I'm that White Woman with no Business Making a Living Practicing Acupuncture
My plan was to attend naturopathic medicine school. I was completing my undergrad prerequisites when I met someone studying Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. I knew nothing about it, and had never had a treatment before. But I was really excited by the idea of not relocating to the lower mainland to complete my education, and being done in 2 fewer years. I sought out and received one acupuncture treatment in which I felt virtually nothing, impatiently waiting alone in a dimmed room, vaguely aware of one of the points causing pain and sharpness in my inner ankle. I then interviewed at 2 schools in town, one of which was shiny and new and promised opportunities to travel to complete clinical hours overseas. And so I enrolled in Acupuncture College.
I was 22 years old. I had no connection whatsoever to this medicine, its healing potential, or the culture from which it came, my settler heritage being 100% European, and small town upbringing decidedly non-diverse. But I was a good student, and I really loved Chinese Medicine school. I loved the process of transition from an overwhelmingly linear thought process into a more wholistic or systems view of people, bodies, health and illness. I was given the gift of an opportunity to spend time in my body, to become more embodied, to have the safety and support to be curious about what I felt in a way I never had before. And my education certainly did change me, provided space and a catalyst for those transformations that so readily occur in our 20's.
And here I am, some 13 years later, a white woman making her living practicing so-called "Traditional Chinese Medicine"* and Acupuncture. Something I'm very clear I have no business doing, really.
It's not about having experienced none of the persecution of pioneering acupuncturists in North America, like Miriam Lee, who was arrested for practicing in 1974 before acupuncture was legalized in California. It's about claiming this practice that is in no way mine, or my family's, or part of my history or ancestry. It's the unfairness of it - the ways in which European immigrants to Turtle Island were treated drastically differently than Asian ones, and as 3rd or 4th or 5th (6th, 7th...) generation North Americans, still are. It's the fact that I need to dig into these questions of appropriation and race instead of living with its ill-effects and micro-aggressions each and every day.
A full three-quarters of my ancestors emigrated from Germany in the early 1900's. During the second world war, they had the immense privilege of simply not speaking German anymore, and going about their lives under the cover and protection of "whiteness". Even as Japanese families, every bit as so-called "Canadian" as mine, were ripped from their homes, their property sold off, separated from their families, transported to internment camps or to labour in fields.** Meanwhile my ancestors accumulated land and assets that enabled me to eventually pay large amounts of money to other white folks running a school selling acupuncture and Chinese Medicine.
I'm now profiting off of the export of a medicine from a culture I have no relationship to, with all the protection of whiteness shielding me from any of the challenges, trials, dangers of bringing that medicine to the mainstream or of being part of that culture... plus a couple generations of life and asset accumulation off of the land and lives of the First Nations of this place. Privilege on top of privilege on top of privilege.
I considered giving up my license a couple years ago, as I was sitting with and processing the innate unfairness, the un-right-ness, of this being the source of my income. Around then I started digging into where the traditional medicines of my culture had disappeared to. They were there, hiding not too deeply, in the overwhelmingly bitter wermut (wormwood) tea my great-grandmother dispensed for digestive complaints, the zinnkraut (horsetail) she used for swelling and edema, the dandelion greens served in the early spring, the sauerkraut my aunt still makes today. Dig a little deeper to learn the moxabustion I was taught in Chinese Medicine school, burning of mugwort for various health complaints, is there in the European smoke medicine of burning Artemesia Vulgaris as well. "Una, she is called, oldest of herbs... you have might(power) against poison and infection" (from Lacnuga, Anglo saxon manuscript circa 1000AD). It is also here on Turtle Island in First Nations practices of smudging with native artemisias or sages. Uncovering a real gem - an old (1800s) German practice of "bettering" (boten), of touching or running the hands along painful parts of someone's body - resonated with what I was increasingly called to do so when offering acupuncture sessions. That way all mothers do whenever their littles are hurting.
So where I've landed with it all is this - my practice continues to evolve and my own interest and inclinations tend to grow in the direction of western herbs and hands-on healing, in those directions that feel rooted in my own ancestry and lineages. AND - I love how directly acupuncture needles speak to, calm, relax and unwind nervous systems. Love the intelligence of the channel pathways as a map of the body that informs my ability to put needles over there for pain over here, freeing up those sore spots for gentle hands-on work instead of jabbing at them with pins. And as much as it might resonate to give up the needles entirely - might feel more honest or in integrity to just hang my shingle up there purely as a witch... I know of no extended benefit plans that cover witchcraft. Accessibility has value. And somehow, in this west-coast town, acupuncture is a mainstream enough entry point to working with people's bodies as they relate to their thoughts and feels and histories, to coax forth the collaborative magic of healing.
This process of leaning in, of feeling the exact flavour of my discomfort and privilege, continuing to learn and re-member my own ancestral healing practices, to find my way as a helper and healer, has grown and transformed my practice over the last year or two. It's so good, so juicy, and so something I'm loving right now. And it's feeling quite sad and bittersweet to set it aside in 6 short weeks for a maternity leave. I know I'll be so very excited to return in the spring, to see what's unfolded for folks over the fall and winter seasons, to begin again, as we always seem to do.
So a goodbye for now, but hopefully see you soon, and do be in touch. I'll be back, still a white woman with no business making her living practicing acupuncture, but coming very honestly by her sneaky-witch-in-disguise role, and helping folks with whatever tools I have.
Be well enough, all.
Note: Just wanting to acknowledge and apologize for my limitations in speaking to appropriation and race as a white person raised in a racist world. I'm sure I've made errors, and missed important angles, and I welcome discussion, thoughts and criticisms around any and all of this.
* The packaged export of "TCM" from Maoist China involved MDs digging through the many individual schools of Chinese medicine practice, removing any superstitious or spiritual aspects and keeping those more aligned with biomedicine and able to be standardized. This attempt to merge multiple lineage-based traditional healing systems into one cohesive and edited whole to be sold to Western Countries is obviously not "Traditional", to say the least. Read more: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fhumd.2021.774765/full
**More reading on Japanese-Canadian internment: