My Good Trouble
One of my life’s greatest accomplishments was achieving my DAOM. It has been the title I have proudly displayed after my name for a career that now spans over twenty years. I love my work, it has been the answer to all of my passions and my callings. I am certain, now more than ever, that what I have to give and what I know rests easily within the vessel of who I want to be in this world. I am a Black woman of Haitian descent, practicing both ancient and modernized forms of traditional Chinese medicine, in the North and South of the United States of America. I am a cultural alchemist. I am a helper. I am also an activist, and, I hope, a catalyst for community empowerment around health and the basic human right of access to wellbeing.
You may not immediately think of acupuncture as activism, but my original inspiration to pursue my DAOM was rooted firmly in that realization. In the 70’s and 80’s, Dr. Mutulu Shakur (stepfather of Tupac Shakur) lead a unified initiative betweenthe Black Panthers and the Young Lords to combat the rampant heroine addictions of the South Bronx with acupuncture. I witnessed first-hand this healing cooperation between races and communities for the greater good. Dr. Mutulu went on to found The Lincoln Detox Acupuncture Center where patients have been treated for addiction for generations with a chemical free acupuncture centered program. If you are interested to know more, there is a recently released documentary called Dope is Death directed by Mia Donovan, about this clinic and this work. I enrolled in school to make sure I could also be an activist practitioner, and be part of unifying and healing programs like this one for the rest of my life. I also received training in Dr. Michael Smith’s NADA protocol (National Acupuncture Detox Association), a program that has carried forward what Dr. Mutulu started. Now I myself train practitioners in Haiti in the NADA ear acupuncture protocols for detoxing, managing trauma, and combating stress. Acupuncture as activism has always defined and informed my practice.
A life centered in activism means, however, that I must be willing to lovingly stand for dignity in all aspects of my practice as firmly as I stand for the health and resilience of individuals and communities. If I am indeed an activist I cannot ignore, especially in the current moment, my fundamental discomfort around that title at the end of my name; DAOM, Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
For the last ten years or so several states like New York and Washington State have signed laws that ban the use of the term “Oriental” in any official document that refers to people of Asian or Pacific Island heritage. Those laws, however, have not extended to things like schools or degrees. “Oriental” is a loaded, racially insensitive, colonialist and outdated term, similar to the term “Colored” in the Black Community thatechoes the exoticism and “otherness” that white supremacy needs in order to telegraph dominance. It sounds in my ears like nails on a chalk board, and yet in my title it is an “honorific” as Doctor of Philosophy (PHD) or Doctor of Medicine (MD)would be. I could change my title to DACM or Doctor of Chinese Medicine, but a DAOM degree indicates that I have spent two additional years in specialized study much as a PHD would as compared to an MA. I deeply respect my DACM colleagues and their accomplishments. Changing my degree designation to theirs would be misleading, could be seen as disrespectful and is simply incorrect.
We are in an undeniable moment in our Nation’s history where a reckoning with the symbols and the language and the culture of white supremacy is unfolding. As a Black woman I feel this moment for myself, for my community and for my family. I feel the eyes of history on us all, and I am ready to not only ask for change on my own behalf, but also to look into every corner of my own consciousness, even into the symbols of my greatest accomplishments, to see where I must ask for change on behalf of equity and dignity for all. I am personally ready to make whatever is deemed the most appropriate change in my title, butmy awarding Institution has no plan in place for such a change as of yet.
Move on is currently circulating a petition to all academic institutions that offer degrees in East Asian Medicine to remove the term “Oriental” from the acupuncture profession. I havecontacted my own alma mater to request the reissue of a degree that honors my expertise but that does not dishonor, in that same title, those from whom this extraordinary wisdom and tradition has originated. In this time of Covid-19 too many Asian and Asian Pacific Islanders have encountered hate and racism, many of whom are on the front lines as first responders, due to xenophobic talking points and scape-goat tactics that have taken the place of unity in the face of adversity. I choose to be on the side of healing. I choose to be on the side of enlightened and dignified change. I will, in the words of our dear departed Rep. John Lewis, be continuing to get into good, and necessary trouble around this issue. This profession has opened its arms to me, and my arms are open in return to all those who are my colleagues, teachers and partners. May a deliberate consciousness of the beauty inherent in diversity lift us all to a new level of unity and healing love.