By Toi Scott
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.
Power imbalances exist 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.
What does an anti-oppressive framework look like for holistic healers?
- It’s acknowledging systemic barriers to health and those communities that are disproportionately affected by them.
- It’s continuously checking your privilege and biases and making sure it doesn’t inform your treatment of co-healers/clients/patients/customers.
- 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.
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
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.
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. 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!
This article originally appeared on Queering Herbalism. Reposted with permission.
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Toi is a gender non-conforming playwright, author, journalist, and spoken word artist. They are also a herbalist/ medicine-maker, health and food justice activist, anti-oppression organizer, and a Q/POC community builder.
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?
National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report on Health and Health Care
Anti-Oppression Resources and Exercises
Tools for Challenging Oppression from Within
How Queers are Organizing for Health Care Reform