What Does it Mean to Decolonize Wellness?
Written By: Chika Igwe
Originally Posted: Wholehearted Freedom
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
I was looking through my blog the other day and said to myself "Why does this look so meh?" I felt like something was missing from my blog. Then, it dawned on me -- it's not black enough.
I am very in touch with every layer of my blackness and for that reason, it tends to come out in every aspect of my life. So, for my blog to look like a "not black enough" is very off-brand for me.
But then, I started to think, "why does it lack blackness??". I started challenging my own biases and assumptions to see why I thought that. Like, I'm black, and I wrote the blog...so something is not clicking.
When I did that, I figured out that it not that my blog is missing something. It is that almost everything in the wellness space is curate by mostly white women. I, and most other people, am trained to associate the two together.
When we think of wellness or the wellness industry, who do we think of? Gwyn*th Paltr*w-esque women that can spend ridiculous amounts of money on acupuncture, yoga classes, smudging rituals, therapy, organic foods, and the like.
This is a Problem
Unfortunately, and ironically, the wellness industry is another institution perpetuating racist, sexist, ableist and classist ideals.
I am writing this post in June 2020. Right now, in the United States, we are on a precipice of a revolution to dismantle the systems that uphold racists and imperialistic ideals.
Yes, I know that Black people and other POC are not necessarily being racially harassed by their white yoga instructor. POC in this country have bigger fish to fry than a semi-ignorant yoga instructor. The systemic and systematic racism in the United States has bred many racial health disparities. The colonization of the wellness space surely hasn't helped ease any of that. Hence, why many of us call to decolonize wellness.
I told you all that I am a therapist in training. I've only seen a sliver of the mental health industry, but I can understand why we associate wellness with the privileged white class.
I do not have to tell you that mental health is a topic that is just becoming mainstream communities of color.
To this day, even with millennial/Gen Z Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), you will still hear that therapy "is for white folks"
Even though I will "go to therapy" you until you start hating me, mental health treatment is widely inaccessible for most people. If you have had a therapy session ever, you are one of the lucky ones. Congratulations. And while people who attend therapy, for the most part, are white, most mental health professionals are also white women.
It is a never ending vicious cycle of systemic oppression.
But there is no excuse for not representing POC in the wellness space. I mean, most of what we call wellness practices originated from communities of color.
What Does it Mean to Decolonize Wellness?
To talk about decolonization, we have to understand what colonization is and what I mean to decolonize wellness.
Colonization is when a dominant group takes over and exploits and takes from the native and/or people of origin.
Decolonizing is about reclaiming what was taken and honoring what we still have. This takes conscious work and effort.
There is an inexcusable lack of racial diversity in the wellness industry. The absence of people of color in these places means wellness doesn't apply to BIPOC, therefore, BIPOC are not people who strive for wellness, which is false.
The lack of representation signals a message that only white folks can practice wellness and that BIPOC cannot practice wellness from fear of rejection from the space.
It not even just racial exclusion that is happening. Disabled folks, gender non-conforming, trans people and older individuals are not being represented in the wellness space.
All of our favorite wellness practices like oil pulling, mindfulness, yoga, smudging, jade rollers, acupuncture, aromatherapy and so much more have origins in non-white cultures (re Africa, Asia, Indigenous Americas). Almost all of these practices have been bastardized and repackages to be more palatable and profitable for the mainstream -- this is what I mean that we need to decolonize wellness
It also means that people of color with business ventures in wellness do not get to profit off of ideas that originated from their communities nor are they respected when they enter the space.
To decolonize wellness, we need to celebrate and promote people of color in the wellness space similar to their white counterparts and most of all, to be paid like their white counterparts.
Where are the Wellness Curators of Color?
BLK + GRN is an e-commerce site that has curated a space for black artisans and wellness to be seen and monetarily valued. They carry everything from skincare, haircare, oils, and other products made by black artisans.
When I was on my search to reimagine wellness. I attempted to curate my feed accordingly. It took me two weeks to not only find this page but to find something else similar. That should not happen. I found other sites similar to BLK + GRN , but I could not find any for Indigenous, Latinx or Asian curators. (If you know of any, please leave it in the comments. I would love to update this post with them).
YouTube is FULL of wellness curators of color, but you do have to search. Same with most social media platforms. Pinterest is my go-to because Pinterest automatic curates your homepage. So if you are on a following spree of BIPOC wellness spaces, most likely, your homepage will begin to find more and more for you. I'm trying to get a POC Wellness Group Board going on Pinterest!
This is Not the Only Solution
Though I am not capitalism's biggest fan, redistributing wealth and credit back BIPOC wellness curators is the start of decolonizing the wellness industry.
I urge you all to spend your money at a place like BLK + GRN, educate yourself on where your favorite wellness practices come from, and if you are doing it as intended by the culture and curators. Ask the big wellness platforms what they are doing to reanalyze the wellness space. All of these relatively smalls steps will add up in changing the space originally meant for us.
Wellness for me is not going to look like wellness for you simply because I probably don't look like you. Understanding that and acknowledging the history will make the wellness space inclusive for all.
Want to write for BLK + GRN? Click here.
Image Credits: @kpelle.designs