A Small Yoga Studio Runs Afoul of Black Lives Matter – What Would You Do?
What would you do?
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
A few weeks ago, a small, British-themed restaurant in London found itself in the middle of a national debate when it was the subject of disruptive protests by activists. What was the issue?
The restaurant, called the Blighty UK Cafe, was accused of celebrating the former English prime minister Winston Churchill, who, according to the group was racist. The group's leader - a 24-year-old student - demanded that the restaurant owner apologize to the community for the caf's "poorly thought and insensitive branding and promptly change it from the menu to the aesthetics and dcor of the cafe." The protestors felt that the cafe "insensitively evokes memory of the Empire."
Now, a similar issue has risen in Sacramento, California, where another small business has become the target of a local chapter of the activist group Black Lives Matters. No, this isn't about racist former prime ministers or British colonialism. It's because of a "rap" yoga class.
The story: the husband-and-wife owners of the studio are big fans of rap music. So they decided to hold a special class that married hip-hop with yoga for people who are also fans of the genre. Not a bad little marketing idea, right? Unfortunately, and according to this report from local television station Fox 40, the class "did not sit well with everyone."
Members of a local chapter of Black Lives Matter held a peaceful protest at the yoga studio, letting customers in and out while handing out fliers that called out the owners - who are white - for being "cultural appropriators," which according to a post on the group's Facebook page "refers to a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group."
"Historically rap music has been a way of expression for black folks to talk about the pain that they go through in their neighborhoods and their lives," Tanya Faison, Founder of Black Lives Matter, Sacramento Chapter said in the Fox 40 report. "We're just trying to make change and we're trying to get them to acknowledge what they're doing and be accountable." (It should also be pointed out that there seems to be an issue with an allegedly fired employee in the middle of all this...but it's difficult to ascertain the specifics).
After being contacted by the activist group the studio cancelled the class and also released an online apology. Unfortunately, these actions haven't convinced the leaders of the group that the matter has been completely resolved. The same post on the group's Facebook page laments that, despite the community speaking up, the owners of the studio continue to repeat the same actions.
Who is right and wrong here? Like the Blighty protest in London it really doesn't matter. Today's activists are more vocal than ever about the causes they care about, be it students from London who reject the lionizing of colonial Britain, or an activist group like Black Lives Matters whose mission, according to its website, is to "build local power and to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes, people have their reasons for their protests." We may or may not agree with their opinions or their methods, but these groups do many good things and certainly have as much right as anyone else to stand up for what they believe is right - assuming they abide by the law.
The real question is what do you do if you find your business -like the London caf or the Sacramento yoga studio - in the middle of controversy? Neither of the business owners were looking for a fight or felt they were doing anything wrong. They just made the mistake of choosing a marketing tactic (a Churchill themed restaurant, a dance class using rap music) that rubbed certain people the wrong way. Both situations took them by surprise. The caf's owner stood his ground. The yoga studio owners apologized and retreated.
The answer is to do what's best for your employees and your customers. If they feel unsafe or uncomfortable coming to your place of business then you've got to fix things, whether you like it or not. The Blighty may be able to outlast the protesting activists, but at what cost? The owners of the yoga business I'm sure are battling - like every other business owner - to grow and the last thing they need is controversy like this that could potentially drive away existing and potential customers.
It's frustrating and it may not be fair. But these are the times of political activism, social media, fake news and the Internet. Business owners need to stay as far away from these disruptions as possible if they want to peacefully operate. If, however, you choose to be in that situation by doing things like selling guns or operating an abortion clinic or if that choice is unexpectedly thrust upon you and you decide to fight the activists, then you'll need to steel yourself, grow a thick skin, and prepare to see your business suffer.