Food for Thought

As previously noted, comrade Mike Gonzalez has an excellent tumblr. In a recent post, he reblogged a terrific essay about cultural appropriation and food, Craving the Other by Soleil Ho. You should read the whole thing! One section in particular, though, rang all the bells in my head:

“I don’t doubt that these guys love bulgogi and soba and want more people to enjoy them, but that kind of appreciation certainly doesn’t seem to have advanced their understanding of the Asian American experience beyond damaging and objectifying generalities.

Their commonality is their insistence on appreciating a culture that exists mostly in their heads; they share a nostalgia for someone else’s life. Nostalgia traps the things you love in glass jars, letting you appreciate their arrested beauty until they finally die of boredom or starvation. The sought-after object cannot move on from you or depart from the fixed impression that you have imposed upon it. After all, a thing can’t be “authentic” if it’s allowed the power to change. Robbed of its ability to evolve on its own, the only way such a thing can venture into the future is as an accessory worn by someone who can. The pho you had at a dirty little street stall in Saigon or the fresh goat’s milk you tasted in Crete as a child may both be beautiful in and of themselves, but their value diminishes if they are allowed an ounce of banality. In order for them to make you look like a more exciting, more interesting person, they must remain firmly outside the realm of the mundane.”

OK, you guys, how much does this remind you of the way that you, if you're a white practitioner, were taught to approach acupuncture? How much does this remind you of the ideal of the scholar-physician? How much does this explain our profession's bungling incompetence in creating useful infrastructure for both practitioners and patients? It's crossed my mind, when I look at stuff our profession does that is ostensibly about being functional in the real world, they're so bad at this it's like they're not even trying — WHY are they not trying?  I guess this explains it: trying would ruin our fetish the romance. Useful things are mundane. Infrastructure is banal. Treating ordinary people for ordinary problems in simple ways that work — not interesting. Everything POCA does that somebody in the profession should've started doing a long time ago — yawn.

In other words, white privilege really is our biggest problem.

Author: lisafer


  1. This is so great. I think white privilege had so much to do with the way I was conditioned early on as an acupuncturist. The first time I got acupuncture was in the student clinic and I remember feeling super…judged? talked down to? alienated? And that was mostly just a class thing so who knows how i would have felt if i wasn’t thin/white/femme/non-disabled/etc. I only ever went back because the acupuncture part was pretty great, it was free, and besides i had just taken out 10,000 non-refundable dollars to enroll in acupuncture school – lol. But then by the end of the program I was right there with everyone else saying a bunch of unconsciously creepy microagressiony things to people because “educating them” was just part of school culture. (I once told a woman with heartburn that there are studies out there that show losing even just 10 pounds can make a huge difference in managing heartburn, ugh. And later on I asked one of my old acupuncture teachers why acu people can’t seem to get that they don’t actually need to try to be the authority on everyone’s lives and they responded with something like “the only reason anyone ever comes to see you is because you’re an authority on natural medicine”. Ha.) Anyway, I can’t link to it because I can’t remember where I saw it, but I once read this thing where some woman of color was writing about how white people can be so intrusive and hurtful and a good example of this was the time where she was a new mom holding her baby when a white woman came up and interjected herself into a private conversation with a whole bunch of comments and questions and baby remarks. Someone else commented with something like, “she wasn’t necessarily being racist; lots of people just have really bad boundaries” and she responded with something like “seriously, you need to recognize that those are NOT 2 separate things”, which was like a bell going off for me. The online acupuncture conversations in the states I see are always dominated by white acupuncturists, and when I think of how i’ve been conditioned to play respectable white a lot of it is all about having awesome things to say that naturally everyone wants to hear, asking smart questions instead of just paying attention, ignoring unpleasant things like capitalist/patriarchal/white supremacist structures, plus who knows what else that I can’t even see…i appreciate poca culture where people try to name and dismantle some of this, even though poca is still currently a predominantly white space. It took me a while to get that it’s super useful for this be a core tenet here, that sure, CA can be and is integrated into existing dominant structures as a business model for discount acupuncture and unsolicited advice, but that POCA can use it’s organizational structure to work to consciously build something more useful than that.

  2. Jessica, those are really great points. What do you guys think about using this thread as a place to make a list of white-privilege-y things about the acupuncture profession? With a particular view towards not inflicting them on future POCA Tech students?

    Just off the top of my head:

    *the idea that acupuncture “came to the US” when a white reporter from the NYT wrote about his experience in China accompanying Nixon

    *the way that the rest of the acupuncture profession has historically treated NADA, which includes a great many non-L.Ac. POC in its membership

    *the way Miriam Lee, to whom we all owe our licenses, does not get a fraction of the credit she deserves for “advancing the profession”

    *speaking of the way things get remembered (or not), the role of the Young Lords and the Black Panthers in introducing acupuncture into public health

    *the way white acupuncturists tend to use symbols of other people’s religion as accessories and office decorations

    *the lack of critical discussion around this video:

  3. Addendum: I don’t mean to suggest that we can deal with, by means of a quick list, all of the ways white privilege plays out here because they are so many and so fundamental. But there are some examples that are so egregious that it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to identify them and just stop, just make sure we don’t pass those, at least, on to the next generation.

  4. not just decorations from other cultures but appropriating words / language, practices (qi gong in the waiting room!), food / nutritional stuff… using Asian-ish names for themselves, their practice (yes, guilty here myself, as our clinic name is a Pali / ancient Buddhist word)…

  5. I don’t know if this is the right place to say this. But I feel the same way she does. 😉

    Sometimes people get really judgmental about things…I went to the State Fair (land of all American junk food)with someone who was totally like “I can’t BELIEVE you drink soda.” Sorry I guess I don’t pack straight from Taiwan 100% organic loose leaf green tea everywhere I go. And in case you haven’t noticed it’s a little hard to get hot water here 😉

    Sorry I am not Asian Enough for you 😉

  6. Practicing Community Acupuncture is hilarious too because other practitioners who want you to be more romantic mystical totally gives you the OMG this is all you are?! (look) Sigh 😉

  7. Just having this conversation in the “natural” medicine world is revolutionary in itself. Nobody does this! I say yes to the hard work.

    I read an article lately in which folks of color requested that folks with white privilege process their experiences and biases among themselves. So, I bring the following question to the table: How can those of us who experience white privilege in this culture work on your baggage in a way that doesn’t ask folks of color in our community to take on the burden with us?

    I also think there is an aspect of exoticism and cultural appropriation when doing acupuncture in this country that is a conversation to be had by anyone not from the culture where the practice originated. But, I think white privilege is so big that it needs to be tackled separately.

    I treated a woman from Vietnam the other day who used to get acupuncture from her uncle back in her homeland. She said to me, “You know we do this too.” I assumed she was referring to acupuncture and letting me know that in Vietnam they practice it too! I stopped and said, “Yes! We learned it from you!” How do we not appropriate by default?

  8. adding to Lisa’s list (and it’s her idea too but I can’t remember where I read it) – the idea that China narrowed or diminished or corrupted the “purity” of “authentic” Chinese medicine by integrating it with modern medical systems out of ignorance or greed or something.

    adding to Arianna’s questions – how does a currently predominantly white organization build structures that hold itself accountable for racial equity.

  9. Assuming Authority for Chinese Medicine + Culture

    because I got an “masters” acudegree I KNOW about all things

    Herbal, martial, Feng Shui, Tuina, Japanese Medicine, a little Korean, Vietnamese gua sha….. as well as nutrition, rightmindedness,

    some kind of Omnipotent degree or at least mindspace that KNOWS