and to remember as the fight for equality and inclusion continues everywhere in the world.
With this great day taking place overseas It’s a great time to remember the African diaspora as well in Europe where Azana is based and a bit about the philosophy of yoga as a tool in the battle against racism.
When I moved from Finland to Portugal, I had a catch a train from Lisbon at 5.30 in the morning heading to Oriente. And you’ll see the true colors of this city. The train is full of the African diaspora trying to make their way in society. It’s an unflattering fact that I single-handedly witnessed every day while riding with them to the same address. They went there to clean my desk before I would work, not to be seen, and earn 10% of what I would make that day. Structured racism is in its full bloom here in Portugal, as the African diaspora is discriminated by law enforcement, education system, and job markets.
I and my sisters are both mixed, both born and raced in Finland, Finnish being our native language. We have one difference, my first name is so traditionally Finnish that it doesn’t exist anywhere else. On the contrary, my sister has a foreign name, respecting our Congolese father’s side. We lost count already how many employers said to her: “But you speak so well Finnish, how long have you been here?!”. Do not even get me started what our father has endured his whole life in picture-perfect Scandinavia.
I wanted to share two personal experiences from different corners of Europe. We can see that structured racism is present on this continent too and it runs deep. Just take a look of the first paragraphs of a study from Stephen Small:
To begin with, in all of Europe, black people are over-concentrated and hyper-visible at the lower ranks of every major political, economic and social hierarchy, from political representation, in business, educational and medical occupations, in the non-profit sector, and in the illicit activities of sex work. They are over-concentrated in the ranks of the unemployed, and the confines of prisons. They receive wages rather than salaries, do work that requires little or no educational qualifications or specialized training, and in part-time and insecure jobs. Black women (native-born or immigrant) are over-represented in the so-called caring sector – domestic and public service jobs, and in sex work. Black women in nursing are an exception. In general, the economies of southern Europe are poorer than those of Northern Europe. Black people are even worse off there. This true for black citizens and legal residents as it is for immigrants and refugees. Several authors have argued that black women citizens in the UK, despite having been born and raised in the UK, and despite having the same or superior qualifications to non-blacks, are still at a disadvantage compared to non-blacks. The issue is racism not immigration, they argue (Small 2018).
(Stephen Small (2018): Theorizing visibility and vulnerability in Black Europe and the African diaspora, Ethnic and Racial Studies, DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2018.1417619 )
We can see that we still have massive work to do in Europe too when it comes to equality. True change initiates from the grassroots level, from us individuals that form the communities and societies. In the long run, if our mindset changes the world changes.
Many of us know that yoga has 7 other legs to offer in addition to asanas. It offers great tools for self-examination, reflection, and personal growth. All that is needed to create positive changes in our mindset. The whole journey in yoga starts from Yamas and Niyamas completing each other as the “ethical rules or guidelines” of yoga. We know this can sound a bit heavy with the terms and all, but it’s worth reading! The Yamas help us to define our interactions starting from us and to the whole world around us, as social codes of conduct. First, Yama Amisha is plenty to prove a point: non-violence. This obligates us to raise questions, first on how to be kind and compassionate towards ourselves, but also extending it to concern also others around us. So already the first Yama is encouraging to care and love for others as we do ourselves, so hatefulness for skin color just doesn’t fit here logically if we were to follow this guideline.
The following Yamas are Satya– truthfulness, Asteya – nonstealing, Brahmacharya – no excess, and Aparigraha – non-possessiveness.
Complementing this restriction we have the Niyamas as “personal” guidelines to teach us how to find ourselves again. The first one being Saucha– purity, it guides us to think and act from a place of clarity, by being the purest form of you. Pure happiness for ourselves and others, Sauchas essence is the celebration of the joy of being alive altogether. Our thoughts should be our own, not colored, or guided by the influence of others. If the whole world would implement this, simply influence free-thinking, we wouldn’t have racism anymore, as separation and discrimination based on skin color wouldn’t pass on. If we would think and act from our pure heart, unpolluted by past generations we would have love and acceptance for everyone.
The rest of the four Niyamas are Santosha – contentment, Tapas – self-discipline, Svadhyaya – self-study, and Ishvara Pranidhana – the complete surrender to the divine.
We opened up just the first “guidelines” of the two categories just to demonstrate what the philosophy of traditional yoga has to offer and how it can be harnessed as a personal tool for change in our attitudes. Those attitudes might sometimes be encoded so deeply into the soul from past generations, that the person carrying it around is not even aware of it.
To learn more about Yamas and Niyamas: https://blog.yoga.in/2018/05/25/yama-and-niyama-key-elements-of-raja-yoga/
Stephen Small, Theorizing visibility and vulnerability in Black Europe and the African diaspora: https://cemfor.uu.se/digitalAssets/711/c_711726-l_3-k_5theorizing-visibility-and-vulnerability-in-black-europe-and-the-african-diaspora.pdf