I have long been interested in the significance of food for migrants. As a child whose family moved to Aotearoa, New Zealand in the 70s, I remember the singular pursuit of ingredients. The long-grain rice we tried to buy from an importer, the coriander we grew in the garden, my mother purchasing olive oil from the pharmacy (that’s another story), and the trips to Goa which had us return with dried kokum, dried shrimps, Goa sausages (confiscated) chilies and other spices, much to the bemusement of customs. I also remember the longing: for pickles, chevda, samosas and much more.
On a scholarly note, I am also interested in what happens when food (and the people attached to said food) encounter institutions. Whether it’s the sign on the wall in the motel that says ‘no smells thanks’ or public institutions that we expect in an age of consumptive diversity to also accommodate people’s preferences and lifeways. In 1994 I worked on a postnatal ward and became interested in how the public health system accommodated the dietary preferences of diverse populations. Food choices were primarily oriented to the dominant culture, so people often brought in food for their family members. Yet there was only one place where food could be warmed and it was the staff meal room. The different smells led to complaints from staff.
Later, in 2001 when I was researching the experiences of Goan women in New Zealand around birth, it became apparent that food played a crucial role both in settlement and at special occasions. Lorna for example said: “Goan things like moong, godshem and other lentils, millet, tizan, and things like that, you know”. For Rowena, the absence of family meant that she had to prepare her own meals and did not eat anything special. While Greta, had maternal figures taking care of her: “Fenugreek seeds and jaggery and coconut milk [Methi Paez] and she kept giving me that and I found that quite nourishing”. The importance of food extended also beyond postpartum health to inducting the new member of the family into the community at the christening. Flora spoke about how according to Goan tradition, coconut and boiled grams (chickpeas) had to be served. “My aunt was going around to all the Kiwi guests saying …chickpeas are the food of the soil, and coconut is also a food of the soil.”
This brings me to the purpose of this blog post. In my PhD, I spoke with birthing people about their experiences of cultural safety and services. It has taken a while, but from this work, I’ve written a book chapter that is about to be published by Demeter Press.
Hospital admission signifies the induction into a distinct patient subculture in Western medical healthcare systems (Yarbrough and Klotz). Clothes, belongings, and identity are relinquished, and autonomy over everyday activities and routines is ceded to health professionals and institutional processes. The dominant mode of biomedicine emphasizes the individual and the physical body, shifting a person from a socially integrated member of a community into an object who receives care. Food structures both our daily lives and life transitions, such as maternity, and is an arena where powerful values and beliefs about being a human are evident. More than sustenance and nutrition, food has social, cultural, and symbolic meanings. Practices relating to food demarcate cultural boundaries of belonging and not belonging on the basis of religion, nation, class, race, ethnicity, and gender (Wright and Annes; Bell and Valentine). Being unable to access one’s own food can result in cultural disadvantages, in which a person is separated from their own cultural context and cannot provide for themselves within an institutional environment (Woods). Examining the significance of food in the institutional context of health highlights how people are racialized by the foods that they eat and how institutions and staff working within them regulate migrant bodies. This chapter analyses literature related to food and provides an excerpt from a study of migrant maternity in New Zealand. It shows how food habits are shaped by everyday institutional practices, which maintain order and simultaneously impose disciplinary processes on migrant bodies. The preparation of food represents the continuity and affirmation of tradition and culture, a mechanism for promoting wellness within the physical, emotional, and social transitions of birth. Food as an analytic shows how ethnic identity is performative and processual—that is, it reacts and is reacted to by the host culture. I propose that health services can provide care that is more culturally safe by developing a better understanding of the importance of culture and food in constructing, maintaining, and transforming identities and by providing facilities and resources to facilitate food preparation during the perinatal period.
The Council of Deans of Nursing and Midwifery ANZ acknowledge Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people as the First Nations people of Australia. The Council supports the development and implementation of cultural safety in education programs, practice, and research activities for nurses and midwives. It also recognises that the origins and context informing the development of cultural safety arise from different historical, political, economic social and ideological positions in Australia and New Zealand and therefore this will be acknowledged separately
However, this explicitly anti-racist and equity informed strategy has not gone down well with The Nurses Professional Association of Queensland Inc (NPAQ). Run by union-buster Graeme Haycroft who calls the Codes ‘racist’, the association brands itself as a non party political alternative to existing unions. Haycroft has garnered a deluge of support (despite not being political) and claims NPAQ members were not consulted and 50 per cent of NPAQ members are opposed to the Codes. Interviewed by Sky News host Peta Credlin, supporters likeAndrew Bolt have jumped into the fray with headlines screaming: Nurses forced to announce ‘white privilege’ is new racism. The hyperbole has been astounding:
What if… they’re within seconds of dying and the nurse has to fling themselves into action but they have to stop while they just announce their white privilege?
These codes were the subject of lengthy consultations with the professions of nursing and midwifery and other stakeholders including community representatives. This review was comprehensive and evidenced-based. Our union and our national body the Australian Nursing Midwifery Federation (ANMF) were active participants in these consultations.
The codes, written by nurses and midwives for nurses and midwives, seek to ensure the individual needs and backgrounds of each patient are taken into account during treatment.
There’s no doubt cultural factors, including how a patient feels while within the health system, can impact wellbeing. For example, culture and background often determine how a patient would prefer to give birth or pass away.
Every day, nurses and midwives consider a range of complex factors, including a patient’s background and culture to determine the best treatment. These codes simply articulate what is required to support safe nursing and midwifery practice for all.
Cultural safety is creating racism, not eliminating it. It’s political correctness gone mad!
Correction: Race is a proven determinant of health. The Nursing and Midwifery Codes of Conduct acknowledge racism and attempt to reduce its impact on health.
Australia is a white settler society like the United States, Canada and New Zealand. In such settler societies, colonisation and racism have had devastating effects on Indigenous health and wellbeing. These include: the theft of land and economic resources; the deliberate marginalisation and erasure of cultural beliefs, practices and language; and the forced imposition of British models of health over systems of healing that had been in Australia for millennia.
Along with the systematic destruction of these basic tools for wellbeing, interpersonal racism has also contributed to a reduction in access to health promoting resources for Indigenous communities. Cultural safety was developed and led by Indigenous nurses in New Zealand to mitigate the harms of colonisation and improve health care quality and outcomes for Māori, and this has been extended by nurses in Australia, Canada and the US.
Evidence demonstrates that health system adaptations informed by a cultural safety approach have benefits for the broader community. For example, in New Zealand, the request by Māori to have family involved in care (whānau support) have led to a more family-oriented health care system for everyone.
I’m white but I’ve had a hard life, who is to say that I am privileged? Why am I being called racist for being white? That’s racist! I am a nurse, I’ve been abused, I am not privileged. I fought hard for everything I have and have achieved today.
Correction: Whiteness and white privilege refers to a system, they are not an insult.
Scholar Aileen Moreton-Robinson points out that British invasion and colonisation institutionalised whiteness into every aspect of law and policy in Australia. One of the first actions of the newly formed Australian nation state in 1901 was to pass the Immigration Restriction Act restricting the entry of non-white people.
The White Australia policy ended in 1962, when some of our lawmakers today were adults. Unsurprisingly, politicians have reflected these assumptions as they have demonised successive groups of migrants and refugees.
This culture of whiteness confers dominance and privilege to those who are located as white, but is largely invisible to them, and very visible to those who are not white. Being white in a settler colony like Australia means that you can move through daily life in a world that has been designed by people who are white for people who are white.
Even accounting for class and poverty, people who are white experience privileges that are not available to people of colour. White people can’t actually be systematically oppressed on the basis of their race by Indigenous people or people of colour, because the colonial systems of governance are still in force.
As the comedian Aamer Rahman points out, so called “reverse racism” would only exist under circumstances where white people had been intergenerationally marginalised from the social and economic resources of the nation on the basis of their race. The way Graeme Haycroft from the Nurses Professional Association of Queensland Inc attempts to create equivalence between the inconvenience of having to think differently about health with generations of dispossession is farcical and insulting.
Why can’t we treat everyone with respect? Dividing people into categories of oppressors and victims isn’t helpful. I respect each patient and their diversity as I respect all the nurses I work with and their cultural diversity.
Correction: No matter what individuals believe, entering the health system is not always a safe experience for cultural minorities. Providing tailored care where possible helps the health system work for everyone.
One size does not fit all. It’s not helpful to treat everybody the same or to say that one does not see colour. How one shows respect varies from one person to the next. Some things work for some people, while others don’t.
Many nurses and midwives already tailor health care to people’s bodies, genders, class and sexuality. For example, the grumpy old entitled man is a well-known “type” of patient that nurses have dealt with for generations, disrupting their own routines and responding to patient demands in order to get them to accept the care required.
Cultural safety promotes an understanding of the culture of health and asks nurses and midwives to be learn to be more responsive to the needs of the patient generally, and this only benefits patients.
Cultural safety asks caregivers to challenge biases and implicit assumptions in order to improve healthcare experiences for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In the codes, cultural safety also applies to any person or group of people who may differ from the nurse/midwife due to race, disability, socioeconomic status, age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, migrant/refugee status, religious belief or political beliefs.
In other words, where “business as usual” is designed for white people, cultural safety is for everyone.
Why is cultural safety being regarded in the new Codes of Conduct as equally important to the patient as clinical safety? Doesn’t that devalue clinical care?
Correction: Cultural safety enhances clinical safety.
People are more likely to use health services that are appropriate, accessible and acceptable. If people don’t use health services because they do not trust them or find them unsafe, then they are more likely to become very ill or die unnecessarily.
The health system is not accessed equally by all Australians who need it. For example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people access health services at less than half of their expected need. Safety and quality of care are also linked with culture and language. Research shows that people from minority cultural and language backgrounds are more at risk of experiencing preventable adverse events compared to white patients.
In Australia lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) people often receive inappropriate medical care, and experience health inequities compared to the general population around drug and alcohol use; sexual health and mental health issues.
Discrimination, transphobia, homophobia and a lack of cultural safety from health professionals discourage help seeking. Having services that are welcoming and safe would facilitate equitable health outcomes for all these groups.
There is no objective assessment of what constitutes “cultural safety”.
Correction: Only the person and/or their family can determine whether or not care is culturally safe and respectful.
The most transformative aspect of cultural safety is a patient centered care approach, which emphasises sharing decision-making, information, power and responsibility. It asks us as clinicians to demonstrate respect for the values and beliefs of the patient and their family; advocating for flexibility in health care delivery and moving beyond paternalistic models of care.
Patient-centred care is institutionalised in the Australian Charter of Health Care Rights (ACSQHC, 2007) and the Australian Safety and Quality Framework for Health Service Standards (2017) Partnering with consumers (Standard 2).
Cultural safety challenges nurses and midwives to work in partnership with people and communities but acknowledges that the system is weighted towards the interests of those who work in the system. We think we give the same care to everyone, but everyone experiences our care differently.
Once we understand ourselves and our health system as having a culture that privileges some people over others – whether we are conscious of it or not – we can get on with the real work of implementing better healthcare experiences for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other marginalised groups.
[et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text”]De Souza, R. (2017). I Smell You, Life Matters, Radio National, Australia. Thursday 14 September 2017.
The wonderful Masako Fukui from Life Matters interviewed me for this story about olfactory assimilation.
I am a committed foodie, ‘somebody with a strong interest in learning about and eating good food who is not directly employed in the food industry’ (Johnston & Baumann, 2010, 61) who is also interested in the politics of food. In particular, the politics of food in public spaces like public transport and hospitals.
I am interested in the ways in which admission into western medical health services requires assimilation into a distinct patient subculture. This coercive incorporation and relinquishment of clothing and belongings is accompanied by the loss of autonomy over everyday activities and routines, which is ceded to health professionals and institutional processes. From being a socially integrated member of a community, the person within the dominant mode of biomedicine is reduced to being an individual, then a physical body or parts. The person becomes an object who receives care.
Food is more than sustenance and nutrition, it has social, cultural and symbolic meanings which structure not only our daily lives, but also life transitions such as maternity. Food represents an arena where powerful values and beliefs about being a human are evident. Food practices also demarcate cultural boundaries of belonging and not belonging. Forthcoming: De Souza, R. (in press). Going Without: Migrant Mothers, Food and the Postnatal Ward in New Zealand. In F. Guignard and T. Cassidy (Eds.), Moving Meals and Migrant Mothers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Fish is OK, as long as it isn’t pungent. Curry is nice, as long as the spices don’t cling to the curtains. Kimchi is healthy, as long as the fermented garlic doesn’t linger on the train.
But for the migrant who feels displaced from their homeland, foods that olfactorily offend may play an important role in reinforcing identity, Dr De Souza says.
She says cooking and eating a beautiful curry is akin to “putting lotion on the part of me that feels dislocated, lonely, and isolated”. But that same curry can reek of spices that ultimately isolate her by making her smell different, even invoking disgust.
I am visiting the University of Auckland as an international speaker for the Research Café on Migration & Inequality being organised by the Faculty of Science and School of Population Health. The Research Café is a project of the Engaged Social Science Research Initiative and funded by the Vice-Chancellor’s Strategic Development Fund. I’ll also be giving a public lecture on Wednesday 7th December in Room 730-268 at the School of Population Health: 11.30am -12.20pm:
“Wearables” are a growing segment within a broader class of health technologies that can support healthcare providers, patients and their families as a means of supporting clinical decision-making, promoting health promoting behaviours and producing better health literacies on both sides of the healthcare professional-consumer relationship. Mobile technologies have the potential to reduce health disparities given the growing ubiquity of smartphones as information visualisation devices, particularly when combined with real-time connections with personal sensor data. However despite the optimism with which wearable health technology has been met with, the implementation of these tools is uneven and their efficacy in terms of real-world outcomes remains unclear. Wearables have the potential to reduce the cultural cognitive load associated with health management, by allowing health data collection and visualisation to occur outside the dominant languages of representation and customised to a user experience. However, typically, “wearables” have been marketed toward and designed for consumers who are “wealthy, worried and well”. How can these technologies meet the needs of culturally diverse communities?
This presentation reports on the findings from a seminar and stakeholder consultation organised by The Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health, in partnership with the University of Melbourne’s Research Unit in Public Cultures and the Better Health Channel. The consultation brought together clinicians, academics, developers, community organisations, and policymakers to discuss both the broader issues that wearable technologies present for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, as well as the more specific problems health-tracking might pose for people from diverse backgrounds. This presentation summarises the key issues raised in this consultation and proposes future areas of research on wearable health technologies and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.
Dr. Ruth De Souza is the Stream Leader, Research Policy & Evaluation at the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity & Health in Melbourne. Ruth has worked as a nurse, therapist, educator and researcher. Ruth’s participatory research with communities is shaped by critical, feminist, and postcolonial approaches. She has combined her academic career with governance and community involvement, talking and writing in popular and scholarly venues about mental health, maternal mental health, race, ethnicity, biculturalism, multiculturalism, settlement, refugee resettlement, and cultural safety.
Contact for Information: Dr Rachel Simon Kumar email@example.com
Written for and first published in in the August 2016 edition of Nurse Click (the Australian College of Nursing’s monthly electronic, interactive PDF publication available to ACN members, and to stakeholders, the wider nursing and non-nursing community who subscribe to it.). Cite as: DeSouza, R. (2016). Wearable devices and the potential for community health improvement. Nurse Click, August, 14-15 (download pdf 643KB nurseclick_august_2016_final)
“Wearable technology“, “wearable devices“, and “wearables” all refer to electronic technologies or computers that are incorporated into items of clothing and accessories which can comfortably be worn on the body. These wearable devices can perform many of the same computing tasks as mobile phones and laptop computers; however, in some cases, wearable technology can outperform these hand-held devices through their integration into bodily movements and functions through inbuilt sensory and scanning features, for example. Wearables include: smart watches, fitness trackers, head mounted displays, smart clothing and jewellery. There are also more invasive varieties including implanted devices such as micro-chips or even smart tattoos, insulin pumps, or for contraception. The purpose of wearable technology is to create constant, seamless and hands-free access to electronics and computers.
Wearables are all about data. Thanks to recent advancements in sensors, we’re able to collect more information about ourselves than ever and use that data to make healthcare personal and tailored to our needs. Traditionally, qualitative health research and much clinical interaction relies on self-reporting by consumers, which is then interpreted by researchers and published for incorporation into practice by health practitioners. Along the way, much important information is “lost in translation”. New consumer healthcare technologies are brokering a shared informational interface between caregivers, clinicians, communities and researchers, allowing practitioners to access richer and more detailed empirical data on health consumer activity and their participation in health-seeking activities.
Consumer health technologies offer potential for care to be more equitable and patient-centred. The technological promise also brings concerns, including the impact on the patient-provider relationship and the appropriate use and validation of technologies. Technologies are also developed with particular service-users in mind, and rarely designed with the participation of people from structurally and culturally marginalised communities. In turn, the impacts of these technologies on health service education, planning and policy are far reaching. It is important that technology is not demographically blind, from a public health and community health perspective it must not reinforce the structural inequalities that exist between those who have access to health and those who haven’t.
The Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health, in partnership with the University of Melbourne’s Research Unit in Public Cultures and the Better Health Channel, recently organised a seminar and stakeholder consultation in Melbourne on July 28th with the aim of shaping a research agenda on wearable health technologies and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. Typically wearables have been marketed toward the ‘wealthy worried and well’ demographic and the purpose of the seminar was to discuss both the generic issues that emerging wearable technologies present, as well as the unique issues for people from diverse backgrounds. The three hour event brought together clinicians, academics, developers, community organisations, and policymakers to consider the future issues with these technologies.
The first speaker was University of Melbourne researcher and lecturer Suneel Jethani who expressed scepticism about what wearable health technologies really may deliver for health, particularly for CALD communities. Suneel explored the growth of wearable health technologies through the notion of the pharmakon, the notion that every medicine is also poison, with the devices having capacity to be both beneficial and harmful. Janette Gogler, a Nurse Informatician from Melbourne’s Eastern Health described a randomised control trial of emerging technologies for remote patients with chronic heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In this trial patients took a number of their own physiological measurements including electrocardiography (ECG) monitoring, blood pressure, and spirometry. While the trial led many patients to feel more in control of their health through a better understanding of their physiology, there were also challenges, including having to manage their expectations of the technology, where patients who became suddenly unwell were upset that the system had not given them forewarning, even though the issues were outside the scope of the devices. Janette also raised the issue of research excluding speakers of additional languages. The final speaker was Deloitte Digital partner Sean McClowry, who noted that the uptake of wearable health technologies has been slower to reach ‘digital disruption’ compared to the smart phones, but saw the likelihood of exponential growth through a new model of care. Sean raised questions about the unprecedented nature of data: how to make it high quality and its analysis meaningful. The session by the three panellists was followed by two youth respondents and a question and answer session and then break out groups which developed further questions and issues for an emerging research program.
In the stakeholder consultation a number of critical themes emerged from many participants: the need to carefully manage privacy; the lack of accuracy of much consumer information; certification of apps; Western models of individual health hard-wired into the platform; the potential of peer support from new technologies; challenges for existing workforces and roles; and the potential of research to stigmatise as well as assist CALD communities. What was agreed was that consumer health technologies were only going to continue to grow and that no part of the health system would be undisrupted by the changes ahead, both intimidating and exciting!
A winter evening, wet and cold. Squashed into a tram. When a seat became available, I swooped down into it, finding myself next to a woman who proceeded to cover her nose. As she fanned her face with her other hand, I asked her with gentle concern if she was ok. She responded vehemently and with a force I didn’t expect: “It stinks in here, full of people smelling of onions and curry and shit”. Hmm. We were surrounded by Indians including me.
It’s not the first time I’ve had funny looks and comments about food and smells but the last time was when it was referring to my lunchbox, quite a few decades ago. The incident on the tram made me think about how smells are political (Manasalan). I’m writing about smells in hospitals in a book chapter coming out later this year and I am interested in what makes some public smells acceptable (for example disinfectant) and other more organic smells not so acceptable or even disgusting.
The food that is a salve for the dislocated, lonely, isolated migrant also sets her apart, making her stand out as visibly, gustatorily or olfactorily different. The soul sustaining resource also marks her as different, a risk. If her food is seen as smelly, distasteful, foreign, violent or abnormal, these characteristics can be transposed to her body and to those bodies that resemble her.
Food smells categorise groups of people who are different, and those viewed as negative are seen as a marker of non-western primitiveness. The emotion of disgust is emblematic of the too-near proximity of others and the fear that we might be invaded through our mouths. Probyn writes:
disgust reveals the object in all of its repellent detail, it causes us to step back, and, in that very action, we are also brought within the range of shame
However, nutritional assimilation or sanitisation to become odourless and modern does not guarantee belonging, like citizenship it remains thin when compared to the affective power of ethnic identity. (DeSouza, in press).
I am a committed foodie (defined by Johnston and Baumann, 2010: 61), as ‘somebody with a strong interest in learning about and eating good food who is not directly employed in the food industry’ who is also interested in the politics of food. My partner and I commute to Melbourne, a foodie paradise. Melbourne’s food culture has been made vibrant by the waves of migrants who have put pressure on public institutions, to expand and diversify their gastronomic offerings for a wider range of people. However, our consumption can naturalise and make invisible colonial and racialised relations. Thus the violent histories of invasion and starvation by the first white settlers, the convicts whose theft of food had them sent to Australia and absorbed into the cruel colonial project of poisoning, starving and rationing indigenous people remain hidden from view. So although we might love the food we might not care about the cooks at all as Rhoda Roberts points out:
In Australia, food and culinary delights are always accepted before the differences and backgrounds of the origin of the aroma are.
Sometimes though the acceptance is also class based or related to gentrification take Nick Earles’ point:
But it wasn’t as bad as being the kid from the Italian family who had his “wog” lunch thrown in the bin most days, only to watch the perpetrators spend $10 in cafes 20 years later for the exact same food – focaccia and prosciutto – with no recollection of what they’d done.
It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced someone else’s visible disgust. How to negotiate the smell that is out of place and the identity that does not belong? An ongoing process, but I’ve had plenty of practice.
Cite as: DeSouza, R. (2016, June 1st). Keynote address-Providing Culturally Safe Maternal and Child Healthcare, Multicultural Health Research to Practice Forum: Early Interventions in Maternal and Child Health, Program, Organised by the Multicultural Health Service, South Eastern Sydney, Local Health District, Australia. Retrieved fromhttp://www.ruthdesouza.com/2016/06/11/cultural-safety-in-maternity/
A paragraph haunts me in The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri’s fictional account of the Indian immigrant experience. Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli migrate from Calcutta to Cambridge, Massachusetts after their arranged wedding. While pregnant, Ashima reflects:
Nothing feels normal. it’s not so much the pain which she knows she will survive. It’s the consequence: motherhood in a foreign land. For it was one thing to be pregnant to suffer the queasy mornings in bed, the sleepless nights, the dull throbbing in her back, the countless visits to the bathroom. Throughout the experience, in spite of her growing discomfort, she’s been astonished by her body’s ability to make life, exactly as her and grandmother and all her great grandmothers had done. That it was happening so far from home, unmonitored and unobserved by those she loved, had made it more miraculous still. But she is terrified to raise a child in a country where she is related to no one, where she knows so little, where life seems so tentative and spare. The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
Ashima’s account beautifully captures the universality of the physical, embodied changes of maternity, the swelling, the nausea and other changes. But what Lahiri poignantly conveys is the singular emotional and cultural upheaval of these changes, the losses they give rise to. The absence of loving, knowledgeable, nurturing witnesses, the absence of a soft place to fall.
In 1994 I worked on a post-natal ward where I was struck by the limits of universality and how treating everybody the same was problematic. For example, ostensibly beneficial practices like the routine administration of an icepack for soothing the perineum postnatally, or the imperative to mobilise quickly or to “room in” have potentially damaging effects on women whose knowledge frameworks differed from the dominant Pakeha culture of healthcare. These practices combined with a system designed for an imagined white middle class user, where professionals had knowledge deficits and monocultural and assimilatory attitudes, led to unsafe practices such as using family members and children as interpreters (my horror when a boy child was asked to ask his mother about the amount of lochia on her pad). The sanctity of birth, requiring the special, nurturing treatment of new mothers and a welcome from a community was superseded by the factory culture of maximum efficiency. Not all mothers were created equal, not young mothers, not older mothers, not single mothers, not substance using mothers, not indigenous mothers, not culturally different mothers. The sense that I was a cog in a big machine that was inattentive to the needs of “other” mothers led me to critique the effectiveness of cultural safety in the curriculum. How was it possible that a powerful indigenous pedagogical tool for addressing health inequity was not evident in clinical practice?
Leaving the post-natal ward, I took up a role helping to develop a new maternal mental health service in Auckland. There too I began to question the limitations of our model of care which privileged talking therapies rather than providing practical help and support. I was also staggered at the time at the raced and classed profile of our clients who were predominantly white middle class career women. Interestingly, the longer I was involved in the service the greater the number of ethnic women accessed the service. For my Master’s thesis, I interviewed Goan women about their maternity experiences in New Zealand, where the importance of social support and rituals in the perinatal period was noted by participants.
As much as it was important to register and legitimate cultural difference, I was also aware of the importance of not falling into the cultural awareness chasm. As Gregory Philips notes in his stunning PhD, it was assumed that through teaching about other cultures, needs would be better understood as “complex, equal and valid” (Philips, 2015). However, it didn’t challenge privilege, class and power. As Joan Scott points out:
There is nothing wrong, on the face of it, with teaching individuals about how to behave decently in relation to others and about how to empathize with each other’s pain. The problem is that difficult analyses of how history and social standing, privilege, and subordination are involved in personal behavior entirely drop out (Scott, 1992, p.9).
The problem with culturalism is that the notion of “learning about” groups of people with a common ethnicity assumes that groups of people are homogenous, unchanging and can be known. Their cultural differences are then viewed as the problem, juxtaposed against an implicit dominant white middle class cultural norm. This became evident in my PhD analysis of interviews with Korean mothers who’d birthed in New Zealand. In Australia and the US, cultural competence has superseded cultural awareness as a mechanism for correcting the limitations of universalism, by drawing attention to organisational and systemic mechanisms that can be measured but as a strategy for individual and interpersonal action, several authors draw attention to competence as being part of the “problem”:
The concept of multicultural competence is flawed… I question the notion that one could become “competent” at the culture of another. I would instead propose a model in which maintaining an awareness of one’s lack of competence is the goal rather than the establishment of competence. With “lack of competence” as the focus, a different view of practicing across cultures emerges. The client is the “expert” and the clinician is in a position of seeking knowledge and trying to understand what life is like for the client. There is no thought of competence—instead one thinks of gaining understanding (always partial) of a phenomenon that is evolving and changing (Dean, 2001, p.624).
In Wellness for all: the possibilities of cultural safety and cultural competence in New Zealand, I advocated for a combination of cultural competence and cultural safety. Cultural safety was developed by Indigenous nurses in Aotearoa New Zealand as a mechanism for considering and equalizing power relationships between client and practitioner. It is an ethical framework for practice derived from postcolonial and critical theory. Cultural safety proposes that practitioners reflect on how their status as culture bearers impacts on care, with care being deemed culturally safe by the consumer or recipient of care. In my PhD I wrote about the inadequacy of the liberal foundations of nursing and midwifery discourses for meeting the health needs of diverse maternal groups. My thesis advocated for the extension of the theory and practice of cultural safety to critique nursing’s Anglo-European knowledge base in order to extend the discipline’s intellectual and political mandate with the aim of providing effective support to diverse groups of mothers. In Australia, cultural responsiveness, cultural security and cultural respect are also used, you can read more about this on my post on Minding the Gap.
So let’s look at culturally safe maternity care. My experience as a clinician and researcher reveal a gap between how birth is viewed. In contemporary settler nations like New Zealand, midwifery discourses position birth as natural and the maternal subject as physically capable of caring for her baby from the moment it is born, requiring minimal intervention and protection. The maternal body is represented as strong and capable for taking on the tasks of motherhood. In contrast, many cultures view birth as a process that makes the body vulnerable, requiring careful surveillance and monitoring and a period of rest and nurturing before the new mother can take on new or additional responsibilities. The maternal body is seen as a body at risk (Mahjouri, 2008), and vulnerable requiring special care through rituals and support. Therefore, practices based on a dominant discourse of birth as a normal physiological event and neoliberal discourses of productive subjectivity create a gap between what migrant women expect in the care they expect from maternal services. These practices also constitute modes of governing which are intended to be empowering and normalizing, but are experienced as disempowering because they don’t take into account other views of birth. Consequently there is no recognition on the part of maternity services that for a short time, there is a temporary role change, where the new mother transitions into a caregiver by being cared for. This social transition where the mother is mothered is sanctioned in order to safeguard the new mother, a demonstration to value and protect both future capacity for mothering and long term well being, in contrast with dominant discourses of responsibilisation and intensive motherhood. Thus, instead of a few days of celebration or a baby shower, extended post-partum practices are enacted which can include the following (Note that these will vary depending on in group differences, urbanisation, working mothers, migration):
Organised support- where family members (eg mother, mother-in-law, and other female relatives) care for the new mother and infant. Other women may also be involved eg birth attendants.
Rest period and restricted practices- where women have a prescribed rest periods of between 21 days and five weeks, sometimes called “Doing the month”. Activities including sexual activity, physical and intellectual work are reduced.
Diet- Special foods are prepared that promote healing/restore health or have a rebalancing function for example because the postpartum period is seen as a time when the body is cold, hot food (protein rich) chicken soup, ginger and seaweed, milk, ghee, nuts, jaggery might be consumed. Special soups and tonics with a cleansing or activating function are consumed eg to help the body expel lochia, to increase breastmilk. These foods might be consumed at different stages of the perinatal period and some food might be prohibited while breastfeeding.
Hygiene and warmth- particular practices might be adhered to including purification/bathing practices eg warm baths, immersion. Others might include not washing hair.
Infant care and breastfeeding- Diverse beliefs about colostrum, other members of family may take more responsibility while mother recovers and has a temporarily peripheral role. Breastfeeding instigation and duration may differ.
Other practices include: binding, infant massage, maternal massage, care of the placenta.
If women are confronted with an unfamiliar health system with little support and understanding, they can experience stress, insecurity, loneliness, isolation, powerlessness, hopelessness. This combined with communication gaps and isolation, poor information provision, different norms, feeling misunderstood and feeling stigmatized. What could be a special time is perceived as a lack of care. Fortunately in Australia there are some excellent resources, for example this research based chapter on Cultural dimensions of pregnancy, birth and post-natal care produced by Victoria Team, Katie Vasey and Lenore Manderson, proposes useful questions for perinatal assessment which I have summarised below:
Are you comfortable with both male and female health care providers?
Are there any cultural practices that we need to be aware of in caring for you during your pregnancy, giving birth and postnatal period? – For example, requirements with the placenta, female circumcision or infant feeding method.
In your culture, do fathers usually attend births? Does your partner want to attend the birth of his child? If not, is there another close family member you would like to be present? Would you like us to speak to them about your care?
Are there any foods that are appropriate or inappropriate for you according to your religion or customs during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period?
Are there any beliefs or customs prohibiting physical activity during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period? Do you plan to observe these? – For example, a confinement period.
What is the culturally acceptable way for you to express pain during childbirth? – For example, screaming or trying to keep silent.
Are there any precautions with infant care?
How many visitors do you expect while you are in the hospital?
Do you have anyone in your family or community who can help you in practical ways when you get home?
Genetics and pregnancy: women’s age, parity, planning and acceptance of pregnancy, pregnancy related health behaviour and perceived health during pregnancy.
Migration: women’s knowledge of/familiarity with the prenatal care services/system, experiences and expectations with prenatal care use in their country of origin, pregnancy status on arrival in the new industrialized western country.
Culture: women’s cultural practices, values and norms, acculturation, religious beliefs and views, language proficiency, beliefs about pregnancy and prenatal care.
Position in the host country: women’s education level, women’s pregnancy-related knowledge, household arrangement, financial resources and income.
Social network: size and degree of contact with social network, information and support from social network.
Accessibility: transport, opening hours, booking appointments, direct and indirect discrimination by the prenatal care providers.
Expertise: prenatal care tailored to patients’ needs and preferences.
Treatment and communication: communication from prenatal care providers to women, personal treatment of women by prenatal care providers, availability of health promotion/information material, use of alternative means of communication.
Professionally defined need: referral by general practitioners and other healthcare providers to prenatal care providers
A review by Small, Roth et al., (2014) found that what immigrant and non-immigrant women want from maternity care is similar: safe, high quality, attentive and individualised care, with adequate information and support. Generally immigrant women were less positive about care than non-immigrant women, in part due to communication issues, lack of familiarity with care systems, perceptions of discriminatory care which was not kind or respectful. The challenge for health systems is to address the barriers immigrant women face by improving communication, increasing women’s understanding of care provision and reducing discrimination. Clinical skills including—introspection, self-awareness, respectful questioning, attentive listening, curiosity, interest, and caring.
Facilitating trust, control
Delivering quality, safe care, communicating, being caring, providing choices
Facilitating access to interpreters and choice of gender of care provider,
Considering cultural practices, preferences and needs/different expectations for care
Engendering positive interactions, being empathetic, kind, caring and supportive.
Taking concerns seriously
Preserving dignity and privacy
Seeing a person both as an individual, a family member and a community member
Developing composure managing verbal and non-verbal expressions of disgust and surprise
Paradoxical combination of two ideas— being “informed” and “not knowing” simultaneously.
In that sense, our knowledge is always partial and we are always operating from a position of incompletion or lack of competence. Our goal is not so much to achieve competence but to participate in the ongoing processes of seeking understanding and building relationships. This understanding needs to be directed toward ourselves and not just our clients. As we question ourselves we gradually wear away our own resistance and bias. It is not that we need to agree with our clients’ practices and beliefs; we need to understand them and under-stand the contexts and history in which they develop (Dean, 2001, p.628).
In this presentation I have invited you to examine your own values and beliefs about the perinatal period and how they might impact on the care you might provide. I have asked you to consider both the similarities and differences between how women from culturally diverse communities experience maternity and those from the dominant culture. Together, we have scrutinised a range of strategies for enhancing trust, engagement and perinatal outcomes for all women. Drawing on my own clinical practice and research, I have asked you to consider an alternative conceptualisation of the maternal body when caring for some women, that is the maternal body as vulnerable, which requires a period of rest and nurturing. This framing requires a temporary role change for the new mother to transition into being a caregiver, by being cared for, so that her future capacity for mothering and long term well being are enhanced. I have asked you to reflect on how supposedly empowering practices can be experienced as disempowering because they don’t take into account this view of birth. In the context of differing conceptualisations of birth and the maternal body I have drawn special attention to: negotiating between health beliefs; having cultural humility; considering ways in which your own knowledge is always partial; and recommended a range of resources that can be utilised to ensure positive outcomes for women and their families. As health services in Australia grapple with changing societal demographics including cultural diversity, changing consumer demands and expectations; resource constraints; the limitations in traditional health care delivery; greater emphasis on transparency, accountability, evidence- based practice (EBP) and clinical governance (Davidson et al., 2006), questions of how to provide effective universal health care can be enhanced by considering how differing views can be incorporated as they hold potential benefits for all.
Boerleider, A. W., Wiegers, T. A., Manniën, J., Francke, A. L., & Devillé, W. L. (2013). Factors affecting the use of prenatal care by non-western women in industrialized western countries: A systematic review. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 13(1), 8.
Dennis, C. L., Fung, K., Grigoriadis, S., Robinson, G. E., Romans, S., & Ross, L. (2007). Traditional postpartum practices and rituals: A qualitative systematic review. Women’s Health (London, England), 3(4), 487-502. doi:10.2217/17455057.3.4.487.
Mander, S., & Miller, Y. D. (2016). Perceived safety, quality and cultural competency of maternity care for culturally and linguistically diverse women in queensland. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, 3(1), 83-98. doi:10.1007/s40615-015-0118.
Small, R., Roth, C., Raval, M., Shafiei, T., Korfker, D., Heaman, M. Gagnon, A. (2014). Immigrant and non-immigrant womens experiences of maternity care: A systematic and comparative review of studies in five countries. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 14(1).
Additional web resources
The Victorian Refugee Health Network has maternity resources.
On 15 February 2016, I spoke on 612 ABC Brisbane Afternoons with Kelly Higgins-Devine about cultural appropriation and privilege. Our discussion was followed by discussion with guests: Andie Fox – a feminist and writer; Carol Vale a Dunghutti woman; and Indigenous artist, Tony Albert. I’ve used the questions asked during the interview as a base for this blog with thanks to Amanda Dell (producer).
Why has it taken so long for the debate to escape academia to be something we see in the opinion pages of publications now?
Social media and online activism have catapulted questions about identities and politics into our screen lives. Where television allowed us to switch the channel, or the topic skilfully changed at awkward moments in work or family conversations, our devices hold us captive. Simply scrolling through our social media feeds can encourage, enrage or mobilise us into fury or despair. Whether we like it or not, as users of social media we are being interpolated into the complex terrain of identity politics. Merely sharing a link on your social media feed locates you and your politics, in ways that you might never reveal in real time social conversations. ‘Sharing’ can have wide ranging consequences, a casual tweet before a flight resulted in Justine Sacco moving from witty interlocutor to pariah in a matter of hours. The merging of ‘private’ and public lives never being more evident.
a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include outward display of emotions such as anger, fear and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence and leaving the stress-inducing situation
DiAngelo suggests that for white people, racism or oppression are viewed as something that bad or immoral people do. The racist is the person who is verbally abusive toward people of color on public transport, or a former racist state like apartheid South Africa. If you see yourself as a ‘good’ person then it is painful to be ‘called out’, and see yourself as a bad person. Iris Marion Young’s work useful. She conceptualises oppression in the Foucauldian sense as:
the disadvantage and injustice some people suffer not because of a tyrannical power coerces them but because of the everyday practices of a well-intentioned liberal society…
Young points out the actions of many people going about their daily lives contribute to the maintenance and reproduction of oppression, even as few would view themselves as agents of oppression. We cannot avoid oppression, as it is structural and woven throughout the system, rather than reflecting a few people’s choices or policies. Its causes are embedded in the unquestioned norms, habits, symbols and assumptions underlying institutional rules and the collective consequences of following those rules (Young, 1990). Seeing oppression as the practices of a well intentioned liberal society removes the focus from individual acts that might repress the actions of others to acknowledging that “powerful norms and hierarchies of both privilege and injustice are built into our everyday practices” (Henderson & Waterstone, 2008, p.52). These hierarchies call for structural rather than individual remedies.
We probably need to start with privilege – what does that term mean?
McIntosh identified how she had obtained unearned privileges in society just by being White and defined white privilege as:
an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I am meant to remain oblivious (p. 1).
Her essay prompted understanding of how one’s success is largely attributable to one’s arbitrarily assigned social location in society, rather than the outcome of individual effort.
From: The Birth of Venus: Pulling Yourself Out Of The Sea By Your Own Bootstraps by Mallory Ortberg
McIntosh suggested that white people benefit from historical and contemporary forms of racism (the inequitable distribution and exercise of power among ethnic groups) and that these discriminate or disadvantage people of color.
How does privilege relate to racism, sexism? Are they the same thing?
It’s useful to view the ‘isms’ in the context of institutional power, a point illustrated by Sian Ferguson:
In a patriarchal society, women do not have institutional power (at least, not based on their gender). In a white supremacist society, people of color don’t have race-based institutional power.
Australian race scholars Paradies and Williams (2008) note that:
The phenomenon of oppression is also intrinsically linked to that of privilege. In addition to disadvantaging minority racial groups in society, racism also results in groups (such as Whites) being privileged and accruing social power. (6)
Consequently, health and social disparities evident in white settler societies such as New Zealand and Australia (also this post about Closing the gap) are individualised or culturalised rather than contextualised historically or socio-economically. Without context white people are socialized to remain oblivious to their unearned advantages and view them as earned through merit. Increasingly the term privilege is being used outside of social justice settings to the arts. In a critique of the Hottest 100 list in Australia Erin Riley points out that the dominance of straight, white male voices which crowds out women, Indigenous Australians, immigrants and people of diverse sexual and gender identities. These groups are marginalised and the centrality of white men maintained, reducing the opportunity for empathy towards people with other experiences.
Do we all have some sort of privilege?
Yes, depending on the context. The concept of intersectionality by Kimberlé Crenshaw is useful, it suggests that people can be privileged in some ways and not others. For example as a migrant and a woman of color I experience certain disadvantages but as a middle class cis-gendered, able-bodied woman with a PhD and without an accent (only a Kiwi one which is indulged) I experience other advantages that ease my passage through the world You can read more in the essay Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person.
How does an awareness of privilege change the way a society works?
Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege by Sindelókë is a helpful way of trying to understand how easy it is not to see your own privilege and be blind to others’ disadvantages. You might have also seen or heard the phrase ‘check your privilege’ which is a way of asking someone to think about their own privilege and how they might monitor it in a social setting. Exposing color blindness and challenging the assumption of race-neutrality is one mechanism for addressing the issue of privilege and its obverse oppression. Increasingly in health and social care, emphasis is being placed on critiquing how our own positions contribute to inequality (see my chapter on cultural safety), and developing ethical and moral commitments to addressing racism so that equality and justice can be made possible. As Christine Emba notes “There’s no way to level the playing field unless we first can all see how uneven it is.” One of the ways this can be done is through experiencing exercises like the Privilege Walk which you can watch on video. Jenn Sutherland-Miller in Medium reflects on her experience of it and proposes that:
Instead of privilege being the thing that gives me a leg up, it becomes the thing I use to give others a leg up. Privilege becomes a way create equality and inclusion, to right old wrongs, to demand justice on a daily basis and to create the dialogue that will grow our society forward.
Is privilege something we can change?
If we move beyond guilt and paralysis we can use our privilege to build solidarity and challenge oppression. Audra Williams points out that a genuine display of solidarity can require making a personal sacrifice. Citing the example of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, where in challenging the director of a commercial about the lack of women with speaking roles, he ends up not being in the commercial at all when it is re-written with speaking roles for women. Ultimately privilege does not gets undone through “confession” but through collective work to dismantle oppressive systems as Andrea Smith writes.
Cultural appropriation is a different concept, but an understanding of privilege is important, what is cultural appropriation?
Cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that is not their own (Nadra Kareem Little). Usually it is a charge levelled at people from the dominant culture to signal power dynamic, where elements have been taken from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by the dominant group. Most critics of the concept are white (see white fragility). Kimberly Chabot Davis proposes that white co-optation or cultural consumption and commodification, can be cross-cultural encounters that can foster empathy and lead to working against privilege among white people. However, an Australian example of bringing diverse people together through appropriation backfired, when the term walkabout was used for a psychedelic dance party. Using a deeply significant word for initiation rites, for a dance party was seen as disrespectful. The bewildered organiser was accused via social media of cultural appropriation and changed the name to Lets Go Walkaround. So, I think that it is always important to ask permission and talk to people from that culture first rather than assuming it is okay to use.
What is the line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation?
Maisha Z. Johnson cultural appreciation or exchange where mutual sharing is involved.
Can someone from a less privileged culture appropriate from the more privileged culture?
No, marginalized people often have to adopt elements of the dominant culture in order to survive conditions that make life more of a struggle if they don’t.
Does an object or symbol have to have some religious or special cultural significance to be appropriated?
Appropriation is harmful for a number of reasons including making things ‘cool’ for White people that would be denigrated in People of Color. For example Fatima Farha observes that when Hindu women in the United States wear the bindi, they are often made fun of, or seen as traditional or backward but when someone from the dominant culture wears such items they are called exotic and beautiful. The critique of appropriation extends from clothing to events Nadya Agrawal critiques The Color Run™ where you can:
run with your friends, come together as a community, get showered in colored powder and not have to deal with all that annoying culture that would come if you went to a Holi celebration. There are no prayers for spring or messages of rejuvenation before these runs. You won’t have to drink chai or try Indian food afterward. There is absolutely no way you’ll have to even think about the ancient traditions and culture this brand new craze is derived from. Come uncultured, leave uncultured, that’s the Color Run, promise.
The race ends with something called a “Color Festival” but does not acknowledge Holi. This white-washing (pun intended) eradicates everything Indian from the run including Holi, Krishna and spring. In essence as Ijeoma Oluo points out cultural appropriation is a symptom, not the cause, of an oppressive and exploitative world order which involves stealing the work of those less privileged. Really valuing people involves valuing their culture and taking the time to acknowledge its historical and social context. Valuing isn’t just appreciation but also considering whether the appropriation of intellectual property results in economic benefits for the people who created it. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar suggests that it is often one way:
One very legitimate point is economic. In general, when blacks create something that is later adopted by white culture, white people tend to make a lot more money from it… It feels an awful lot like slavery to have others profit from your efforts.
Loving burritos doesn’t make someone less racist against Latinos. Lusting after Bo Derek in 10 doesn’t make anyone appreciate black culture more… Appreciating an individual item from a culture doesn’t translate into accepting the whole people. While high-priced cornrows on a white celebrity on the red carper at the Oscars is chic, those same cornrows on the little black girl in Watts, Los Angeles, are a symbol of her ghetto lifestyle. A white person looking black gets a fashion spread in a glossy magazine; a black person wearing the same thing gets pulled over by the police. One can understand the frustration.
The appropriative process is also selective, as Greg Tate observes in Everything but the burden, where African American cultural properties including music, food, fashion, hairstyles, dances are sold as American to the rest of the world but with the black presence erased from it. The only thing not stolen is the burden of the denial of human rights and economic opportunity. Appropriation can be ambivalent, as seen in the desire to simultaneously possess and erase black culture. However, in the case of the appropriation of the indigenous in the United States, Andrea Smith declares (somewhat ironically), that the desire to be “Indian” often precludes struggles against genocide, or demands for treaty rights. It does not require being accountable to Indian communities, who might demand an end to the appropriation of spiritual practices.
Some people believe the cuisines of other cultures have been appropriated – is this an extreme example, or is it something we should consider?
The world of food can be such a potent site of transformation for social justice. I am a committed foodie (“somebody with a strong interest in learning about and eating good food who is not directly employed in the food industry” (Johnston and Baumann, 2010: 61). I am also interested in the politics of food. I live in Melbourne, where food culture has been made vibrant by the waves of migrants who have put pressure on public institutions, to expand and diversify their gastronomic offerings for a wider range of people. However, our consumption can naturalise and make invisible colonial and racialised relations. Thus the violent histories of invasion and starvation by the first white settlers, the convicts whose theft of food had them sent to Australia and absorbed into the cruel colonial project of poisoning, starving and rationing indigenous people remain hidden from view. So although we might love the food we might not care about the cooks at all as Rhoda Roberts Director of the Aboriginal Dreaming festival observed in Elspeth Probyn’s excellent book Carnal Appetites:
In Australia, food and culinary delights are always accepted before the differences and backgrounds of the origin of the aroma are.
Lee’s Ghee is an interesting example of appropriation, she developed an ‘artisanal’ ghee product, something that has been made for centuries in South Asia.
Lee Dares was taking the fashion world by storm working as a model in New York when she realized her real passion was elsewhere. So, she made the courageous decision to quit her glamorous job and take some time to explore what she really wanted to do with her life. Her revelation came after she spent some time learning to make clarified butter, or ghee, on a farm in Northern India. Inspired, she turned to Futurpreneur Canada to help her start her own business, Lee’s Ghee, producing unique and modern flavours of this traditional staple of Southeast Asian cuisine and Ayurvedic medicine.
The saying “We are what we eat” is about not only the nutrients we consume but also to beliefs about our morality. Similarly ‘we’ are also what we don’t eat, so our food practices mark us out as belonging or not belonging to a group.So, food has an exclusionary and inclusionary role with affective consequences that range from curiosity, delight to disgust. For the migrant for example, identity cannot be taken for granted, it must be worked at to be nurtured and maintained. It becomes an active, performative and processual project enacted through consumption. With with every taste, an imagined diasporic group identity is produced, maintained and reinforced. Food preparation represents continuity through the techniques and equipment that are used which affirm family life, and in sharing this food hospitality, love, generosity and appreciation can be expresssed. However, the food that is a salve for the dislocated, lonely, isolated migrant also sets her apart, making her stand out as visibly, gustatorily or olfactorily different. The resource for her well being also marks her as different and a risk. If her food is seen as smelly, distasteful, foreign, violent or abnormal, these characteristics can be transposed to her body and to those bodies that resemble her. Dares attempt to reproduce food that is made in many households and available for sale in many ‘ethnic’ shops and selling it as artisanal, led to accusations of ‘colombusing’ — a term used to describe when white people claim they have discovered or made something that has a long history in another culture. Also see the critique by Navneet Alang in Hazlitt:
The ethnic—the collective traditions and practices of the world’s majority—thus works as an undiscovered country, full of resources to be mined. Rather than sugar or coffee or oil, however, the ore of the ethnic is raw material for performance and self-definition: refine this rough, crude tradition, bottle it in pretty jars, and display both it and yourself as ideals of contemporary cosmopolitanism. But each act of cultural appropriation, in which some facet of a non-Western culture is columbused, accepted into the mainstream, and commodified, reasserts the white and Western as norm—the end of a timeline toward which the whole world is moving.
If this is the first time someone has heard these concepts, and they’re feeling confused, or a bit defensive, what can they do to understand more about it?
Here are some resources that might help, videos, illustrations, reading and more.
Toby Morris has created a beautiful illustration of Privilege.
December 18th marks the anniversary of the signing of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families by the United Nations in 1990. Lobbying from Filipino and other Asian migrant organisations in 1997, led to December18th being promoted as an International Day of Solidarity with Migrants. The day recognises the contributions of migrants to both the economies of their receiving and home countries, and promotes respect for their human rights. However, as of 2015, the Convention has only been signed by a quarter of UN member states.
2015 has seen the unprecedented displacement of people globally with tragic consequences. UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report shows a massive increase in the number of people forced to flee their homes. 59.5 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.
Tonight they step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada. With social insurance numbers. With health cards and with an opportunity to become full Canadians
Trudeau’s response sharply contrasts with that of the United States, where many politicians have responded to Islamophobic constituencies with restrictions or bans on receiving refugees. The welcome from Indigenous Canadians to newly arrived refugees has also been generous and inclusive, considering that refugees and migrants are implicated in the ongoing colonial practices of the state. These practices can maintain Indigenous disadvantage while economic, social and political advantage accrue to settlers. It is encouraging that Trudeau’s welcome coincided with an acknowledgement of the multiple harms Canada has imposed on Indigenous people since colonisation.
Alarmingly, the center-right Danish government’s bill currently before the Danish Parliament on asylum policy, allows for immigration authorities to seize jewellery and other valuables from refugees in order to recoup costs. The capacity to remove personal valuables from people seeking sanctuary is expected to be effective from February 2016 and has a chilling precedent in Europe, as Dylan Matthews notes in Vox:
Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany for five years, from 1940 to 1945, during which time Germany confiscated assets from Jewish Danes, just as it did to Jews across Europe. Danish Jews saw less seized than most nations under Nazi occupation; the Danish government successfully prevented most confiscations until 1943, and Danes who survived the concentration camps generally returned to find their homes as they had left them, as their neighbors prevented Nazis from looting them too thoroughly. But Nazi confiscations still loom large in European historical memory more generally.
must expand safe channels for regular migration, including for family reunification, labour mobility at all skill levels, greater resettlement opportunities, and education opportunities for children and adults.
On International Migrants Day, let us commit to coherent, comprehensive and human-rights-based responses guided by international law and standards and a shared resolve to leave no one behind.
What does this all mean for Australia and New Zealand? I’ve written elsewhere about the contradiction between the consumptive celebrations of multiculturalism and the increasing brutality and punitiveness of policies in both countries; the concerns of Australia’s key professional nursing and midwifery bodies about the secrecy provisions in the Australian Border Force Act 2015 and the ways in which New Zealand is emulating a punitive and dehumanising Australian asylum seeker policy.
It is appropriate then in this season of goodwill and peace to write an updated Christmas wish list, but with a migration focus. As a child growing up in Nairobi, one of my pleasures around Christmas time was drawing up such a list. I was so captivated with this activity that I used to drag our Hindu landlord’s children into it. This was kind of unfair as I don’t think they received any of the gifts on their list. For those who aren’t in the know, a wish list is a list of goods or services that are wanted and then distributed to family and friends, so that they know what to purchase for the would-be recipient. The idea of a list is somewhat manipulative as it is designed around the desires of the recipient rather than the financial and emotional capacity of the giver. Now that I’ve grown up a little, I’ve eschewed the consumptive, labour exploitative, commercial and land-filling aspects of Christmas in favour of spending time with family, as George Monbiot notes in his essay The Gift of Death:
They seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill. For thirty seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations.
So, this list focuses on International Day of Solidarity with Migrants. All I want for Christmas is that ‘we’:
Stop punishing the courageous and legitimate right to seek asylum with the uniquely cruel policy of mandatory indefinite detention and offshore processing. Mandatory detention must end. It is highly distressing and has long-term consequences.
Engage in regional co-operation to effectively and efficiently process refugee claims and provide safe interim places. Ensure solutions that uphold people’s human rights and dignity, see this piece about the Calais “Jungle”.
End the use of asylum-seeker, refugee and migrant bodies for political gain.
Demand more ethical reporting by having news media: appoint specialist migration reporters; improve training of journalists on migration issues and problems of hate-speech; create better links with migrant and refugee groups; and employ journalists from ethnic minority communities, see Moving Stories.
Support the many actions by Indigenous peoples to welcome refugees. Indigenous demands for sovereignty and migrant inclusion are both characterised as threats to social cohesion in settler-colonial societies.
Challenge further racial injustice through social and economic exclusion and violence that often face people from migrantnd refugee backgrounds.
Ask ourselves these questions:‘What are my borders?’ ‘Who do I/my community exile?’ ’How and where does my body act as a border?’ and ‘What kind of borders exist in my spaces?’ The questions are from a wonderful piece by Farzana Khan.
This was first published in the Spring 2015 edition (Issue 41) of the Federation of Ethnic Councils of Australia (FECCA) national magazine, Australian Mosaic. Cite as: DeSouza, R. (2015). Medical pluralism: Supporting co-existing diverse therapeutic traditions in mental health. Australian Mosaic (FECCA). 41, 34-36.
Decades afterward, I still recall the frequent waking, getting out of bed and moving around our Nairobi house in the dark. Sometimes I moved pots and pans, re-arranged furniture, but mostly I caused a disturbance. My parents decided to address my distressing behaviour by taking me to an older woman from our Goan community who chanted
prayers and anointed me with chilli and garlic. Her incantations arrested the nocturnal disturbances, which never perturbed me again. The evil eye was diagnosed, the somnambulism caused by envy, inflicted on me with a look. I later learned that the
evil eye is seen as the cause of many problems and illnesses globally with a multitude of rituals and remedies to either prevent or cure it.
My own experience of being a multiple migrant and then a clinician, led me to consider many possible antecedents to mental illness. The dominance of biomedicine to manage health and illness, assumes cross-cultural universals. Yet, mental health is a contested specialty with problematic treatments. Culturally derived norms and values from a specific location impose labels on behaviour from another context, which drive treatments, or management that flattens those contexts. Psychiatry and counseling are often viewed skeptically by people from refugee and migrant backgrounds who instead turn first to informal sources outside the health system including self-help, family, community, social networks, various forms of spirituality, religion and church. Increasingly, clinicians are appreciating the part these sources of support play.
Once mental health services are accessed, if staff focus on mental illness without understanding the cultural context or without realising that clients and their families might integrate both biomedical and more “traditional” beliefs, quality psychiatric assessment can be impaired and the potential for inaccurate diagnosis and inappropriate treatment and care can occur. Incorrectly identifying culturally appropriate behaviour or experiences as psychopathology is problematic, just as assuming that something is cultural rather than psychopathology or symptoms. However, every culture has frameworks for understanding health and illness and how these are demarcated.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, where I have spent most of my life, Maori psychiatrist Mason Durie has conceptualised Maori health as encompassing mental (hinengaro), physical (tinana), family/social (whänau), and spiritual (wairua) dimensions. In Australia, the National Aboriginal Health Strategy (1989) views wellbeing through a communal lens, broadening the concept of well-being beyond the to the social, emotional and cultural well-being of the whole community. Situating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health within a framework of social and emotional wellbeing emphasise wellness, harmony and balance rather than illness and symptom reduction (AIHW 2012). Connection to land, culture, spirituality, ancestry, family and community, interdependence between families, communities, land, sea and spirit are also seen as necessary for health. The Ways Forward National Aboriginal and Islander Mental Health Policy Report 3 (pp19-20) adapted from Swan and Raphael also prioritises holism, self-determination, the need for cultural understanding, the impact of history in trauma and loss, human rights, acknowledges the impact of racism and stigma, kinship, cultural diversity and Aboriginal strengths.
Contemporary neoliberal health discourses have co-opted patient rights movements and positioned patients as consumers -active partners in health who are responsible for their own health. Consumer engagement and health literacy form a suite of strategies for inducing medical citizenship, so that individuals can participate and become knowledgeable consumers. Some would argue these are assimilatory processes. However, in order for medical citizenship to be a two way process, one’s own beliefs about the causes of illness and the corresponding treatments must also be considered. Health literate organisations must also be open to a multiplicity of illness explanations and to those locations from which such beliefs are derived. As Beijers and de Freitas (p.245), note:
Health care is transforming social suffering into illnesses and diagnoses, while often denying the social and moral origins and implications of the suffering
David Ingleby suggests that two perspectives are available for thinking about culture and mental illness. A technical perspective assumes mainstream frameworks and treatments can be universalised to all patients/clients and that more sensitivity and overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers will assist therapeutic efforts. With a technical approach to mental health, the goal of care is to deliver it efficiently and increase utilization (efficacy). Strategies can include access to language matched information and professional interpreting services, or improving mental health literacy and awareness, supporting community resilience and coping strategies. However, technical approaches do not ask questions about power imbalances between groups.
On the other hand when care is given through a critical lens (equity), the questions become what is going on when interventions developed for one population are applied to another? What are the underlying power relations? Whose interests are being served? Is there a covert attempt to impose the values and perspectives of the dominant group? Ingelby suggests that becoming a user of Western health care involves accepting its underlying philosophy and values and “acquiring health literacy”.
It is important that collaborations between traditional healing mechanisms and western practice are made possible, however within professional discourses traditional healing is frequently viewed as primitive and unprofessional, yet people often utilize different health beliefs simultaneously in their search for optimal treatment. Furthermore, assimilation and acculturation into the dominant culture are thought to negatively impact on migrant health status and to contribute to migrant ill health and disparities as the healthy migrant advantage that people arrive with reduces after a year. Developing collaborative models that combine traditional and Western health knowledges and combining health literacy and consumer participation with better access and quality of staff can indeed facilitate better health outcomes.
As an educator, I am interested in how I can do my part to increase the awareness and openness to pluralism, so that the next generation of nurses can be effective and therapeutic. There is guidance available from The Cultural Diversity Plan for Victoria’s Specialist Mental Health Services. There is an emphasis on being respectful and having non-judgmental curiosity about other cultures. Mental health workers are encouraged to seek cultural knowledge in an appropriate way, tolerate ambiguity and develop the ability to handle the stress of ambiguous situations. In addition, developing a family-sensitive practice, where family and community resources are viewed as partners in recovery as appropriate allow syncretism and innovation to take place. There are significant institutional barriers remaining to this in mental particularly the emphases on privacy, independence and the one-to-one relationship between consumer and professional.