Monday, October 20, 2014

A Much-Needed Return

It's been 2 months and here I sit reflecting on the last few years of my life that have brought me to heal on the island of Puerto Rico. I've spent much time frequenting the beach- my confidant, my teacher, my altar. There is so much knowledge hidden deep in the warm, fierce waves of the Atlantic off the northeast coast of Puerto Rico where I now reside.



In the first 2 weeks of being here, during my artist residency at Patio Taller, I contracted a (mosquito-born) virus much like the dengue fever, called chikungunya. I was already beginning to feel lonely and having a hard time getting grounded and BOOM! I started getting these immense headaches, then the next day I threw up over and over and over and then the next day was a rash that started on 2 limbs and spread to all 4 and my face.

I questioned the ancestors..."WHY?!"

Already I was trying to adjust to being so far from my created family and then I get this disease with no cure. Luckily at Patio Taller there were a number of herbs and fruit trees that had anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. (Oregano brujo, Oregano chiquito, menta poleo, and limoncillo). The chikungunya's symptoms are arthritic. So yep! I get a double dose of joint pain with having systemic lupus and this virus. Luckily (?) I am already taking pills for joint pain so with my medications and the copious herbs and fruit and coconut water and medicinal mushroom tea,etc. I've been able to have milder symptoms than some folks that have contracted it.

In reflection, having this illness brought me full circle to my love for herbalism and a few steps further on this path as a medicine maker. I've spent the last year struggling economically and with my health and transitioning- a true dark night of the soul or healing crisis. It has truly been a long journey though I feel in many ways it just began when I stepped foot here on this island.

Pre-chikungunya, while being on the grounds of Patio Taller I began connecting with the plants and making teas right away thanks to Michelle (one of co-founders of the space) introducing me to local herbs. Then, within the first week I met a really awesome group of herbalists and healers (accion camandular) and they invited me to table with them at a festival on Calle Loiza in Santurce. I had a good time speaking with folks about Queering Herbalism and the Herbal Freedom School Zines and even sold a few.













After tabling there I decided that Queering Herbalism 2 definitely needs to be bilingual. It will have both Spanish and English articles. I am excited about the themes for this one. Stay tuned for the preview of either a series or the entire guide.

Depende...

I hope to meet Maria Benedetti soon! She is an awesome yerbera/herbalist and activist who has been on the island for decades doing amazing things. I'd love to be more involved with botanicultura and learn more about the plants here on the island. I've been studying up...TRUST. And I've even been making some of the folks in Luquillo and Guaynabo remedies for the chikungunya and other ailments. I would have never thought that I'd be making house calls.

Other than my artist residency, the chikungunya, medicine making and ideas for a new Queering Herbalism and Herbal Freedom School, I have been meeting all types of artists, farmers, travelers, healers, visionaries and all around buena gente.

So- here I am in Puerto Rico- piecing together suppressed histories. Healing myself with mango teas, papaya leaves, lemongrass, oregano brujo, cundeamor/cerasee and other herbs that some have lost faith in or have become disconnected from. I am thankful for herbalists like Maria Benedetti and curandera historians like Aurora Levins Morales who have started the conversation again about our non-european herbal traditions.

Healing justice is something we've got to step up and own if we ever want true freedom. Western medicine...the medical industrial complex...Big Pharma....the food corporations...the 'greenwashing" of the so-called sustainability movement, they are all exploiting us and at times working in conjunction. There are a handful of companies profiting from our demise. And it's just the truth. We need to own our healing. We need to own what happens to our bodies.




                     


I struggled for years and years- economically, with my health, etc. And now here I am, in Puerto Rico thankful to be meeting such awesome people and slowing my life down so I can heal and do what I'm here to do on this journey. I began to feel a bit of guilt as I stood knee deep in the Atlantic looking at the crystal blue, see- through waves. I wondered why everyone couldn't feel this. Just stop being on the grind...and feel this. And I became even more committed to co-creating a space where that is possible. A space where people can stop hustling and just BE and heal in all the ways they need to. Whether that be growing food, building their own home, learning about herbal medicine or birth work, or anti-oppression or their own internalized oppression. I've been talking to so many friends who want to co-create this type of community and I know many already exist or have in the past. I don't know how far off it is from now but I'm going to keep working toward seeing this vision manifest slowly as I heal myself from this virus and this autoimmune disorder.

Please send healing energy and good vibes as I continue to transition and walk this path.

If you have benefited from the compilations and information on this page, please consider supporting those authors and healers who have painstakingly written the information by buying their books or attending their workshops,etc. If you are interested in owning a downloadable version of Queering Herbalism and the Herbal Freedom Schools, you can buy the Warrior-Healer Collection here or the individual zines Herbal Freedom School- Freedom Session volume 1 and Herbal Freedom School- Freedom Session volume 2 are available on the Afro-Genderqueer shop.

Please donate HERE to support me continuing this work. As I've mentioned, I am healing myself of a virus and autoimmune disorder and I, like many of you, am struggling to sustain myself and have a stable living situation. I don't have health insurance and I now write full-time, which works best for me as a genderqueer, brown person on this healing path with chronic illness and limited ability. Holistic medicine and treatment can be expensive and there isn't a lot of access to these services for those of us with less capital, especially in the colony of Puerto Rico. So it's important to support your visionary healers, the majority of us have come to this work through our own healing crises.

I look forward to keeping you posted about my research and writings.

Wishing you all healing and a sense of community and belonging,

AGQ

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Queering Herbalism Zine/Resource Guide

Hey, hey,


You can preview Queering Herbalism a zine/resource guide with a brown, queer perspective HERE.  A lot of work went into compiling these 160 pages so please consider supporting future work here:


You choose the amount

OR



Co-visionary support



TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Reclamation and Reflections
II. Traditional Indigenous Healing
III.Two-Spirit Healers 

IV. Medicine Making Basics
VI. Flower Essences
VII. Radical Brown Health and Healing
VIII. Brown Resources
XI. Brown Reads
X. POC-Led Classes and Seminars
XI. POC Healers
XII. Queer Reads
XIII.Free Classes and Info

Go here for the full Queering Herbalism guide.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Freedom Session 2 is out!

Hello Co-Visionaries,

Freedom Session 2, the second zine compilation from the Herbal Freedom Webpage, is hot off the press and ready for your viewing pleasure.

Table of Contents:

THE INACCESSIBILITY OF MODERN WESTERN HERBALISM.. 6
BASICS. 8
Medicinal Herbs by David Hoffman. 9
Herbal Properties and Actions by Jim McDonald. 13
FLOWER ESSENCES. 19
Writings from blogs by Atava Garcia Swiecicki, from Ancestral Apothecary. 20
Flower Healing Past and Present 20
Flower Healing Part 2. 20
Making Flower Essences. 22
Flower Essence Therapy. 24
Administering Flower Essences. 26
        Flower Essences for Healing, Recovery & the 12 Steps. 27
        Flower Essences and Same-Sex Relationships by John R. Stowe. 30
ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY. 33
        The Digestive System.. 34
AYURVEDA. 38
READING THE BODY. 42
         Basics of Muscle Testing. 45
OURSTORY. 50
         Pan-African Indigenous Herbal Medicine Technology Transfer 51
OUR RADICAL HISTORY. 62
         Young Lords: A Reader: Health and Hospitals 63
A LETTER TO CO-VISIONARIES. 82

RESOURCES. 84

You can access it here:
http://issuu.com/toiscott/docs/hfs_vol_2_final/86

Yours in Knowledge,
AGQ

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hello community! Co-visionaries!



Guess what! I graduated the community herbalist program this past weekend and we had a wonderful potluck with chocolate infused damiana, kava punch, lavender-orange snow cones, and all kinds of other delicious food. Everyone presented on the projects they've worked hard on over the past 6 months. My presentation was about both the zine "Herbal Freedom School- Freedom Session #1" and blog "Queer Herbalism" that I created. I explained how both intend to address the lack of affordability and inaccessibility of herbal/holistic knowledge. I also explained that they were created to give a broader (and more accurate) perspective of holistic healing, as we are always inundated with eurocentric models and interpretations. 

It seems that the western (european) perspective (of course, not counting eastern healing modalities TCM and Ayurveda) are largely what we have access to in books since other indigenous cultures might not share the same interest and values of the written language and healing traditions tend to be mostly orally passed on.

As I have grown as a medicine-maker over the months in this program I am more and more committed to anti-oppression work within holistic healing. I recently had a post from Queer Herbalism reposted on Decolonizing Yoga that addresses this:
http://www.decolonizingyoga.com/countering-oppression-in-holistic-health/

As I slowly heal myself physically (from systemic lupus- SLE), emotionally (from internal/external oppression), and spiritually, I know that I am most drawn to doing energetic work (using tools such as herbs, flower essences, and ceremony) in marginalized communities that help them to release internalized oppression (racism, homophobia, etc.), get in contact with their inner Self, and become more aligned with nature, Spirit and the ancestors.

I thank each and every one of you who have walked this road with me, made love offerings, and followed my updates.

I still have a long road of paying for the rest of my tuition, though.  So far I have worked 47 hours at a rate of $10/hr. for work exchange and have paid $660 over the past few months. I still need to raise $720.00 (I was not able to continue with the year- long clinical herbalist course due to the demands of my full-time Americorps VISTA job, organizing within the community, and a raise in rent and an increase in medical expenses. 

Total tuition for the community herbalism program is $1850+ $300 for books/supplies= Grand total: $2150. 

Please continue to spread the word to folks to contribute love offerings as I will continue to pay tuition until my balance is paid in full. *you can contribute to love offerings by clicking HERE.


Love, Healing and Solidarity!
Toi



Monday, May 27, 2013

My healing story...journal entries



In this entry I divulge more about my healing journey, as I've promised to do in the past, so folks can understand more about why holistic healing, writing, and the existence of this website are important to me.



Wednesday (5/8/13) confession:


I cried on the acupuncture table today. Not because of sorrow or pain...but because I knew that this was the beginning of being healed...cured...when the past 5 years have been full of so many doctors and specialists telling me that I couldn't be. And a few have told me I was dying or would die.


Today I sat down with my co-healer...a black gay traditional chinese medicine (TCM) student and his supervisor Will Morris (of world reknown) came in to evaluate me...he told me right off that he has done research specifically on lupus patients ...over 500. That he's treated/healed many and went on to tell me the treatment plan. And let me tell you why that brought me to tears on the table...rheumatologists, general practitioners, hematologists...none of them know what the hell they are doing when it comes to lupus patients. We are lab rats and guinea pigs...and the majority of us are female-bodied and of color. They give you toxic drugs that suppress your body's natural processes and cause cancer, diabetes, and death in the long run. You sacrifice your whole life for a few decades of diminished pain.

And today, this very man told me in not so many words...that he knows exactly what he's doing. And on top of that, I realize that I am being healed with herbs from the earth after 3 years on god knows what synthetic crap they've pumped into my body ...5 years of non-stop pain.

So I cried tears of joy on that table and my eyes well up even now...thinking about the way my ancestors and Spirit have led me to a wonderful roommate who happens to go to a TCM school...which happens to have a black gay student who happens to be interested in a lot of other healing modalities...who happens to occasionally be supervised by a world-reknowned TCM teacher who happens to have dealt specifically with the disease I knew I was on the path to die of...like so many sisters.

I shed tears for the unnecessary deaths of so many from this disease that doesn't have to be fatal. This must be...has to be... my initiation...onto the Path. My path as a healer. So that is why I live my life the way that I live it - for those who have tried to understand. I don't have much time to spare...and I live this life knowing that it is a gift that was almost taken from me.






Thursday (5/23/13) confession:


I woke up today thinking it was a new day...but much like any other beginning of a new day. I ate...made my tea...chatted with my housemate and then got this urge to go for a run. At first I didn't listen to my intuition...but then...I thought about how my body was feeling that was allowing me to have this urge. It was practically pain free. I quickly threw on my basketball shorts and undershirt and running shoes, stretched, and went for a run. A run in humid weather...with no pain. I felt this release...and I'll tell you why. I was a damn good mid-distance runner and jumper in high school. I won district and made it to regionals in several events. Some friends, after college, used to joke around and call me "trackstar". But ...that was then.

When this illness (systemic lupus) started to take over my body 5 or so years ago, I slowly lost my ability to do two things that I loved that gave me release: dancing and running. When I saw people on the track or on the road running I'd be overwhelmed with depression for hours or even days because my body used to be healthy. It used to do what I wanted it to do. I used to not feel pain all the time. I used to not have palpitations with the slightest bit of exertion. I used to not have this ongoing angry conversation happening between my muscles and joints and cold and wet weather. I didn't used to have constant fatigue on really bad days.

Pain is so tiring. So, so tiring. And people's comments that I "look"ed fine would really weigh on my spirit. Doctor's comments that the pain was only growing pains were so heavy. Was I imagining all this? Was I a hypochondriac? No, I decided...and that was the beginning of my healing journey. After dealing with dismissal of healthcare practitioners, there were still folks who were close to me that were in denial. Though I have been diagnosed 6 times with systemic lupus, it has taken almost 3 years for my mother to acknowledge that I "might" have it and this has been super harmful for me.

I remember the exact month and year I hit rock bottom- December 2010 (NY). I was stressed out with finals in grad school and I was starting to not be able to walk. My best friend insisted that I finally go to the doctor. It wasn't like I hadn't gone to a bajillion in Austin, TX. In 2009 I had a hematologist/oncologist, a cardiologist, and I don't even remember the names of the other specialists. I was tired of giving all my blood to be told ridiculous things like, for instance, that I might have cancer..!! Or they'd give me iron and I'd have to deal with excruciating pain and the doctors wouldn't listen to me when I'd tell them that something was wrong with the dosage. Later I found out that I had thalassemia...which is a disease that folks from the "Mediterranean region", South Asia, and descendants of people from Latin America usually inherit. But, since the doctors thought I'm "just black" and never bothered to ask of my heritage, all they'd test me for was...guess...that's right! Sickle cell anemia, syphilis, HIV/AIDS...!

The school nurse actually listened to me and ran a ton of tests and referred me out to brown doctors who gave me the diagnosis of systemic lupus and thalassemia. If I'd waited around for racist and oblivious doctors in Austin to diagnose me I probably wouldn't have figured any of that out until I was close to kidney failure...like so many others of my sisters (and some brothers).


I was bed ridden A LOT in the winter and the beginning of the spring of 2011. I had a homeopath and an herbalist that worked in tandem to co-heal me emotionally, spiritually and physically and some of those days were the best I've ever felt. But those days would be interspersed with days where my body felt like a cage. I'd wake up wondering if I would be able to move that day. Every morning was a surprise. That's when I began my philosophactivist blog.

Writing has always been a release for me and since I couldn't dance or run as much as I wanted to anymore, I began to write...and write...and write about my own pain. And then I got sick of writing about my pain and the origin of my pain and started to write about the quintessential origin of my community's pain which is psychological, spiritual, emotional, and physical: Oppression.

But...I also realized that my activist work in NY was oppressing me emotionally and physically because I was burning out and not taking care of myself, even though I was really sick. And those NYC subways are no joke...they are not limited-ability or disability friendly! People would shove me to the side and grumble when I was having bad days and could barely walk. I was moving too slow for them, of course.

I remember my 76 year old rheumatologist telling me that I had to stop my "civic duties" and that it was too much for my body. I remember looking him in his eye and saying that it was basically the only thing that made me feel better. It was the only thing that made me forget the pain. I might have even said that it was all I had to live for at that point. Ohhhh sweet delusion! My body put an end to that. I could barely go to class let alone go organize.


For more on my experiences with western medicine and healing
see my blog entry "Discovering our ability to Heal Ourselves after Invisibility, Voicelessness or Confrontation with the Medical Establishment (and in our Lives, in general) 
here.


All this, folks, to give background on why today is so spectacular. After going to acupuncture yesterday and getting a new formula, I feel like running again. I thank the ancestors for bringing such knowledgeable traditional Chinese medicine practitioners in my life after years and years of ignorant , racist, sexist, transphobic/homophobic specialists and practitioners. I get emotional every time I think of how blessed I am to still be here breathing after constant silencing, brushes with death, numerous hospital visits, and inner turmoil. I would say I shouldn't be here...but that's a boldfaced lie. I should. And so should all the beautiful brown womyn who have passed on from this world from this illness unjustly.

Today I ran for me...for them...for my ancestors...for people I haven't met yet or possibly will never meet. I ran with presence. Insight. I did walking meditation in between some sprints. I appreciated this morning for all it revealed to me.

Yesterday's blog where I wrote about oppression and Austin was part of the release. I know it was. It had to be. It's not a coincidence. I let go of something deep when I put that out there. Those weren't just my words...they were an amalgamation of a number of the conversations had within my community and I just put it out there. I'm here in this life as "the messenger", "the bridge", and even "the crossroads" (as one of my close friends and I talk about). I spent my childhood and part of my adolescence holding back pain...holding back my Truth...and as I've gained Voice and more autonomy in this world full of policing and sheeple I know that I can never close my eyes, turn my head, or shut my mouth again.

So, I encourage you to find what it is that brings you joy and release and do it...often! Surround yourself with people who lift you up and that you trust and who don't add toxicity when you are trying to heal. Take care of yourself aaaaand each other (ok, ok I'm just messin' with ya'll...that's Jerry Springer).


Thank you for reading!





The flower above is the honeysuckle. I had the urge to make honeysuckle essence. Well, have for some time. But today it became abundantly clear that it was time. The honeysuckle allows you to "live in the present rather than the past. They say that "it's usually for folks who are unable and unwilling to accept the changes of [his/her/hir] present life, and who expect nothing good to come from the future". Bach remedies also say it's good for "those who have lost a partner, but refuse to part with their belongings or move on to another relationship, even after years have passed. And for those whom the past was better than the present and want desperately to hang on to it. Those who cannot learn from the experiences of the past nor can they integrate those experiences into the present. And those who have regrets about the past and cannot let them go and who replay their missed opportunities and mistakes."


For me, it represents inner joy and peace, courage, strength and connection with our highest self. (Which all comes with releasing the past). Sweet release. It also represents healing together as a community, for me ...as it always grows with hundreds of other blossoms. And I understand that old folklore says it attracts wealth. Today a bee and I slightly battled over its blossoms. I took only a few and left him the bounty.


Reknowned herbalist Paul Bergner talks Systemic Lupus
Reknowned Chinese medicine practitioner Will Morris on Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

Friday, April 26, 2013

We are the Sum of our Ancestors, Decolonizing Herbalism and other healing modalities

"Lo que se hereda no se hurta/ What you inherit you don't/didn't steal. "






This dicho is a lesson for all of us Q/POC struggling with identity and our "place" in this assimilationist nation of neo-colonizers and appropriators. That which is already ours by nature, that which is our inheritance...we can't  be accused of stealing or steal. We don't have to. No-  It's not even about "taking it back" or 'occupying' or 'getting back to x, y, z'. It's already ours. Been ours. Y ni podemos vender. (We can't sell it) Y nadie nos puede robar de nuestr@ herencia.(No one can rob us of our heritage/inheritance). 

Angela Lugo (a Puerto Rican yerbera/ herbalist) says in 'Testimonial for the ancestors': "We are the sum of our ancestors."

video

The knowledge of our ancestors, our inheritance, can never be taken away from us. Though others may try to eradicate it or even  borrow it and sell back a flawed and incomplete version, we carry in our Spirit all the knowledge amassed over thousands of years by our ancestors. Relearning/rediscovering can seem like an uphill battle when systems are set against us reclaiming our legacies, but it can and is being done. So don't be disheartened. It will take some time to rediscover what took centuries upon centuries and generations upon generations for the colonizers to try to eliminate, assimilate or destroy. Rest be assured that it IS happening and at a faster rate than the actual destruction.



Our queer and POC ancestors have a rich history of being healers. Fact. We had our own systems of healings, our own modalities and our own ways of passing down this knowledge. While some western herbalists will try to tell you that this knowledge no longer exists and has been decimated or only exists in fragments, this is not completely the Truth.








See, here is the issue:

Many mainstream holistic healers start out with these assumptions. As with many other types of "outsider" work intending to create social change in marginalized communities, there's this assumption that these outsiders are going in and blazing this new trail because it either
a) doesn't exist  and the communities need to be taught
or
b) past knowledge or peoples have been romanticized and given a "shout out" but their ways are thought to be either stripped down and incomplete or assumed to be no longer relevant in "our society."

Why is this?

The "dominant culture" finds the old ways illegitimate because it's not written (our People have largely oral traditions and this is not valued) and these ways also don't look familiar. I've seen some western herbalists go in expecting healing systems to look a certain way and if they don't, they are delegitimized and deemed incomplete.

I've seen spirituality stripped away when it is integral to our ancestors' healing. I've seen herbalists assume that "herbalists" don't exist in certain indigenous communities because they don't go by "herbalist" or "shaman" or words (even certain concepts) that were invented by mainstream (white) herbalists and anthropologists.

I've seen herbalists decipher between "practitioners" and just regular old folks who are, you know, "just fiddling around with herbs in their kitchens to heal their families". But there's no difference in our communities. The fact that someone doesn't mass produce herbs or do consultations for pay on a large scale or go around touting their herbal skills from coast to coast does not discredit them. The fact that black and brown herbalists don't flock to societies, groups, or networks of healers and herbalists using titles they don't use themselves (see "shaman" and "herbalist"), doesn't mean that they don't exist.

The fact that you will not find our ancestor's knowledge in books written by them does not discredit their knowledge. The written word is a western value. Folks--not just any folks, the very folks who find themselves with privilege and power on a regular basis-

yes, white folks...

have to stop expecting things to look the way they're used to. That's why there's so much misinformation. Do you really trust a codex or an herbal written by the colonizers who committed genocide? Do you really trust their understanding? Seems like they'd be bad historians

... but maybe that's just me.

What gives anyone the right to deem what is legitimate or not based on their own levels of comfort, methods, and value systems? What gives anyone the right to call a system mere superstition versus a legitimate healing modality? Why does a group of people with power and privilege get to tell other groups of people that their systems are not up to par or that they're incomplete and better luck next lifetime or when they've "fixed it"?

The "western lens" is truly a blindfold a lot of times. Sometimes you just can't compare things. You can't look for commonalities in problematic assimilationist way, legitimizing whatever looks similar to your teachings and what you've learned and discounting all other parts of a system.

Don't assume that all systems from India (ayurveda, yoga,etc.) are the most advanced because the British said so. Don't assume Acupuncture was only done in China. Don't assume Greek medicine and Hippocrates are superior because that's where most timelines start for "western herbalism". African and First Nations medicine gets overlooked a lot because some don't consider it to have much value. Why are their ways considered more "superstitious" or "primitive"?  Maybe their value can't be assessed because it's less accessible to outsiders? Who knows.


All I know is that-
By Ernesto Yerena

We are the sum of our ancestors.
We are their medicine stories and folk remedies. We are their nourishing and medicinal recipes.  We are their dances for the Divine. We are the legacy of their healing circles and nurtured crops. And as long as all this lays forgotten because we are learning the "dominant" history as if our ancestors' did not exist or is not as valuable...we will be incomplete. A fraction of what we could be.

It's time to decolonize holistic health.

Here are some relevant dichos to begin the process:

Lo que viene facil, facil se va

 
(minus the todo los hombres son iguales! smh...)

Lo barato sale caro





So this needs to be said-
This isn't just the work of people of color as this erasure wasn't completely of our doing, either.

Where do we even start?


  • Classes and conferences need to have diversified curriculum, workshops and panels. 
  • Question "authenticity" and "legitimacy" and why it is that certain systems are thought to be more so than others.
  •  Question why certain voices are not present in the oodles of books available and why certain people are permitted to speak for others authoritatively.


Don't folks get tired of hearing only about their own perspective or the same old models? We should all challenge ourselves in this if we consider ourselves to be healers. Ancestral healing is central to our own healing. At the core of this healing is knowing our histories which can be extremely difficult but not impossible.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

No Herbal Revolution without an Anti-Oppression Framework

It's true, folks. No matter how radical we may think that holistic healing work is, it's not revolutionary if we continue to oppress others (especially those we are providing healing work to) during this movement. Unless we are earnest with ourselves about power dynamics, our privilege (this could be race, gender, ability, etc.), and our biases, we trap ourselves in in the very patterns that persist in the broken health care system and we severely limit our healing abilities.

What is Anti-oppression?


It's anti-racism, anti-homophobia or anti-heterosexism, anti-sexism, anti-classism, anti-ableism, etc. Basically- it's "anti-bigotry" in all it's forms. Anti-oppressive practice has developed within social work (though its roots are much older and tied to feminist, queer, and black liberation and anti-racist movements).  At first glance, you'll wonder why I'm talking about social work but bear with me. The social work profession's mission is to 'oppose the roots and effects of social oppression'. This doesn't sound too much up our alley. Hang on. According to the International Federation of Social Workers, their mission is 'the liberation of people to enhance well-being'. Well, that sounds kind of familiar. 

The story goes that a group of social work researchers developed anti-oppressive social work due to oppressive practices and  power imbalances between the social worker, client, agency, and the state. This new model for anti-oppressive social work was created in order to 'decontaminate social work from expressions of oppression and bias.' Some in the profession began to move away from 'cultural sensitivity' and toward a more 'active and critical anti-racist and anti-discriminatory perspective' when dealing with cultural diversity.

Why am I even talking about all this? That power imbalance exists between herbalists and those who come to them to be healed/ to co-heal. As healers who are very much human, we bring in our assumptions and biases. We can't leave them at the door. They are very much present in our consultations and inform our healing work. We encounter all types of people who have had all types of experiences. If we are going to work with them on a physical, emotional, spiritual and energetic level, it's important that we don't allow our biases to harm this vulnerable person who has come to us for healing or prevention.




According to "Revel and Riot" anti-oppression involves recognizing and deconstructing the systemic, institutional and personal forms of disempowerment used by certain groups over others. By examining things like social structures, group dynamics and patterns of oppression (like racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, etc) we can begin to work towards equalizing the power imbalance in our communities. Through this, we bring each other strength by recognizing the interconnectedness of our struggles while deepening our understanding of our own roles, power and privilege in society, as well as the varied and valuable experiences of others.
More on this here.

What does an anti-oppressive framework look like for holistic healers?


  1. It's acknowledging systemic barriers to health and those communities that are disproportionately affected by them. 
  2. It's continuously checking your privilege and biases and making sure it doesn't inform your treatment of co-healers/clients/patients/customers. 
  3. It's making an effort to understand histories of oppression and acknowledging and accepting cultural differences because denial of these histories and color-blindness are microaggressions and sure signs of privilege. Folks of color rarely have the luxury of waking up and having a day to navigate where they don't have to know what color they are. Many visibly queer folks don't have this privilege either. 


There is a lot of discrimination going on in the health care system based on race, gender, sexuality, immigration status, etc. and it'd be terrific if folks could go in to get holistic health care and not have to worry about racism, sexism, or homophobia/transphobia. I've seen that in holistic care the same issues ring true as with "liberal" and "progressive" cities/communities. People believe that these problems just don't exist. People believe they are far too enlightened and therefore don't need to check their biases or privileges. They've already done the work and aren't capable of discrimination. This is just as dangerous as overt racism, homophobia, or xenophobia, if not more dangerous.















A portrait 

Let me give you a few examples of how all this plays out in holistic health care...


  • The power dynamic is off and clients/co-healers of color or queer clients/co-healers are infantalized or the healer takes on a paternalistic role.
  • Consultations with healers may feel unsafe because of paternalism or assumptions based on racism/homophobia/sexism/ableism,etc.
  • Healers reach out to a certain demographic over another because of racial biases and assumptions. Perhaps they think that a certain community isn't interested in being healthy or in holistic health because of these assumptions.
  • Failure to work with folks who are low income because they "won't" follow a treatment plan or can't show up on time (usually this is due to them working multiple jobs and trying to support a family)

Making the Effort, Committing to Change




Basically, it's up to you to make the effort to examine the ways in which you contribute to the perpetuation of all these "-isms". Do you really want to bring biases and phobias into your healing work? There's no way to be neutral and, despite what many may think, being a healer does not make you immune to socialized bigotry. If you are committed to creating a healthier world, why bring such toxicity into your practice? In healing from these socialized behaviors and your own internalized oppression you are becoming more whole and, in doing that, becoming a much better healer.


There's much more to say but I'll leave you with these resources. Please also remember, in your quest for knowledge of anti-oppression, that it is your own duty to educate yourself. It is not the duty of marginalized communities to teach you. I've written about this here. Please also remember that there is no 'mastering' this work. It is on-going, difficult, and often goes unrewarded from others. But what a gift it is to be conscious, Whole, and not perpetuate cycles of injustice and to join the Revolution!



Resources


Data/Statistics


LGBT Health Care Discrimination
When Health Care isn't caring

National Coalition fior LGBT Health:
All of the Above: LGBT People of Color


Racial Bias in Health care
Reducing racial bias among health care providers
Study on implicit bias among healthcare providers
Beyond misdiagnosis, misunderstanding, and mistrust
Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present
Unnatural Causes- Is Racism making us sick?


Trans/Gender Non-Conforming
http://www.lambdalegal.org/sites/default/files/publications/downloads/whcic-insert_transgender-and-gender-nonconforming-people.pdf
National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report on Health and Health Care

 Immigrants
Fear, Immigration and Discrimination
10 Harmful Misconceptions about Immigration


Anti-Oppression Resources and Exercises
http://organizingforpower.org/anti-oppression-resources-exercises/
http://washingtonpeacecenter.net/node/5056
Tools for Challenging Oppression from Within
Undoing Racism
How Queers are Organizing for Health Care Reform

Being an Ally
Dos and Don'ts of being a Good Ally
10 Ways to be an Ally
6 Rules for Allies
7 Rules for Allies- Paper
Highly Recommended readings from the Anti-Racist Alliance