I’ve been writing for Pilates Anytime regularly over the past 8 months and it’s always been a collaboration. Today I write solely from my own voice and perspective. I don’t speak for Pilates Anytime nor can I speak and represent the whole Black Pilates community. Just as there are many opinions and schools of thought within the Pilates industry - there are many within the Black community too.
As a bi-racial woman with light skin who can “pass for white”, it would be ridiculous not to acknowledge the privileges afforded to me over my darker brothers and sisters. Does that mean I don’t experience racism? Not a chance, I experience it almost every day and have been aware of it from as early as I can remember. But this is bigger than me and my experiences or you and yours. This is bigger than any individual’s feelings of discomfort, defensiveness, shame, guilt, or ignorance. The Pilates community can no longer bury its head in the sand and needs to start practicing what it preaches. If those of the Pilates community believe themselves to share Joe’s vision of wanting the whole world to do his exercises then there needs to be equal representation. This blog post may make you uncomfortable, but I ask you to read it with an open mind and an open heart.
The merciless murder of George Floyd by a police officer on May 25, 2020, became the catalyst of a movement against racism bigger than anything witnessed around the world for some time. Unfortunately, George Floyd’s murder is nothing new for the Black community, especially in the U.S where the country is basically founded on racism.
Racism is an uncomfortable topic, one that most people and organizations avoid at all costs. However, it is everywhere, deeply rooted in history books and pop culture; subliminally, unconsciously, consciously, and blatantly. For years there have been peaceful protests, social media coverage, professional Black athletes bending the knee, films, and documentaries produced to educate and stand up against the injustice the Black community faces. We’ve been asking and demanding change, reform, and equality. These acts of demonstration for change have been met with disdain, trepidation, or swept under the rug. Somehow THIS time and THIS particular injustice touched more non-BIPOC and it opened their eyes to the white privilege they are granted. Many individuals and organizations issued statements of solidarity with the Black community. It got to the point where anyone that didn’t speak up soon felt the pressure to do so.
Well, the hard truth is that Pilates is predominately portrayed by thin white women (and some white men). If you don’t believe me, look at any Pilates platform, most studio websites, Pilates educational tours and festivals, Board of Directors of Pilates organizations and who’s covered in the media.
Because it perpetuates a single ideal that is embedded in our culture to exclude and oppress anyone that isn’t that. Please google ‘the doll test’ where you’ll see children of all races referencing the white doll with all positive attributes and the darker doll with all negative. The first tests were done in the 1940s and then 70 years later with very little difference. It’s no coincidence that Marvel’s first female leading film is a thin, blonde white woman or there was a huge uproar at Disney casting a Black actress for Ariel the mermaid, or worse there are still world maps that show Africa smaller than North America. It’s embedded in our culture and the Pilates industry is no different. I want to reiterate that there is nothing inherently wrong with thin white women (you’re fine, be you) but in order to reach and teach more populations, they can’t be the majority.
We’re around, many of us have been around for a long time and reaching out to the heavy hitters of the Pilates world for features and opportunities to share what we have to offer. Most of the time it’s been met with silence or total dismissal. Many Pilates instructors are unaware that Pilates elder Kathy Grant was a Black woman or of her plight with racism. Three years ago Pilates instructor Sonja R. Price Herbert created the Black Girl Pilates group, a safe space for women of color to meet and discuss all things Pilates and more. There are 2 aspects that repeatedly come up in regards to the group:
Many of the big Pilates organizations posted on social media about solidarity and racism and they were called out by both Black and White instructors. White instructors used their platforms and stated they would no longer be renewing memberships, supporting or buying equipment, and encouraging other instructors to follow suit. The organizations’ posts seemed insincere as they claimed solidarity and yet their organizations either consistently excluded their Black Master instructors from events, showcases, or even acknowledgment and one went so far to delete comments. These posts were the culmination of much more history behind the scenes.
Joseph Pilates, in his book Your Health uses an offensive phrase (pg 18) that was common in the 1930s. Was he a racist? I don’t know, I can’t answer that. He did, however, say that everyone in the world should be doing his exercises and he didn’t turn away a young Black woman (Kathy Grant) or Hispanic woman (Lolita San Miguel) from training with him or attaining certificates. In fact, they are the only 2 elders that hold certificates.
There is a concept or model of equity vs. equality. Before we can have equality, we must have equity. Equality means we all start at the same starting line whereas equity focuses on providing everyone with full benefits and both share the same finishing line. We need more equity in the Pilates industry in order to get to equality. That may look like more opportunities and support for BIPOC for a while. You might think, well that’s not fair, everyone should have the same opportunities or work equally for it. History shows time and time again that BIPOC have to work twice as hard to achieve the same or less than that of a white individual. Again, this goes back to learning your history. Or observe what happens when a white and a black person go into a store or are pulled over for speeding.
I don’t have all the answers, and answers, solutions, and change will take time. It’s inevitable that there will be ugly steps and mistakes along the way but there needs to be continued conversations followed by action.
Keep the conversations going, continue educating yourself and your children because the school history books have left out a lot of history; history of white supremacy that continues in law enforcement as well as Black History. Showcase Black Pilates instructors TEACHING not just being the bodies. VOTE, sign and start petitions, speak up in regular life but also for what you see (and don’t see) in the Pilates industry. Event organizers; hire more BIPOC for your events, pop-ups, and tours, provide more opportunities, and educate your communities. Learn how to teach Black bodies, don’t assume we all have lordosis, most of us don’t, we just have ample bottoms. For the large Pilates organizations; reach out to members of the Black Pilates community and continue to hold panels and roundtable discussions and budget an inclusive committee. Please don’t use the same 5 or 6 people all the time. Support instructors with donations or legal and business support as they are supporting their communities.
You may be exhausted and overwhelmed with all of the race discussions, protests, or emotions coming up. It will be that way for a while, it won’t be easy, nothing worthwhile is and THIS IS WORTHWHILE.
Pilates isn’t easy, if it is you’re not doing it right and citing Joe quotes about change and healing is not enough especially when it’s directed at your existing clientele. We all know that Pilates is healing, so it should be accessible to everyone, not just your own circle. Black people are being killed, judged, incarcerated, charged more and given fewer opportunities because of the color of their skin. That is systemic racism and it lives in the Pilates world too.
So what are you, what are we as a Pilates community going to do about it?