Thoughts on Racism

Forty-eight-weeks ago, I dreadlocked my locks. I spent five hours in a hippie hair studio while my curls were crimped, ratted, twisted, waxed, and knotted. We listened to 80’s music (in honor of the crimping and ratting), while I flipped through issues of Ode and Utne, trying not to (visibly) cry through the hair pulling. The salon owner–with his long, streaky blond tresses and fuscia goatee–was eccentrically playful with both his employees and patrons. We chatted about acupuncture, running a business, the local media, people we knew in common, our favorite yoga studios, the neighborhood co-op, his dogs/my boys, and a million other easy topics.

Then, in late summer, I read about a new African-American woman offering dreadlock maintenance. I wondered how my locking experiences with a California hippie and a woman of color would compare, so I made an appointment. I arrived early and spent some time absorbing the feel of her biz. The contemporary R&B music was unfamiliar to my ears. And the Wendy Williams show blaring from the large-screen, wall-mounted televisions shocked my cultural senses. I picked-up copies of Essence and American Legacy, but nothing caught my attention. The woman tending to my hair had a heart of gold, but our conversation felt forced. We couldn’t find experiences, friends, or ideas to share. Somehow, she ended-up telling me about her own religious perspective as it related to the spirituality of dread-locking, which evolved into a much broader conversation about religion and values with others in the salon.

And then it hit me: this must be similar to many African Americans’ experiences, when walking into most acupuncture clinics.

The event at both salons was inherently the same: I wanted my locks to be tightened, because they were scraggly and askew. Both stylists tended to my hair as requested. Both places provided music, magazines, and conversation. But my perception of these two experiences was decidedly disparate.

My discomfort in the African American salon began while waiting in the reception area, because the music, television, and magazines indicated to me that I had stepped out of my element. I was the only white woman in a room full of black faces. I couldn’t appreciate most of the cultural references being tossed about in the conversations. The stylist and I didn’t share the same religious background (which, incidentally, has about as much relevance being discussed while my hair was getting locked as it does while needles are being inserted). And although everyone was warm and friendly, we all knew the same thing: I did not belong there.

It makes me wonder, of course, what messages I send in my clinic that might make others feel unwelcome. Having had my experience in the black salon, I am more aware of how our music selection, magazines, décor, and library books might say to someone: “You do not belong here.”

Although The Turning Point is set-up just a few blocks from a working-class African American neighborhood, there are only a handful of black patients who come in regularly for care. And none of them are from the local neighborhood. Those who receive acupuncture are men and women of color who already have a circle of Caucasian friends and co-workers.  That is, they have already assimilated into our white culture, and therefore feel more comfortable in our space.

I asked one of my friends—an African American and regular patient—to talk a little about what she perceives to be barriers for the black community in regards to acupuncture. She said it isn’t the needles or the money, and in fact most of them would love the group treatment aspect. The biggest obstacle that she faces, when trying to tell her friends or family about our clinic, is the perception that acupuncture and religion are somehow wrapped-up in each other. There is the fear, especially among the older generations of her family, that receiving acupuncture would somehow be sacrilegious. Looking around at our prayer flags, hanging crystals, wind chimes, and water fountains, I can imagine how our intentions might be questioned by someone from another religious and cultural background.

Korben, of Philadelphia Community Acupuncture, recently shared with me some of his experiences assimilating their clinic with Philly’s African American community. Not to put words into Korben’s mouth–but rather to support a very busy new papa who hasn’t much time to blog himself–I am sharing some of that conversation here. (And I hope Korben and Ellen will add more to this, as their time permits.) Korben talked about several different pieces that have played a significant role for PCA: location, integration, and image.

  • Location: Philly is positioned at a magnificent crossroads of urban hippies, college students, and African Americans. Being situated in the African American community has had a huge impact on getting folks of color to walk through the door in the first place.
  • Integration: one of Philly’s first front desk helpers was a woman of color. For any of us, walking into a new place and seeing someone with whom we can identify eases our own comfort, helps us feel like we belong.
  • Image: By chance, when the local television station stopped over to film Philly for a story, there were several black patients receiving care in the clinic. Think for a minute: how many of us have photos on our websites portraying patients of color?

In terms of The Turning Point, I feel like we’ve got the right location for our clinic. And we are not in a position to hire staff right now, so we can’t do much with affirmative action. But what about the image we present?

I recently worked with a videographer, which offered an opportunity to make some conscious choices about what that film would look like. My initial feelings about asking black patients to participate in this video—when the reason that I would be requesting their participation was because of the color of their skin—left me feeling queasy…and even more so because the woman doing the filming is also African American. I worried about how she would react to the suggestion.

So I bounced my concerns off some comrades here (whom I hope will share their thoughts below), and I talked with the filmmaker. Not only was everybody supportive of the idea, but the videographer even brought along her friends of color to help diversify the chairs during our filming.

The lesson I am working with is this: if we want to break-down barriers to patients of different populations, we need to do more than sing Kum-Bai-Ya or bless our business’ thresholds. Spend some time outside your own element. Notice what you notice. Then bring that awareness back into your space and ask yourself, “What have I done that might suggest: ‘You do not belong here.’

I feel a little funny writing a blog about racism, because I am not black. But I felt a little funny about using affirmative action in the video too, and I learned how much that intention was appreciated…so I am going-out on a limb with this one. I am sending links of this blog to as many of my African-American acquaintances and friends as I can, because I think that we need a discussion around the issue of racism in acu-land: from patients, students, and professionals. But it isn’t much of a discussion if it’s just a bunch of white folks talking at each other. So I hope you’ll consider doing the same.

Jessica Feltz
Author: Jessica Feltz

<p> I learned about Community Acupuncture while studying at the Midwest College of Oriental Medicine (MCOM) in the Spring of 2006 when Lisa Rohleder's first article about her clinic appeared in Acupuncture Today. Coming from a middle-class background myself, I was the only student in my acupuncture class to have not experienced the healing benefits of this medicine prior to beginning studies at MCOM. I couldn't afford it. And my family couldn't understand what I was doing by investing in an education that they didn't perceive to be financially sustainable. </p> <p> The Community Acupuncture model is a perfect fit for me, balancing social justice and taoist simplicity with the patient's innate ability to heal him/herself (with a few gentle nudges from strategically placed needles). I am grateful every day to have found CAN and the love it brings into my life. I want to share that joy by spreading the message about how we can create a new health care experience in our communities through each of our very small efforts...and how those very small efforts can in turn change the world. </p> I enjoy my two sons, my 4 cats, and big stacks of books.  I own and operate...

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  1. Re: thoughts on racism

    It’s great to be discussing a topic like this – exactly one year from the inauguration of the first black president 🙂

    I would agree with much of what you’ve shared. Often, there are two worlds…maybe more…where the color of someone’s skin is a barrier. The challenge is no longer if we can go to school together or receive acupuncture in the same room, it’s whether we can build deeper relationships with one another.

    I as an African-American woman, do not at all represent all African-Americans but I can only speak from my experience. I work with white people, interact with them on a daily basis but how many do I have in my home…eat dinner with, call to talk to about personal stuff. In conversations with friends of color…sometimes we label as person in disdain as “oh she’s white,” or “some white guy said….” If we, myself included don’t push past our comfort zones and see the humanity in one another then things will stay the same.

    I think many of my friends & families’ unwillingness to come to acupuncture is because they are in their comfort zone. They may go to a white doctor for a physical because they’ve accepted that as a norm. They may go to the bank and talk to a white lender but 9 times out of 10 they too would not walk into a white hair salon. Here are some reason why I think the obstacles exist when it comes to acupuncture:

    1) Yes the religion aspect. For years slaves were warned against voodo (which coincidentally takes the mind back to someone sticking needles in a doll – strangely similar to the thought of acupuncture). And because religion is a big deal in the African American community…yoga, acupuncture, tai-chi…many of these healing modalities, with their Eastern influences…bring a sense of apprehension when it comes to religion.

    2) Remember the Tuskegee Experiment. I had to drag my dad in for a massage consultation once and even under the guidance of his own daughter, he wanted to bolt. What I’m saying is – there is still that air of mistrust when it comes to anything new or different health wise.

    3) Ignorance, although I think this is a problem regardless of race. People think it’s a luxury and don’t see the benefits of it. It’s easier and more accepted to pop a pill than to go into a clinic…and let some white person you don’t know from Adam…stick needles in you. Especially if you don’t know any of your friends who can vouch…except maybe that one friend who meditates and chants and is kind of weird anyway….lol

    So with that said – I think there are ways to overcome the barriers and it’s encouraging to see you guys take up this topic. I think in trying to reach the African American community, one idea is to go where the people are. Don’t just stay in your clinic but maybe once or twice a year you become an “Acupuncturist on Wheels” or something. Go to an event where you know there will be a diverse group of people. If it’s an African American event, have one of your black friends help man the table…if it’s a Spanish-speaking event have someone there who speaks the language. When the weather’s nice take your practice outside, reach out to community leaders…most times they are just as concerned about keeping their community healthy as you are. I know it’s no secret to me that blacks are at an all-time high when it comes to diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, the list goes on.

    And yes, when we walk in the doors it is comforting to see diversity represented. I know I’m always more excited when I see a website or something that indicates that I am welcome and fit in…that you will understand my concerns and know… not just where to place the needles but what I need to be well…and to feel comfortable coming back. It is a journey that both the client and acupuncturist must take together…to be candid with one another and to have a dialogue.

    In my area, I facilitate this group called “Study Circles.” Not the best name for it…no studying involved…it’s a dialogue with a diverse group of participants about race. Here’s one of the quotes we use –

    “We have run away from race for far too long…We will never achieve racial healing if we do not confront each other, take risks, make ourselves vulnerable, put pride aside, say all the things we are not supposed to say in mixed company – in short, put on the table our fears, trepidations, wishes, and hopes.”

    My hope is that it’s okay to talk to one another about this…if someone that I’ve trusted to stick needles brings up the topic…I’m not going to think they’re KKK and I feel comfortable enough being honest with them so that together we can challenge one another, step outside our comfort zones and grow.

  2. Thoughts on Racism…. more dialogue

    Well done, Jessica! Don’t worry about who you are and who you are not when you choose to share what is on your heart. Keep up the good work in raising your (and our) conscienciousness about being more human, that is the goal!

    I am one of your Black American clients who sees both sides of the spectrum and truly values your gifts and insight. Let’s just keep talking and sharing! Be well!

  3. another thing to add to Korben’s list

    Philadelphia Community Acupuncture is at a literal crossroads between where more of the urban hippie/activists and the students live, to the east, and where more black people live, to the west.  For a long time, because our landlord wouldn’t let us clutter up the front of his beautiful firehouse building, we only had a sign on the side of the building that faced the east.  Finally, in July, with our landlord’s help, we put up a big banner with our sliding scale on it that people who were driving in from the west would see.  I think a lot of the black people who come to our clinic found out about it by word of mouth/personal recommendation, but the signage definitely helps.  There are so many people who just never knew that we were here until they saw the sign. 

    I think, too, that the sliding scale part is huge.  To echo Lisa’s post, how did acupuncture become so white?  It became expensive.  If we don’t want it to be so white and exclusive, the price needs to come down.  It needs to go down as low as it can go, which would be $15 in most places in the country.  There is a huge difference between $15 and $20, let alone $25.  Example:  I go to yoga classes.  An average yoga class costs $15, and I could afford that once a week.  You charge me $20, I’m not going – no way.  How many working class people, how many people of color might be saying the same thing about your clinic?

  4. thanks Jessica

    This is an important topic to keep talking about for so many reasons, not least of which is that white people are, or very soon will be, a minority in America (in terms of numbers)…I’m told. My point being, if we as white people don’t figure out how to connect with people of other races and ethnicities, then our patient pool is pretty limited.

    Of course, that’s just the business angle. The justice angle is where are hearts really open and we – as social entrepeneurs – have a lot of leverage with the CA model, to actually change the world, to provide services to all people, and to slowly dismantle overt and functional/institutional racism by being an example for others.

    At CommuniChi, the fact that we are located in a community center named “El Centro de la Raza”…(the center of the people), with pictures of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi, First People chiefs, and so forth, all up and down the first floor hallway – this obviously makes people of color comfortable.

    We also have signage (e.g. Open/Closed….Abierto/Cerrado…and in Chinese) in three languages, as well as a small display in Spanish. The fact is, my Spanish is terrible, but merely by attempting to speak to people in their language…is a huge door opener in my experience.

    We have a donation box for the food bank downstairs – which serves people of many races. 

    I don’t mean to trumpet my successes here, because the battle is far from won. There are still many barriers to be brought down. I look forward to hearing more of what others have to say on this.

  5. Jessica, thanks for opening up this dialogue…

    for those of us nestled within neighborhoods that are diverse in ethnicity, religion and skin color, it presents a challenge to find the place that makes you as a practitioner be who you are while offering the space to others so that they can be who they are.  That is healing in the truest sense.

    We, as a nation, as a people, as sometimes contrived as our relationships are need to think about breaking comfort zones and find the common spaces…like the free zone in freeze tag.  The place where everyone is safe from being tagged.


  6. echoing thanks

    I think about this stuff all the time and it helps to have it articulated here. Living in multi-cultural Toronto it sometimes looks as if we’re all integrated but the reality is often very different: race and class divide communities. It’s so important to engae with these issues.

    At some point I want to open up a full time CA clinic in my ‘hood, which is downtown and right on the cusp of poorer areas with lots of new immigrants often struggling to get by, and one of the wealthier areas in the city. As well as lots of in between. I sometimes wonder how much I need to think about the identity of my clinic before jumping in…(for now I am doing CA sessions across town at a clinicI love but cannot go full time there)




  7. Great Insight


    Well said! I think it’s great that you used your own personal experience to question how your business is perceived by people of color. Your thoughts are heartfelt.

  8. Thank you for the comments.

    I appreciate everyone’s thoughts on this.  And I love seeing it passed around Facebook to different groups right now… 

    It took me a little while, but I finally unearthed a study which was conducted by an outside agency (Professional Research Consultants) for the Frederick County Health Department about 3 years ago.  It is h-u-g-e!  There’s a decent section on cultural barriers (starting on pg. 187), that I think we could all learn a thing or two from.  Here are some quotes:

    “If we’re talking about trust, there’s a huge trust gap as well among African Americans and there just aren’t that many African American providers and who would question why an African American wouldn’t want to bare their soul to a white person?”

    “You mentioned that there’s a language barrier. There’s more than a language barrier; there’s a cultural barrier. People will come to me as an intermediary because there are people that don’t look like them that are providing the services. So they’re apprehensive about approaching the folks that are not like them.”

    And thank you, Jackie, for the reminder about the anniversary of Obama’s innauguration.  I wasn’t even thinking about that or this week’s MLK when I sat down to write.  (It was actually Elizabeth from People’s who asked a question and got my tuchas in gear to finally blog.)  Just coincidentally turns out that this was perfect timing for a blog about African Americans and Acupuncture…

  9. Braids, locks, twists, and cultural appropriation

    I guess the question on “locking” or “twisting” centers on the intention behind it. Is it a celebration of one’s ancestral heritage? Or is it, at best, just a cool thing to do because it’s so countercultural? Or, at worst, a cultural fetishization of something exotic?

    Is one celebrating one’s cultural heritage or is one appropriating a culturally identifiable marker. It would seem that caucasians have this tendency to utilize cultural “drag” as a way to pay “homage” to an identity that is not their own. As a TCM practitioner, I have found it quite offensive to see my white colleagues don various “chinese” type of clothing to perform their “acupunctureal” duties to their other (often white) client base. It would seem as if it is done to as a way to “authenticate” themselves as a practitioner of east asian medicine.

    The same can be said of caucasians who delve deeply into yoga that they appropriate east indian names, after some form of initiation…in another vein, those caucasians often, after some form of initiation don a native american name.

    I say this with no apology; I am a person of color who was always identified (and often judged) by the color of my skin and shape of my eyes by the dominant cultural force (caucasian). My mother was a teenager during WWII. Imagine being Asian in the U.S. during that period–not even Japanese. Anyone who looked remotely Asian was inevitably deemed the “enemy” no matter the ancestry. Germans and Italians were not forced to close their businesses, sell their homes, and relocate to tar-paper barrack internment camps. The relocated Japanese Americans were portrayed in the media propaganda as fulfilling their “patriotic duty” by relocating.

    Using Said’s definition of “Latent Orientalism:” “The unconscious, untouchable certainty about what the Orient is. Its basic content is static and unanimous. The Orient is seen as separate, eccentric, backward, silently different, sensual, and passive. It has a tendency towards despotism and away from progress. It displays feminine penetrability and supine malleability. Its progress and value are judged in terms of, and in comparison to, the West, so it is always the Other, the conquerable, and the inferior.” And is definition of “The Oriental:” “The Oriental is the person represented by such thinking. The man is depicted as feminine, weak, yet strangely dangerous because poses a threat to white, Western women. The woman is both eager to be dominated and strikingly exotic. The Oriental is a single image, a sweeping generalization, a stereotype that crosses countless cultural and national boundaries,” one can, through this lens understand some of my thinking.

    This can be applicable in Jessica’s case. Jessica brought up the issue of racism and what may be non-verbally communicated. Picture this: A white woman with locks goes to an AA Locktician and came to the conclusion that she did not belong. While Jessica may have had the best of intentions, her self representation said otherwise. In a subtle way, and controversial way, it may be perceived as if she walked in donning a white hood.

    In no uncertain terms am I accusing Jessica of being racist. However, the act of having locks, a manner of hairstyle that is a cultural celebration to people of both African and Jamaican descent, can, and often will be, interpreted as offensive. It is necessary to understand the historical cultural politics from the (white) cultural hegemony. It may be difficult for Jessica to place herself in an AA woman’s cultural frame of reference to try to understand the possibly subtly hostile act of having locks and entering an AA locktician’s place of business. It may be challenging to empathize due to a lack of experience in cultural baggage due to being from the “perceived” dominant cultural hegemony.

    While it may be a fashion preference for Jessica, please understand the cultural implications of the actions and there will be some that will meet that with resistance. It can can be explained this way: Locks are an expression of racial pride and a stand against oppression that does not pertain to caucasians–because, historically, it was the caucasian oppression that the expression of racial pride that locks stand against. For a white person to wear locks can be perceived as making a mockery of that oppression. Right or wrong, for whatever it’s worth, it may be deemed cultural incompetence.

    How to resolve this is unknown. Sensitivity is key–what was the intention of having dreads in the first place? What was to “actual” motivation for going into the AA locktician–why not go back to the white guy that did your locks? Did Jessica understand the implications of the hairstyle and what it may potentially communicate? Is it politically correct? Jessica speaks of going outside the comfort zone; Why not invite the AA lockticians to her place of business for a demonstration of what you do? Or perhaps provide a complimentary treatment? Why do a video? What will that serve?

  10. Addendum to above…

    I just re-read the part where the locktician was speaking about the spirituality of locking. It can be summed up as this: Jessica, you most likely offended her by the mere fact of having locks. The term “dread” refers to the fear the Mau Mau warriors inspired among the british colonialists –the correct term is “locks.” but you may have know the etymology already.

  11. I think its great that you

    I think its great that you want to find ways to reach out to the community near your center. Often times it seems that African American business owners have to work extra hard to assimilate into the mainstream (if they choose to anyway) and its nice to see the opposite happen. I believe that a business should serve its community and make its services accessible to them. That is great that you recognize this as well.

    I personally am no more drawn to a business b/c the people there look like me or not. I couldn’t care less if I see another brown face at acupuncture…its my time not theirs lol. I am more concerned about the quality of the care I’m receiving and how comfortable the place is. Comfort meaning environment and how I’m treated while I’m there. Even my cousins that didn’t have a diverse upbringing like I did feel the same way. They’ll go to a white doctor, nurse, acupuncturist, therapist, etc…as long as they treat them nicely and the service is good. So, I could be wrong b/c I am not familiar with the location of your center, but maybe its not that your a white woman giving acupuncture and that makes people unable to relate…maybe its just that they need more education on acupuncture itself and how it can help them. Making an F.A.Q. brochure de-bunking myths about acupuncture and distributing it in the community may help. Going to health fairs, church fairs, and other community functions helps too. I’m not saying that having pictures of people from all backgrounds getting treated in the same room wont be effective…I’m sure it will and its a great idea. But ultimately, its you that will be treating your patients. The more people see you around their community and are comfortable with you, the more they will come back no matter the color of the person who is snoring next to them!

    Also, from the brief description of the decor in your place it doesn’t sound very “white” (whatever that would be) it sounds Asian-inspired-which is appropriate given where acupuncture comes from. Though I would keep in mind that just as you found your hairdresser speaking about religion a little inappropriate, the prayer flags may come off just as offensive to people who are religious whether they are African American or not. I have a Christian massage therapist colleague that is offended when there are Buddha statues in the room he is working in.

    You mentioned that the few African American clients you have come back and that “That is, they have already assimilated into our white culture, and therefore feel more comfortable in our space.” Maybe I’m reading too much into this statement, but it made me feel a little uneasy. Race isn’t the only factor into why African Americans will or won’t frequent a place. Just like any other race it varies depending on the person’s age, personal preference, past experiences, etc….And even though we are particularly discussing the group of African Americans in the working class section near The Turning Point, I’m sure they all have different reasons why they aren’t coming to acupuncture. The ones that do come back, it may not be b/c that they are comfortable around caucasians. Maybe its b/c your work is effective.
    Again thanks for opening this dialogue 🙂

  12. My clinic is located in a

    My clinic is located in a mostly white city, but I’m on a main street in a in a popular shopping district, it’s near the border of Detroit, which has very little shopping so many black people shop here.  initially I didn’t have many black patients, but word of mouth has changed that.  In some ways it’s just like anything else, when people are treated well, and have a good experience they tell their friends and family.  

    I’m not sure about the religion aspect.  My clinic isn’t “new agey” at all so that isn’t an issue.  I am a working class girl, I know crystals and stuff can be a real turnoff for average income people.  I’m not comfortable with a lot of that stuff either and I don’t talk about qi or meridians.  I tend to describe things in a medical scientific way, but only because that’s who I am, not because I’m trying to appeal to a certain group of people.  I’m not sure how much a person should try and change in order to attract patients, some patients will like a practitioner and the way their clinic works, some won’t and decide to go somewhere else.  

    I don’t think it’s appropriate to generalize that black people need lower prices, my patients who are black are all over the scale just like the whites are.  Metro Detroit has a large black population, some live in poorer areas of the city some live in upscale suburbs, or wealthy areas in the city (yes, despite the perception, Detroit has gorgeous mansion filled areas just like every other city).    

  13. cultural hairstyles

    Do certain cultural groups possess ownership of certain hairstyles? Perhaps I’m misinterpreting what you are saying Guest, but I would find that an overly restrictive standard of cultural sensitivity in today’s globally connected world. I think it is important to respect the cultural history of all people. However, that needs to be balanced with the understanding that our global society is changing very quickly. Not to dismiss the reality of cultural expropriation of identity and even genoicde which is happening everywhere. But the opposite extreme is to deny free expression. Let’s go easy on our judgment of individuals and pay close intention to our own unresolved attitudes about “us and them” whenever possible. No finger pointing intended, because if I were, first finger would be pointing at me.

  14. Guest

    I am so sorry for the manner in which your family was treated during WWII. I also have family members who suffered at this time. I hear your pain.

    Thank you for your thoughts on this blog. I know that there are some African Americans who do not like Caucasians locking their hair for the reasons which you described, but that was not the case here. The woman who worked with me was very open to helping me. She knew prior to my appointment that I was white, because I told her so. I asked her point-blank if she was comfortable working with locked Caucasian hair, long before I walked through the door.

    Perhaps you misunderstood my blog. Nobody in the salon was rude to me. Nobody was angry that I was there. In fact, they were all “warm and friendly.” My perception of feeling out-of-place had to do with the fact that I was in the minority in that salon…an experience which white persons do not frequently encounter. I am exploring what cultural barriers may have contributed to me feeling out-of-place in the salon, and wondering whether I do things in my clinic which might cause others to likewise feel isolated.

    I also hear your questions, although again, I do not think that they bear relevance to the point of this piece:

    What was the intention of having dreads in the first place? Did Jessica understand the implications of the hairstyle and what it may potentially communicate? Is it politically correct? Not that it has any bearing on this blog, but I experienced a strong desire to have my hair locked long before I finally did it. I spent almost a year researching the topic, talking to people of different ethnicities about their locks, and feeling-out whether this was a lifestyle choice I was consciously prepared to make. In fact, my hair had already started locking naturally when I finally made the commitment. It had nothing to do with rebellion (my family lives hundreds of miles away), or fitting-in (none of my friends had locks), or going “counter-culture”.  As a community acupuncturist, the fear of going “counter-culture” was one of the biggest deliberations that I weighed when considering not locking my hair, because I truly want my working-class-patients to feel comfortable when interacting with me, and I feared that locks might present a barrier in our relationship. For you to pass judgment about what was happening in my heart is unfortunate, because you do not know me.


    What was the “actual” motivation for going into the AA locktician–why not go back to the white guy that did your locks? My intention was to try a new business, connect with a new group of individuals in our community, and curiously explore the different ways that locks are maintained. How are we to develop compassion and understanding for others if we remain isolated in our own, comfortable little bubbles?


    Jessica speaks of going outside the comfort zone; Why not invite the AA lockticians to her place of business for a demonstration of what you do? Or perhaps provide a complimentary treatment? Actually, as a result of this blog, the locktician has supportively invited me to present and demonstrate community acupuncture to a large group of African Americans that she works with.


    Why do a video? What will that serve? For that information, my friend, you shall have to stay tuned to the CAN…

  15. Is it really racism?

    I know that political correctness reigns supreme in parts of the world, especially in the US and the UK, and with that comes a lot of undue worry about how you are perceived.

    The way I see it, from my lofty tower, is that you went to someone else’s house. You were raised in your family, where people tend to look related, or at least similar and have many things in common. You were invited to someone else’s house for a haircut, but this could have easily been an invite for supper. Your host, and their family look more similar to each other than they do to you and they enjoy different food, clothes, music, no big deal right?

    From the posts I’ve read on CAN, posts I’ve commented on (and the subsequent names I get called) people here are pretty zealously political. I understand that we tend to see things though our experiences and beliefs; political people see everything politically, a guy I know sees all personal relations in context of birth order. I hope it’s not in poor form of me to ask why health care, especially acupuncture, has to be political; can’t it be about compassion? I don’t want to highjack your post, but I have a great job out in the community doing acupuncture. I’m making a living popping in a few needles and watching people feel better and that fulfils me. Does it have to be a political statement if I see a First Nations group once a week to do some pain management? I don’t do it out of some sense of guilt over the suffering on the Rez and past abuses like residential schools; I’m there because they asked me to be there.  

    One question I have though is why do Americans (even parts of the world I guess) always bring it back to black people vs white people? Has it become the gold standard to judge racism? My China travel book has a fun thing where they asked a local if there was racism in China and the guy said No, there are no black people in China.” Well, it made me laugh anyways.

    I truly look forward to the day, even a thousand years from now when (nearly) everyone is a shade of brown; the result of centuries of people following their hearts instead of their skin colour. 

    —The disclaimer—

    I’ll apologise here for offending anyone with what I say; I try to be keep myself reigned in, but I enjoy a sense of humour, as well as my own opinions, and I forget that people who talk all political like (words that end in ism, ist, etc) had their senses of humour and context removed. I don’t get much chance to talk with people with the CAN mindset, the other dozen acupuncturists around here are a mix of cash grabbers, Naturopaths and people who diagnose through muscle testing.

  16. i disagree

    as long as there are groups of people that are shut out from accessing good quality heathcare because governments are in bed with corporartions and do not give a shit about taking care of human suffering, healthcare will remain political. you cannot look at the environmental conditions in places like richmond, california and the color of the skin of most people living there and say that we do not have institutional racism in this country that is direclty related to health and disease.

    as healthcare providers with a skill that can help relieve suffering, we have a responsibility to make our skill accessible to those that need it.  price is not the only issue with access, cultural values play a huge role as well.

    i see your comment as something a priveledged person would say without even trying to dig a bit deeper.


  17. Clayton asks:

    Why (does) health care, especially acupuncture, (have) to be political; can’t it be about compassion?”

    Acupuncture can be about compassion, particularly as defined by Wikipedia: Compassion is a human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering.” Why can’t compassion stir within you the desire to alleviate another’s suffering? If a patient experiences suffering at the hands of another person because of the color of their skin or the slant of their eyes, because of the religious doctrine they follow or the neighborhood they live in, don’t you feel moved to explore those issues to help alleviate their pain? Would you merely treat the branches of our societal dysfunction (the stress-related physical symptoms which our patients experience), and dismiss the root of the matter: classism, gender-issues, racism, religious intolerance?

    More importantly, I think that we—as health care providers—have an obligation to ensure that we first do no harm (isn’t that the Hippocratic Oath?). Harmful actions are more broadly encompassing than misdiagnosing, improperly prescribing, or failing to make a referral. Harm can be caused by our poor communication, our judgments, our biases…we can harm a patient by causing them to feel unwelcome in our clinics, by failing to respect how their religious observations may impact their acupuncture session (ie being touched by a member of the opposite gender, removing head-scarves, etc.), even by offering inappropriate lifestyle counseling. We have a social responsibility to educate ourselves, to explore other traditions/classes/cultures, to move outside our narrow little worlds and then to use those awareness to improve the quality of care we offer in our clinics.

    Years ago, I worked in a training program for Nursing Home Administrators. I shadowed exemplary executives, spent time helping to fix poor facilities, and had opportunities to spear-head some of my own independent projects. While helping at a facility with major issues (multiple state and federal violations, negative publicity on a national level, on the brink of being shut-down), I worked with their social services department to try and sort-out a maze of complicated problems. One of the social workers and I got to talking, and I learned that in addition to her MSW, she also held her NHA (Nursing Home Administrator’s) license. When I asked her why she didn’t use her license, she replied that she didn’t want to get caught-up in the politics. “But with that power and position,” I pointed-out, “you could do so much good! Think of all the change you could enact, all the residents you could help, if you were running your own facility and creating your own policy…”

    It was like a light suddenly went on for her: you can choose whether to view politics as arenas of conflict, or as avenues for sweeping change…your perception will alter the outcome.

  18. $.02

    I think health care is political because the question of who gets to have health care and who doesn’t tends to fall along class lines, which is kinda a political problem.  Some folks call stuff like this a “class war.”

    I think folks in the U.S. tend to see racism as “white vs. black” because racism was an innovation of white landowners in the U.S. to keep white sharecroppers from joining in solidarity with Africans and killing said landowners (well, any more than they did anyway).

    Also, not so sure about political analysis and sense of humor being mutually exclusive.

    I also look forward to the day when we’re all various shades of brown, but then, I’ve been a race traitor since way back.

    Furthermore, I’m truly disturbed that Jessica is missing out on the pleasures of modern R&B music.

  19. Ugh

    Shortly after pressing the Post Comment button I had a shiver up my spine; a feeling that it was only a matter of time that the accusations would begin to fly. Today I’m privileged, naive and dumber than Wikipedia (ouch), tomorrow I’m an asshole. I probably won’t even check back to read the continuation of this post because my feelings will get hurt again. There isn’t any sarcasm there, no really not there either. Damnit, I’m pretty much damned if I do, damed if I don’t here so it would be nice if you’d all just cut some slack here. You guys agonise over perceptions of being overly-judgemental when dealing with other people, but here on the semi-anonymous internet it’s free reign? Classy.

    For me, racism is a judgement; much like assuming anyone who has a different opinion must be privileged. I don’t want to start the “I’m from a working class background” thing because it’ll just degrade into this: But no, I’m not wealthy and I could care less if you are or aren’t; it’s not my place to ask. I wouldn’t think that I’m privileged, fortunate yes, but never privileged. 

    Maybe my mistake was in making a generalisation that CAN was overly political (sorry for any offence), but those are just the posts I’ve read; most of the blogs tend to be about politics. On the other hand, the comments usually offer a pretty wide cross section of opinions and individual backgrounds. 

    Reading the original texts of the CAN movement, the books from WCA, Nei Jing and other TCM and Chinese (Lao Zi etc.) classics I feel that a practitioner should be free of politics entirely. I’ve just never seem compassion as a political or religious motivation, it doesn’t mean I have to be Messiah – it just means that I want (not should, but want) to help people.

    Wonderful passages:

     – One of our choices as acupuncturists is to stop talking, stop thinking, stop analysing and just shut up and feed people.

    – You don’t need to penetrate the mysteries of something mysterious in order to use it! 

    I know that the WCA propaganda is not the final authority, it’s their opinion from their experience. I’m just using it to show my point of view. I also know that anyone can find quotes to suite their own purpose and that’s fine too. Everyone has that choice to their own opinion, even benevolent fascists like me. And in my opinion seeing the world as something to change is like seeing disease as something to eradicate (allopathic medicine) where living a good life, being an example for people to follow if they choose, is like supporting the body and good health (Chinese medicine). 

    I love the old Chinese story about the guy (probably Zhuang Zi) living in the woods and when the summons comes from the Imperial court that they want him to come advise them, he says asks if the captive  turtle in the palace prefers it there or would rather be in a lake. The soldiers/officials/whatever say “the lake, of course”, and leave a little wiser. Sadly they were probably executed for failing the emperor.

    The books written by Lisa and the rest of the WCA staff (as well as the books quoted within) talk a lot about politics, but they also talk about not-politics. They talk about being true to ourselves, action through non-action and believing in our own way. I don’t touch women who don’t want to be touched, I won’t touch guys who don’t want to be touched. I don’t ask people to take off their religious scarves, hats, or those blocks of wood orthodox jews wear, it’s not my business. If we live only to appease others we are doing more harm than good. By that logic women should close their clinics during menses rather than risk offending, well pretty much every orthodox religion out there. With all apologies, warranted or not, if this makes mine a “narrow little world” then our entire profession was created by people in narrow little worlds. If you want to pour criticism on me for performing my job as only a mere acupuncturist to provide the best care I am able to anyone who wants to see me, then take a look in the mirror because I think that may be a bit classist.

    I hate to leave on a foul, bitter note so you get a joke:

    Q: What’s Bob Marley’s favourite kind of doughnut?

    A: With Jam in.

    Oh you better laugh at that, if only because it’s so bad. G’night

  20. we’re not here to insult you, we are here to have a discussion about racism and the practice of community acupuncture, which i think jessica made really clear in her post. none of us live in a vacuum, none of us are a “mere acupuncturist”. we all (unless we’re hermits living in a cave) participate in a community, consume, socialize. and if you are a white male living in north america you are priviledged; that’s not an insult it’s just how it is.


  21. “if you are a white male

    “if you are a white male living in north america, you are privileged; that’s not an insult, it’s just how it is”

    Tatyana, perhaps from the perspective of people of color, your statement should be rephrased:
    “if you are white and live in north america, you are privileged.” Look back at the recent past (like Jim Crow), and you will see what I mean.

  22. Let’s look at it this

    Let’s look at it this way:

    We all know the benefits of breastfeeding, right? Since many OB/GYN and CNMs tend to be caucasian, the recommendations to all patients is to breastfeed.

    Given that, why is breastfeeding among AA women so incredibly low? Is anyone fully able to grasp the cultural and historical context of the answer?

    There are many reasons:
    1) Hospitals routinely give out diaper bags full of formula (not such a strong argument–while this is low hanging fruit, there is a greater context as to why breastfeeding among AA women is the lowest among all female populations in the U.S.).

    2) WIC programs cover formula (a little warmer).

    3) Status: there is status in the “ability” to be able to afford formula. Breast feeding can be viewed as low class (almost there).

    4) The historical wet-nurse. Female AA slaves were kept pregnant to nurse the slaveowner’s children. Given that cultural baggage and the recommendations from many caucasian physicians and CNMs, this dynamic is readily apparent. It is deeply rooted in the subconscious that it has become such a cultural norm.

    While this is way off topic from a distinctly ethnic hairstyle, putting it back into the context of what is communicated by a caucasian person who chooses to wear a hairstyle that, to some, is a spiritual expression and reclaiming of their cultural identity, would be deemed offensive.

    I stand corrected by jessica in that she did disclose to the business owner that she “was white” when she made the appointment. That said, the discussion on spirituality for the locktician could have been a very polite way of communicating what locks mean.

    Yes, I was not there. However, my time on this earth has put me in contact with many cultural centric people out there–I may not look like them (AA), but I certainly ain’t one of them (white), so my level of acceptance and disclosure is far greater than what many many many caucasian people would be exposed to.

  23. easy to misinterpret

    Thanks for your clarification Guest, and good information on the reasons why breastfeeding is low amongst AA women. In the context of uprooting racism, knowledge and understanding of history is one of the first steps, and in this regard, I don’t see your post here as off topic, and I thank you for sharing it.

  24. Two More Cents.. Make that Six!

    I have many responses and reactions to the original post as well as the milieu of comments that have been posted in chains of response, some that I will keep to myself.
    There are three inter-related topics that I would love to discuss further and/or learn more about. They are listed below in order of my least urging (like a gently nudge) to most urging (think chick on a soapbox bothering folks and caring not).

    First- I think that there is a noted difference between “belonging” and “welcoming.” I think that the creative, intellectual, and physical energies aimed at creating a space that proclaims “you belong here” or “everyone belongs here” would be better served in two related ways: first, creating a space of healing that reflects you and your fellow-healers AND second, continuing on a path of self-reflection where you take seriously the responses and attitudes of folks from communities that are under-represented in your practice. Rather than removing those prayer flags and chimes that you mention in your post, consider revisiting some of your inspirational sages- you may find that meditating on the coupling of uncomfortableness and compassion may yield new insights.

    Second- Embrace uncomfortableness. Think of it as a karmic balancing of cultural reparations if that helps- be it in a salon or a grocery store or a public march, being OK with being silent and uncomfortable- well that unease (versus giving into the impulse to “fix”) can change the world. There is indeed so much information to gather that is neither ebb or flow. Also, there is a fine line (well, I am not so much into boundaries so to me this is a fuzzy border zone of ambiguity- yikes!- and concomitant freedom- double yikes!)… anyway there can be a subtle but profound difference between cultural-exchange and liberal-elite-voyeurism. I am not trying to be offensive- just frank- and I am taking seriously your desire to extend the healing benefits of acupuncture. As you journey through this process I pray you will choose to listen to communities that lack health resources rather than experts from the acupuncture community- the end goal might be the same in both cases, but the insights and results from such endeavors can be markedly and profoundly different.

    Third- Thanks if you are still reading this. I am one long-winded writer and talker! These changes in access can ONLY be accomplished if and when folks from under-served communities are extended opportunities to become part of the CAN- as investors, as employees, as community experts to guide the way, and obviously also, and with a sense of great urgency, as practitioners! This must be more than simply helping with scholarships or loans for individuals. This must involve recruitment programs, funding opportunities to start clinics, etc. These efforts would result in- well who knows- that’s the whole point! Who knows what would emerge from new involvement, leadership and vision. My best guess would be a healing ethic that would better reflect the soul of acupuncture- a gift that does not belong to you, wherein the value is only found by the giving of the gift. This is not a NEW concept for those in under-served communities- rather it is the foundation of many of the communities that I am assuming you are wanting to reach (for example Af-Am Peoples and Native Peoples- noting that each of these titles contain within literally thousands of different distinctions). Assuming that those in under-served communities know of their health care disparities and their needs and using that as a starting point is just that- a great start.

    So that’s my 6 cents- 2 cents times 3: That acupuncturists should, #1- be self-reflexive and take personal ownership that their cultural legacy might be a considerable obstacle if a goal of their practice is serving the under-served; #2, that this cultural legacy is best understood from the perspective of those whose communities are marked by premature death and a systemic lack of health care options (yep I know that’s not a race thing and that everyone in our culture needs a shift in health care, but there are groups of people in the US whom can expect to live YEARS shorter lives despite the access issue- I am responding here to this specific topic); and #3, while it would be awesome if removing prayer flags could solve the problem, the beast of racism and the link with health care access is HUGE and should be dealt with as such.

    So yes, it’s you, but really it’s us- and it is not for you to solve but for us to transform. That’s why you got mixed up with community acupuncture in the first place, right? Oh, did I mention that while all this transformation is urgent, so too are the daily tasks of our individual lives as well as the ongoing task for you acupuncturists to keep on with your current healing, one person at a time, each one unique? Piece of cake!

    OK now I want cake.

  25. Woman of color providing Acupuncture

    Hello comrades:
    I am a woman of color providing Acupuncture services. I live in the suburbs where there is very little multiculture. I am new at this whole Acupuncture thing but I love it. I have had some challenges getting referrals from other practitioners in a clinic with 3 massage therapists and an esthetician. People are usually surprised when they realize that I am the acupuncturist. I have experienced some uncomfortable stares from clients in the waiting room but I’m not letting this dissuade me. Those clients that I have treated a few times have been very appreciative of the effects of their treatments and have been seemingly satisfied with our interaction.
    I know there is a place for me in the “Acupucture Society”, I just need to bite the bullet and be positive about what I do and how I can help anyone regardless of their color. I’m a strange breed but I’m looking forward to treating a lot of people and making acupuncture less of a “strange voodoo like” therapy. I’m not part of the CAN network but I’m an aspiring “acupunk”………………….Thanks guys you inspire me………..Cheryl

  26. You don’t even have to look

    You don’t even have to look back to see it.  A very brief look at the criminal justice system, particularly in regards to the so-called war on drugs, will show plenty of examples of white privilege, and class privilege.

  27. Thanks for this discussion!

    An ongoing discussion about race, class, gender, cultural appropriation and TCM is MUCH MUCH needed, so I appreciate this blog’s contribution to all of our liberation/increased consciousness.

    I have a few things I want to share in response to this post – I think it offers us all some helpful food for thought as we ponder how we each can make our clinics/offices more welcoming for everyone who comes and is new to acupuncture…and us. At the same time, I want to celebrate our differences and our unique ways of expressing ourselves, assuming that we are conscious about how we do so.

    In Jessica’s blog post, Jessica was not new to locking her hair, but she was new to the locktician, and so she was quite aware of the differences between her previous locktician and her second one. In addition to race, the two lockticians differed in gender, culture, social spheres and possibly (but not necessarily) classes. Jessica felt more resonance with her first locktician for various reasons that are personal to her and less with her second one, but I have a question for Jessica: would you still go back to the second locktician?

    I ask because perhaps you would – perhaps those differences are not necessarily barriers to receiving a service or creating a relationship, but they are merely areas where there is discomfort, which is not necessarily permanent…and as we know, discomfort often precedes a breakthrough in healing/growth/change.

    Discomfort is not something to avoid at all costs, but it can be a message, something that can usher us forward if we choose to acknowledge it, examine its roots, what it is communicating. Discomfort is not necessarily a barrier to creating relationships, and for me, creating relationships is what acupuncture is all about.

    At the same time, creating relationships depends on clear, ethical, and open communication, so the major point that I want to make is this: when encountering folks who are different from you racially, culturally, ethnically, acknowledge your ignorance, check your assumptions, and be open to dialogue. It sounds like, from Jessica’s responses to the blog comments, that she has been open to dialogue with the second locktician and they have been able to create a working relationship that is respectful and seemingly sustainable. Hooray!

    Dialogue is not easy. But if done well, it can be extremely healing. This means, however, that we have to be open to critique, open to making mistakes, and open to fairly pointing out where someone else might revise their assumptions and behaviors. Hopefully we are coming from a compassionate place, for compassion and justice go hand in hand. I feel that acupuncture practitioners have a wonderful opportunity to embody what is possible when compassion meets action.

    As acupuncturists, we all come from different backgrounds, we make choices at every step along the way that express who we are, what we value, what we choose to represent ourselves as, and sometimes due to our unacknowledged privilege we miss things; but we can also learn and grow, admit our privileges, admit our ignorance, and move forward, hopefully without guilt so that as we make our next decisions we are not living from a guilt-informed place but from a liberated place.

    I live in Chicago where there are many acupuncturists. We each have our own style, aesthetic, and background. I am an immigrant, working class, woman of Indian ethnicity. Because I am trying to make my practice accessible to as many people as possible, financially and otherwise, I do the following:

    –my space has an elevator and ample room for a wheelchair to enter and exit. The space HAS to be accessible, literally.

    –I keep my decor pretty simple, mostly because I like the freedom implied in an open-feeling space. I have plants and a few items in my rooms that express just a little about who I am: a small Ganesh statue, a small Tara statue, a few books, an acuwoman model, a hanging meditation mala, a wall hanging with elephants and peacocks on it. I refrain from choosing decidedly “Oriental” decor, or TCM posters, but that is my choice. If another acupuncturist decides to post up a calligraphy scroll, I hope s/he has thought about the implications of doing this and actually knows what the scroll says, etc. I will not automatically judge a caucasian person for displaying “ethnic” items in her office, but I am often curious about what that item means to her. So I ASK. And I am often happily surprised at what I learn. Sometimes I am saddened by what I learn, but at least I know that person a little better and we have a new jumping off point for our next interaction. I don’t just write that person off.

    –I am aware of my language: I try to use language that is non-violent and ethical. I refrain from using sexist, racist, classist, ableist, or ageist language, not because I want to “be PC” so that I don’t get “called out” but because I find that offensive and violent language creates stagnation in relationships — it is a barrier to connection. For me it is crucial that we create SAFE SPACE as we do our healing work, and safety hinges on many things but communication is a major one.

    –I listen and I create SPACE for questions and comments from people. At least I try to. I do this by stating that I appreciate and want to hear from folks, and when people have a preference for something or a need, I honor their input and make a change that they can see. When we ask for input, receive input, and then fail to act upon that input, we create stagnation.

    My comments technically have nothing to do with race, but for me this is how I make my office a welcoming space: by engaging in open, honest dialogue and honoring ethical, nonviolent communication. Again, I want my space to be safe as well as welcoming.

    I won’t post up a whole novel, but I do have two more things to say:

    –When discussing race, can we broaden the discussion to include all races/ethnicities? All too often I feel excluded in race discussions because they are being framed as black vs. white, and that binary is inaccurate and potentially unproductive if we are trying to **really** talk about race, power, privilege, and prejudice.

    –Racism is a function of privilege and systematic power imbalances. Let us not shy away from examining privilege and power imbalances, especially since many of us are trying to run practices that are trying to support the so called “underprivileged and disempowered.”

    –Also, one person of color does not and should not have to represent all people of color or people of that race/ethnicity. I would be ridiculous to think that I could represent all Indian Americans, especially because I was born in British Guyana and raised in Arizona. While my experience often intersects with other Indian Americans, I can only speak for myself and from my own experience. You might find another Guyanese-Indo-American raised in Arizona who disagrees with everything I have to say. And their input would be valid, too.

    Thanks, Jessica, for creating space for this discussion, and thanks to everyone else who contributed with productive questions and comments!

  28. thought this was an

    thought this was an interesting reflection on race, inspired by the story of the twins.


    Sisters are only slightly more genetically similar than any other two human beings. We are all so closely related to each other, sharing over 99 percent of our genetic code across the world, that many scientists believe there is no biological basis for what we call race. Race is a social fiction. But it is also, for now at least, a social fact. We are not all, culturally speaking, the same. And if that Long Island woman had raised the black boy to whom she gave birth he might have been robbed of a certain amount of the cultural identity to which his skin would be assigned later in life, and might therefore find himself as an adult in an uncomfortable no-man’s-land between two racial identities. ”  – from the essay “Relations” by Eula Biss.


    full text here: