On Race, Decolonization, & the Pitfalls of Spiritual Bypass

With storyteller, actress, writer, & INlighten Community yoga teacher Diahanna Baxter

Diahnna Baxter wearing a blue turtleneck sweater, smiling with arms crossed

It’s a special time on the planet right now. I really do believe that all of us are getting the call.

Do yourself a favor: don’t bullsh*t Diahnna Baxter.

As a self-proclaimed “ruthless storyteller with a compassionate heart,” Diahnna doesn’t shy away from the pain that often accompanies transformation and healing. And if that’s not intriguing enough, consider this description on her website:

“The stories I choose to tell revolve around women of color who have survived deep trauma or succumbed to it, leaving behind a legacy for us to take heed from. I like to punch people in the gut and rip open their hearts. I want people to question those dark parts of themselves, their inherent bias. I do this not for shock value, but to provide an opportunity for us collectively as humans be-ing, to redeem ourselves, to see ourselves in each other, shed some shame and hopefully, forgive.”

Clearly, she is not here to waste anyone’s time glossing over the challenging aspects of growth. As a transformational coach and yoga teacher, she knows that redemption and forgiveness can only be authentic when we work with the shadow.

I sat down with Diahnna to discuss yoga, the impact of events that began in 2020, her personal and professional work to evolve race and spiritual paradigms, and why she chose to continue teaching at INlighten Community after George Floyd’s murder.

What are you currently teaching?

I’m working with women doing a lot of transformational coaching for them to come back into connection with their sensual creative power, wealth, sensuality, to step into their leadership. Women are the birthers and the molders.  I’m bringing some kundalini yoga into that, too. The rise of the divine feminine is all about unification, and yoga means union.

I work with all kinds of women, but the group program is specifically for women of color to create a bold safe space where we get to dive into the places that systematic oppression has rewired us. We are reclaiming power, wealth, sensuality. There is a need for men to have these safe spaces as well.

It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. It’s a special time on the planet right now. I really do believe that all of us are getting the call. The suffering that is happening for people that aren’t listening is going to get deeper.

I know that everything I’ve been through is absolutely perfect — even the horror of it — so that I can be of service. All of that is a blessing and I’m grateful. But I’m also a woman of color and I believe love is just.

What have you been doing outside of teaching and coaching?

I’ve been teaching and I’ve been acting and I’m in the process of writing a book. My book is about the death of identities.

Technically it’s like a memoir but I really want to explore how we identify ourselves. I identify as a Black woman and I recently found my biological father after 44 years. It turns out he is white and a Trump supporter. I thought he was Black. My automatic reaction was I wanted nothing to do with him. This [revelation] is challenging everything in me, challenging my own rage, my own ego. What do I really believe spiritually? Are we really “all one”? What does it really look like for healing outside this lie of the race construct. So there’s a deep healing that gets to happen.

That brings me to my next question. You’re going deep and looking at whether you are going to live up to your own spiritual truths and that’s an amazing process. But it’s also true that while race is a lie and a construct that has no basis in the spiritual realm, we definitely have consequences of society’s adherence to that construct, right?

Yes, yes. That is a dance and a constant check-in. It’s really hard.

This is where my spiritual practice comes into play. I know that everything I’ve been through is absolutely perfect — even in the horror of it – so that I can be of service. All of that is a blessing and I’m grateful.

But I’m also a woman of color and I believe love is just. And there are real issues in the world that come from having a racial identity. So, I still get to be an advocate for the Truth as a woman of color and I use my spiritual practices to not be in reaction to what is. I speak my voice, stand up for what’s right, and show up for my community in whatever ways to be an advocate for freedom. That is great… AND the rooting is: what are the possibilities? What is it like to be free from this identity that has been placed upon us?

The process for coming out of that is recognizing that ALL of us have been programmed to a certain extent into the colonized mind.

What does that exactly mean?

The colonized mind is a product of toxic masculine energy, divisive energy. It’s at all expenses of your rest, peace of mind, and worthiness. The only way you can colonize someone is with violence. You rape the women, kill the men, and then you take away their mother tongue, take away their indigenous practices.

The colonized mind puts profit over people. It views Brown and Black people as less than human, therefore they can become labor, which then also dives into the concept that you “live to work.” We are still rooted in the slavery mindset that value lies in what you have, what you own, what you have power over.

We all have that responsibility to look at the colonizer within.

The one thing I want everyone to watch is Exterminate All the Brutes (available on HBOMax, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and other providers). It does a beautiful job in connecting the dots. Colonizers came from Europe in a quest to conquer and carve up Africa, and literally their intention behind it was to “exterminate all the brutes.” If we like the land, we kill everything on it, and we take it. That is colonization.

Do you see colonization in yoga spaces? How does it show up?

There is definitely colonization of yoga.

Yoga is not just postures. The body is the bridge between heaven and earth. Are you embodying the true spirit of yoga? So many people have this attitude of “no, I use it for what I want.” That’s colonizer bullshit: I’m going to take this ancient old technique and bypass the other parts of it. So yoga has been westernized into “I do yoga, so I feel good and feel no pain.” Especially in the West pain is “bad”. That’s our biggest illness. We’re trying to escape being uncomfortable, escape the truth. We’re just not willing to look. There’s so much shame about our humanity.

In the West, pain is “bad.” That’s our biggest illness. We’re trying to escape being uncomfortable, escape the truth.

It’s in the coaching industry, too.  Some are in life coaching to really do the work and share their expertise and serve. Others are in it to make a quick fix. Some folk are really trying to lead people but they haven’t lived the experience yet, and you can’t lead people where you haven’t gone yourself.

Lived experience is the most important certification you’ll ever need. Two people can live through the same experience and they’re going to have very different feelings about it. Offering your unique perception and experience of the world is the most important thing that can be shared between people. When you understand everybody is different and going through things differenlty, I think we can have a little more compassion. Then it’s not this monolith were we’re all supposed to see everything the same way.

We really need to acknowledge ourselves in that and for me it’s directly related to transformation. We are our own gurus. The more we own —  really own — our humanity, our divinity, the more we are connecting to our truth. That lived experience comes from within. In the Aquarian Age it’s no longer about looking for answers outside.

The 2022 Black History Month theme was Black Health & Wellness. How do you see yoga fitting into that focus?

Black history is American history and get to know the real history. One of these days we’ll talk about how we only get one month and it’s the shortest month. But every history has horror in it. Be willing to look at it and then find it in yourself and do everything you can to love that part of yourself so that it translates into the outer world where we actually care for one another as if we truly are each other’s brother and sister.

How have you seen the Black community impacted by Covid? I ask in part because I find that people are having vastly different experiences of this pandemic depending on age, race, economic status, geography, etc.

Oh, yes, so different. I saw how divisive it’s been, among so many communities. It came down to, “If you want to see your grandparents, you have to get vaccinated.”  I didn’t trust the vaccines because there’s a long history in this country of experiments being done on Black bodies. We have every right and reason to distrust (government-sponsored medical interventions). So, at first, I fell into that, “Covid is real but hell, no, I don’t trust them.”

I felt so heartbroken when I kept seeing the numbers in the Black community, the underlying dis-eases that are there are in direct relationship to the systematic racism in this country, and then a lot of rage that there were so many Covid deaths. Ultimately, it’s been about 50-50 in the Black community who got the vaccine. There’s just no trust.

So how do we change this? Can it be changed?

What we’re wanting to do is decolonize the MIND and in that way it’s not about taking or power over, it’s about empowerment. The decolonized mind lets us be in alignment with our gifts. We prioritize people over profit and understand that everyone has something to share that is worthy and valuable. It’s amazing what we’re capable of when we’re not in this us vs. them paradigm.

We are our own gurus. The more we own — really own — our humanity, our divinity, the more we are connecting to our truth.

Listening is one of the highest forms of love. Listening is HUGE in yoga. Listening to what’s happening with the mind when a posture is difficult. Are you listening to your BODY? It starts with yourself and your breath. When you start to practice yoga, you start to become more present in your daily life. When you’re having conversations that can be triggering, you can start listening to the other person the same way you’ve learned to listen to yourself through practice. With your heart open, knowing it’s not personal, really looking for when the trigger comes up, can you breathe through it and understand that the trigger is coming from somewhere in you and not what is happening right now. When we’re triggered we feel attacked and then when get defensive and then we’re not listening anymore.

I see people feeling a lot of resentment and fear. This is why society is getting so divisive. Especially white men are genuinely feeling silenced, disregarded. These discussions need to be had, too. It’s hard to have them.

It seemed like people were more willing to have those conversations right after George Floyd was murdered, but now I’m not so sure.

With George Floyd it felt different. I hope it is. But even when George Floyd went down, so many people claimed now I’m an ally. Well, okay, but did you change your practices? Are you walking the walk? Most people aren’t.

I think that is part of the spiritual bypassing we see in so many yoga spaces, when people believe, “I don’t have to be responsible for what is happening to someone else because good vibes and love.” It’s the old colonizer paradigm that I take from this culture and do with it what I want for me, rather than how this is used for we. I see that so much in the spiritual community. We have to ask ourselves: How do I have MY knee on other people’s necks? If it’s true we’re all one, then what is your truth? How are you living that every day?

Put yourself in communities that are not your own. Realize that people are people. When it comes to Black and brown folk, we’ve had to do that our whole lives. There’s some catching up to do on the other side.

The most important thing for you to understand is that this is not about you, and it is all about you. This is ancestral healing that is happening. The most courageous thing you can do is sit in your heart, listen, and not take it personally. Easier said than done, but your practice will help you.

It’s a lot. It’s a big ask but so important.

Yep. That’s why I have my practices. It ain’t easy.

Specifically, I find the meditations of kundalini yoga, which are rooted in Sikhi, to be one of the tools that really helps me get into that samadhi, of knowing that all is well, even in the horror of everything that has happened, of the awful behavior we see. All of those parts live inside of me, too. So I get to look at that and give them attention and honor them, even if consider them terrible. That’s healing.

Understand that this is not about you, and it’s all about you…The most courageous thing you can do is sit in your heart, listen, and not take it personally.

What is your opinion of the antiracism initiative put forward by INlighten Community and The Yogi Tree? What do you think is working and what do you think needs improvement?

I saw immediate action taken within our community by Jenn and you to give space for this dialogue to happen. It wasn’t just a statement on the front of the web page. You guys haven’t been bypassing.

I was invited into those discussions. In our community, there aren’t that many Black and brown people but there were really beautiful, powerful spaces created for dialogue and ownership. That for me was huge: an admittance that we want to bring it to the light and we don’t necessarily know how and we’re taking the initiative to do it — and you haven’t dropped the ball. This has been a continual inquiry into what it looks like to heal. It’s been very courageous and a model of what it’s like to take action within the community you’re in and be brave enough to say, “I don’t understand and have work to do.”

What else do you think needs to be done in our community?

I don’t know how to quantify that. There was an impact from what you did to speak out (during protests about George Floyd’s murder). I probably wouldn’t have stayed if action hadn’t had been taken, if I hadn’t been welcome. I did take time off [from teaching classes at the studio] because I needed that. But I wouldn’t have come back if I didn’t feel it was a space that really respected my lived experience.


Look for these classes taught by Diahnna Baxter on our INlighten Community schedule. These are hybrid classes available for both in-person or virtual instruction.

  • Transformational Yoga for Women, Tuesdays 6-7:30pm
  • Kundalini Yoga, Sundays 9-10:20am
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Mary Jacobson

Mary Jacobson is Content Creator for INlighten Community. She has been a certified yoga and meditation teacher since 2009 with an emphasis on trauma-informed Accessible Yoga influenced by a variety of yoga lineages such as Kundalini, Hatha, and Restorative. She is the creator of Yoga for All Seniors, a program adapted for students in assisted or independent living dealing with moderate to severe physical and cognitive limitations. Mary also offers private intuitive counseling for those experiencing the debilitating effects of trauma, childhood sexual abuse, chronic PTSD, or grief. She is also acting COO of For Land & People, a nonprofit partner of INlighten Community.

About the Author

Mary Jacobson

Mary Jacobson is Content Creator for INlighten Community. She has been a certified yoga and meditation teacher since 2009 with an emphasis on trauma-informed Accessible Yoga influenced by a variety of yoga lineages such as Kundalini, Hatha, and Restorative. She is the creator of Yoga for All Seniors, a program adapted for students in assisted or independent living dealing with moderate to severe physical and cognitive limitations. Mary also offers private intuitive counseling for those experiencing the debilitating effects of trauma, childhood sexual abuse, chronic PTSD, or grief. She is also acting COO of For Land & People, a nonprofit partner of INlighten Community.

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