We need to have a conversation.
About whiteness in the wellness space. About decolonizing wellness and healing. About what socially just healthcare actually looks like — and whether we’re anywhere close to actually achieving it.
Because I don’t think we are.
White wellness is pervasive and while this isn’t news, while it’s something that I’ve been aware of for a long time, I’m ashamed to say that it isn’t always something I’ve held at the forefront of my mind.
Of course, the very fact that I can pick and choose when I address decolonization and the normalization of Eurocentric values in wellness industries is, in itself, the ultimate sign of my own privilege.
And it’s time to address that — I need to unpack my privilege and reframe how I look at, and how I encourage wellness.
We all do.
Yes, the most obvious sign of whiteness in the wellness space is in how we market wellness businesses and who we market them to, and plenty of organizations have taken the oh-so-revolutionary step of including people of color in their advertising and implementing an inclusive hiring policy. Which would be fine if they didn’t then call it “job done” and congratulate themselves for their progressive approach.
Of course, as I think we’re all beginning to realize, that barely scratches the surface of the problem.
- It does nothing to address the fact that so many of us are still heavily reliant on Western scientists delivering proof of the efficacy of practices that have been used by other cultures for centuries, and that we feel we have to use scientific studies to convince people that meditation, for example, isn’t just another “woo woo” wellness fad.
- It does nothing to address the yoga studios populated by white people whose sole aim is to drop a few pounds, blissfully unaware of yoga’s spiritual traditions or the fact that under British rule and colonization yoga and Ayurvedic practices were banned in India, or that even now, the foundation of my acupuncture training program is based on a British man’s “enhancements” of his understanding about traditional Chinese medicine.
- It does nothing to address the wellness narrative that conflates health, thinness, and the pursuit of self-care with our value as human beings; a narrative that treats health as a moral imperative and smacks of victim-blaming and privilege and ignores the myriad factors that influence health, factors such as poverty, oppression, social inequality and intergenerational trauma.
- It does nothing to address the notion that health and healing isn’t always down to the individual and that we need to acknowledge a collective accountability and responsibility for how we heal.
As I try to unpick the threads of my own privilege and my own approach to wellness, these are just a few of the thoughts that have begun to form. Just a few of the traps I’ve fallen into either as a practitioner or simply as an individual with an interest in my own health and wellness. I know that this too, barely scratches the surface of a centuries-old problem.
So where do we go from here?
For me, it’s going to be a case of continuing to ask the difficult questions.
How does privilege show up in my work and in my life and what can I do to become a better ally and advocate?
Who is benefiting most from the wellness space and asking are we doing enough to prevent the exclusion of the very people whose cultures have inspired our most popular and effective wellness practices?
And most importantly:
What do we need to do to make the wellness industry a space where we can keep having these conversations, a space where we can ask ourselves the difficult questions, a space where we are continually encouraged to reflect on the part we each play in preserving an unjust status quo?