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!



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
National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report on Health and Health Care

Fear, Immigration and Discrimination
10 Harmful Misconceptions about Immigration

Anti-Oppression Resources and Exercises
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

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