Posted on June 11, 2019

Seattle Yoga Teacher’s ‘Undoing Whiteness’ Class: Founded on Deep Purpose, It’s Triggered Outrage

Marcus Harrison Green, Seattle Times, June 10, 2019

Laura Humpf braced herself for fresh salvos of death threats, rage-soaked slurs and indictments of “reverse racism” from media provocateurs.

The Seattle yoga instructor had endured it before, four years ago, after putting out word about a class for people of color only, at her studio.

She was slammed by critics for being exclusionary and promoting likely illegal segregation, but was doing neither, says Humpf. This is racial caucusing, and she sees the time-honored technique of voluntarily congregating by race to oppose racism as a way to dismantle a white-supremacist pathology found in everyday society.

This spring, Humpf publicized an “Undoing Whiteness” yoga class at Rainier Beach Yoga, geared toward white people wishing to “unpack the harmful ways white supremacy is embedded” in their “body, mind and heart.” Along with providing a contemplative space, the class would dissect the “pathology of whiteness” — an obliviousness to the batch of privileges society grants white skin — and how it operates in daily life.

A certified yoga teacher since 2004, Humpf resolved to directly combat racism following high-profile cases of police officers killing or brutalizing black people. {snip}

“I do stand behind white people needing to talk to other white people on how to undo whiteness. {snip},” she says of her class of about a dozen that incorporates meditation, yoga postures, and readings from “Witnessing Whiteness,” a book meant to help white people deal with discomfort around race-based conversations.


{snip} Others interpreted the class as “a bunch of white people” getting together to discuss their “white shame” without consulting people of color, and one equated it with embarking on a pub crawl to tackle alcoholism.


Though advertised to people of color, the class did not deny entry based on race. There’s a distinction between asking and demanding.

“Business can’t exclude customers based on protected characteristics. Businesses can and do market their services to particular groups they are trying to attract as customers,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson, citing as examples women’s-only defense classes and swim classes designed for people with mobility impairments. {snip}


Humpf opened Rainier Beach Yoga in 2014. She says the practice coupled with reflecting on white supremacy’s role in society helped her understand how racism manifests itself internally, including defensiveness, perfectionism and the “white savior complex.” It’s these attitudes, among others, the class seeks to neutralize.