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Common Humanity: Part 2

Read to me!

Here is the list of cited articles & links for those who listened to the audio, and don’t want to scroll through the post to find them! (in order of appearance in this post)

  • Jessica Wilson, MS. RD. Instagram @jessicawilson.msrd
  • Alishia McCullough, Licensed Mental Health Therapist. Instagram @blackandembodied
  • Ayana Habtemariam MSW, RDN. Instagram @thetrillrd
  • Elsa Mengistu, climate justice advocate Instagram @elsamengistu
  • Professor Whitney Brain Yogi. Instagram @whitnessbrainchange
  • Dr. Kester Nedd. Instagram @dr.k_nedd
  • Ackel Cupid. Instagram @vitalitynutritionpt
  • Dr. Shailla Vaidya. Instagram @theyoga.md

I ask each of my clients this question: “What are your priorities and values in life?”

This question is so important. It tells me so much about what I have to learn and do to give my clients something that is true to them. Something that honours their experiences instead of placing on them the priorities and values upheld in white oppressive healthcare.

One time a client answered me with this:

“I value common humanity — the idea that we’re all here and connected in some way.”

Yeah. I feel this. Do you?

In Part 1 I offered a call-in to my fellow white TBI survivors. I asked why it seems there is little representation of BIPOC folks in brain injury blogs, media, and support groups. Systemic racism affects all communities, even ours in Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

I am now sharing this again as a white person to invite other white survivors who are down for this conversation.

Let’s talk nutrition.

I’m a registered dietitian. My profession is predominantly white. One way systemic racism is incredibly apparent is in just how inaccessible the credentialing is — spend all your money on getting the university degree then live for one year with no income while you dedicate every waking hour to your “prestigious” internship… With such barriers to inclusion, there is little support for diversity. But don’t just take my word for it — read the number of ways dietetics harbours systemic racism from BIPOC dietitians here and here.

But let’s face it, most of the nutrition advice out there doesn’t come from dietitians. You can pretty easily find nutrition advice from plenty of bloggers, vloggers, authors, doctors and all sorts of other “-er/ ors” on social media and wellness platforms. Yet even with all these other people contributing to the nutrition narrative, BIPOC representation is still missing or overlooked.

One time I was putting together a presentation. I was looking for accessible stock photos so decided to Google search the term “healthy eating.” Yikes. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed before that almost all of the food images only depicted typical north american (white people) foods — like a lot of salads and stuff from government food guides. Representation from other culture’s ways of eating were pretty much absent. And what’s worse? I experimented and added to the end of that search term the word “person.” Featured were plenty of people who were white and thin — different body shapes & sizes, BIPOC folks, and people of older ages were almost non-existent. What does this say about how we think of “healthy eating”? Or more, what have we been lead to believe “healthy” is when it’s representation systematically excludes a large number of people?

When I think about my work in nutrition and TBI, I see the influences of white supremacy and patriarchy almost combined and summarized:

TBI survivors being told there is one “healthy” way to eat for brain health and recovery. Diets popularized, promoted and profited by white people that disregard other culture’s ways of eating.

Lists of foods and supplements that are inaccessible or become expensive for many survivors. And I wonder if the research on these foods & supplements is biased, done by those with privilege, for people with privilege?

A lot of the leaders in the concussion & TBI industry that I have come across are white and often men. Their expertise is sought out and revered, yet do they include or elevate perspectives from underrepresented populations? Does their advice consider systemic racism? Do they do more than just post a black square with no further comment?

What about people with TBI going to specialists, only to have their body weight become the primary concern over their brain injury! This is harmful when the standards used to define “healthy weights” (aka body mass index or BMI) are based on measurements of mostly white men. When we know people’s health suffers not so much from weight, but from the stigma of their curves, why aren’t we focusing on healing the brain instead of fitting people into an oppressive body shape and size??

— And finally, as the predominant healthcare and social systems fail to support people with TBI, private industries will continue to profit offering alternative therapies. And as much as I am for people having access to whatever therapy helps them to feel better, I do start to wonder whether any of the popular holistic options I’m seeing out there are co-opted or cultural appropriation — taking a tradition rooted in one culture and transforming it without credit to make it appeal to white privileged people to buy.

And this is just my own observation of nutrition in TBI. Yet on the larger scheme, the whole healthcare system fails even harder at giving proper treatment and rehabilitation to ethnic minorities with TBI. Again, don’t take my word for it. I learned about this here in an article from a cool neurologist who also ties in the role of incarceration and punishment in TBI systemic racism.

Plate, Soup Bowls, Red, Eat, Cover, Tableware, Ceramic

I want to be absolutely clear here. I am no saint.

I have messed up. I have been just as guilty sharing info without knowing it’s root origin. I’m part of a for-profit-industry. I’ve thrown around terms like “Mediterranean eating pattern,” something white Western culture took for it’s own as if somehow able to make it ‘better’ without first hand experience, nor acknowledging it’s true roots.

And as a result, I have done harm, when in my profession I have sworn not to.

Round Gray Bowl

Have you seen or heard a lot recently in your media feeds about how and what those with privilege should be doing to take down systemic racism? I have.

I don’t feel it’s my place to tell you what to do nor exactly what steps you should take next. I’m fumbling through this myself. It’s not my place to speak for you.

But I’ve heard you speak of your sufferings with TBI and how you don’t want others to experience the same. I hear you. And I know my drive to show up in my job is to help alleviate as much suffering as I can.

I also know that I can’t do this on my own, alone.

Bowl, Porcelain, Glass, Henkel, Stack, Paint, Tableware

Taking down systemic racism, weight bias, binary thinking, gender inequities, and all the other oppressions — it makes a better world and quality of life for ALL people.

My profession is taking steps:

And I’m taking steps.

I’m grateful to all the BIPOC dietitians, healthcare professionals, and educators out there who are sharing there hard, if not traumatic experiences so that people like me can become aware. I’m listening, unlearning and relearning, unpacking the ways in which I didn’t even know my work was influenced by systemic racism. I’m asking myself how my work needs to change so that I don’t uphold this oppression. It’s slow going for me — I still live with a limited capacity. But I can prioritize and value this work alongside supporting myself.

I’ve also been following different BIPOC perspectives on social media. And not just following, but hearing their posts and working through how it intersects with my work:

  • Jessica Wilson, MS. RD. Instagram @jessicawilson.msrd
  • Alishia McCullough, Licensed Mental Health Therapist. Instagram @blackandembodied
  • Ayana Habtemariam MSW, RDN. Instagram @thetrillrd
  • Elsa Mengistu, climate justice advocate. Instagram @elsamengistu
Handmade, Craft, Color, Background, Pattern, Thread

I’m trying to find more BIPOC perspectives in our TBI community. In part 1 I shared some of the personal storytelling BIPOC TBI accounts I have found. Here I share some BIPOC health & wellness providers I have come across. Feel free to do the same and share with me any I may have missed.

Other providers:

Professor Whitney – Brain Yogi

Instagram @whitnessbrainchange

Web www.rewiredbrainyoga.com

Dr. Kester Nedd

Instagram @dr.k_nedd

Web www.concussiontbi.com

Ackel Cupid

Instagram @vitalitynutritionpt

Dr. Shailla Vaidya

Instagram @theyoga.md

Web www.theyogamd.ca

This here is my experience in progress. The ideas here may or may not connect with you. These are hard, uncomfortable topics. But they can’t go unacknowledged nor ignored. So regardless of where you go from here, know that I am here to have these hard conversations with you 🙂

Going forward, I am committed to that common humanity.

Are you?

Photo of Black Plate Near Knife and Fork on Black Table

Even with my own TBI limits, may I work to truly do no harm while alleviating suffering as best I can, with each act I take.

Best in health and justice for all,

Krystal Merrells

Registered Dietitian

TBI survivor

Down for the hard convos

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