by Yinka Adeniji
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr
In light of everything our global community is going through it made me take time to think about the things I have experienced and endured in my own life. Watching other’s experiences has brought up things from my past that I have chosen to not talk about for one reason or another. People from the Sangat have asked me and have asked my wife why they no longer see me around the community like they used to. It has become a canned response about me ‘working’. Don’t get me wrong, I do work a lot more than I would like to with 3 young kids but my reasons for not attending many activities goes deeper than that.
I came to the community after years of knowing my ex-wife’s aunt and uncle. Through them, I learned about The Teachings, Sikhism, and the community in general. I learned this was a community where everyone was excepted for who they are and shared higher consciousness. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be part of this ideal sounding community. If you’ve ever heard ‘if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is’ and that’s exactly what followed for me. For the first few years of being part of the community, things were ok for the most part. I wouldn’t say people were overtly treating me badly, and I owe that mainly to my in-laws (at the time) but I still would hear the occasional statement on how cool it was to have another black person around, which to some would not seem harmful, but when people start talking about how nice it is to have a person of color around it really just shows that there’s a total lack of diversity.
My feelings towards the community changed significantly as time went by. I had encouraged my brother to come to this very open and excepting community that let you grow spiritually as a person. He was all for it and wanted to check it out. This even more special because he had just been cleared of cancer after battling the disease for a couple of years. He came out and got involved in my scene and was liked by everybody, so I thought. At some point, after my brother moved here he and Sadh Bakshish started a serious relationship. Many of you have heard from Sadh Bakshish who has shared her experience when she wanted to marry my brother. I won’t go into great detail with that situation but community members along with Yogi Bhajan decided to end their relationship by telling my brother a lot of lies about what Sadh Bakshish ‘said’ before he showed up to meet with yogi bhajan to get his blessing. It was horrible. Who tells a young man that the woman he loves told them he raped her as a means of manipulating them? My GOD what is wrong with you people. You ruin a young couple’s relationship simply because you don’t want to see a black man with a white woman. It didn’t end there either.
My brother eventually moved on from that experience, not wanting to hold a grudge and judge the whole Sangat for the acts of a few bad apples. His next attempt in finding love and a long-term relationship had a similar ending. He started dating a young woman in the community (Name will be kept out of this), everything was going well it seemed like. Then all of a sudden there were some whispers going around the community. This open community started talking, and the talk was similar to those you would here from the deep south during the time of segregation. I started to hear how people were saying that they didn’t want a black man going after their white daughters…what? I was honestly shocked. It got so bad that people somehow convinced Yogi Bhajan to meet with this young woman and get her to break up with him because it was what was best. If you knew my brother, you would know he was the sweetest man and a whole lot nicer and respectful then I could ever be. The fact that people in this community didn’t want a black man dating their daughters blew my mind. It didn’t make it any better that they didn’t have the balls to say these things to his face or even mine for that matter, but instead hiding behind whispers and moving around like rats spreading the plague.
I’m sure many of you are thinking…I didn’t know that happened, or I wouldn’t stand for that…well, the fact that no one said, or did anything at the time and that is just as bad as those who have hate in their hearts to want to use race to keep the community more white. It is hard to think no one would have stood up for him…for us. He passed away and the community never apologized or acknowledge breaking a young man’s heart and soul because of the color of his skin.
These events made me question my standing in this community. How could a community I perceived to have welcomed me could treat my baby brother as this black predator? Well, I quickly learned that even I was not immune to this same form of racism.
There was a woman (won’t say her name) in the community who approached me as a friend, she seemed nice enough and at that time I didn’t know that she had some serious issues, until after my journey into hell began. I had invited this person into my home after offering to clean my home and to do ‘readings’ on me because after my brother passed away, I was struggling and she told me that she was a medium and could see my brother around me. This gave me some hope and release of the guilt of not being able to save or help my brother. I was vulnerable and would talk openly about lots of things including a relationship I was in at the time.
After that relationship ended, it appeared this other woman wanted me to have a relationship with her now that I was single. I turned her down and never thought of it again. Yeah, I should have known it wasn’t going to be that easy. Late one night I received a call from a close friend of mine in the community, he asked me to come over to talk about something very important and had another “friend” come pick me up. Nothing was said to me at all until I got there which was weird for me because we were bros and just finished a game of ultimate earlier that day. When I got to the said house to talk, apparently there were two other visitors there before me. One was my ex-girlfriend and the other being this ‘medium’ woman. Needless to say, I was being set up for a very rough ride. I was told that these two women had just finished telling said friend that I manipulated them and used them for my gratification. I was shocked, What? My ex? A person I dated for months and decided that it wasn’t going to lead to marriage so I broke it off, all of sudden decided I was manipulating her.
Later I found out that I was also accused of really taking advantage of this other woman. This was like a slap in the face, mostly because I’m getting berated and treated like a freaking animal. I couldn’t get a word in to defend myself or plea my case even though this wasn’t a court of law. After about an hour of not letting me defend myself, I was told to go home and think about it and I would be informed about what will need to happen. The drive back home was the strangest ride. I was in shock and just wanted to scream. I don’t get really mad very often, but when I do its not pretty. I got home and started screaming my lungs off, and eventually tired myself out. The next morning the cold-shoulder and eye-rolling started because…yup…people couldn’t just do an investigation or something to make sure, I, a member of the community could have done what I was being accused of. The old white, KKK style thought-process of black men being hypersexual and aggressive started to play out in people’s faces. People can say that this would have happened to anyone but wait till the end and you’ll see. I started hearing from my closest friends and people in the community who didn’t believe the talk that I was being accused of essentially raping two women, including my ex-girlfriend. When I actually hadn’t even been in a relationship of any kind with the other woman.
People were saying that I needed to leave, that you can trust a N*…yes people in this enlightened community said that. I told my story to whoever would listen, but they could not see past the accusations and that was it. After about a week or more of waiting to see if the white turban-wearing community I cared for was going to show up at my door wearing white hoods to hang me or drive me out of town, I got another phone call. My aunt and uncle at the time asked me to come over and talk. They had been fielding calls and discussions with members of the community that wanted them to get rid of me. I mean, I had stopped showing up at sadhana and Gurdwara at this point, what more do they want from me. Anyway, my uncle told me that one of the ashram heads had agreed that I could stay in the community under the supervision of my uncle of course as a probation period as long as I take Teacher Training and do a long meditation and sadhana? Uh, What? I can stay if I agree to take a course, do a long meditation and sadhana? I was mad! I didn’t do this thing and yet less then a handful of people believed this African born man wasn’t capable of these accusations. I was not having this. If they couldn’t stand with me and listen to me then fuck them! My aunt could see I was losing my shit so she talked to me down and said just do it to give them what they want. You know who you are, what you did or did not do. This community is better with you here, they’ll see someday. I had no choice, I loved living in Espanola, I loved this ashram that used my race to cloud their judgment of who I am.
Needless to say, this is how I became a yoga teacher. Not because I had a calling like everyone I know did, but because I was manipulated into taking it to stay in this community because if I took Level One teacher training, I wouldn’t be looked upon as this black crazed predator having my way with women.
Oh, you want to know what ended up happening with the women? Well, the ‘medium‘ was asked to leave the community when she started obsessing and making stories about another man in the community. This person was white of course and people in the community could not believe that he was capable of doing any of the things she said. My ex also learned that she was used in this process by the other woman using the stories I told her about my relationship to create something that would piss off any woman. I mean, I pleaded and tried to tell my story, but everyone turned their backs on me. It took a white member of the community to be stalked by a mentally unstable person to see I was telling the truth.
Of course, with all cases of racism and prejudice, no one said a word to me. I spent a year of my life feeling like an outcast and completely rejected. I’m sure most people have forgotten and moved on, which is typical. A mass movement of fear and hatred to move someone out and when you find out you have made a mistake…crickets. You ask why I don’t come around anymore. Well, you used race to destroy my brother. You used race to destroy my faith in the community. I am very selective on who I am around and who I talk to, not because I’m cold or mean or something else. It’s because you turned on me. The people I needed the most did not stand up for me. You did not believe me. You did not see me as a person deserving of your faith. What’s even sadder about it is that I became a teacher throughout that ordeal. I wanted to use that training for so many things, but then it hit me just how tainted it was. How can I teach when a big part of it was the community and how it treated me like an animal? You can’t hang out at my house for parties, movies, games, and then act like you don’t know who I am and that I have integrity. You can’t take trips with me to Pagosa, Red River, Wolf Creek, and more and then act like I am subhuman when someone says a negative thing about me.
I believe in the three phases of family.
The family you are born into. The family you choose. The family you create.
The family I choose did not stand with me when I needed them…you. Because of that, this huge circle of friends and family I once knew and loved has shifted to this smaller family I am creating. Things will never get better for all if you react differently to each situation because of a person’s skin color. Things will never get better when you sit in silence because you don’t want to rock the boat, go against the mob, or give up your comfort.
Now you know the why…Can you or are you willing to heal the divide that you were part of creating?