March 21 was established in 1966, by the United Nations, as the International Day to Eliminate Racial Discrimination. This day of observance calls participants to activate their individual and collective voices to promote equality across backgrounds and cultures. As a consummate student of cultural competency, my thirst for understanding is always ever present. Therefore, when Lora Wilson approached me to write for this day of observation, I was honored to be enlightened of its meaning and significance. To know that my personal journey and professional clinical work could join with others, internationally, to alleviate the suffering of racism, within myself and others, is the ultimate Unbuntu experience. A lovely friend and esteemed dance/movement therapy colleague from the UK, Terrence Brathwaite, introduced Unbuntu to me; his life’s work and personality reflect this concept so clearly, as he truly embodies this principle. Unbuntu, a South African term, is the experience of universal bonding and sharing, which connects all humanity.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated:
A person with Unbuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed (1999).
The International Day to Eliminate Racial Discrimination was established to commemorate the Sharpeville massacre, an event in which the police murdered 69 people during a peaceful demonstration against apartheid in Sharpeville, South Africa, on March 21, 1960. While the dynamics of apartheid has a long history in South Africa, one of its official policies of segregating and economically and politically oppressing the non-white population roughly began in 1960. The Sharpeville massacre was a single event but, I am sure, it is among many heart-wrenching pains of South Africa. I, too, felt heartbreak reading about it. Befitting in the same year I learned of this historical tragedy, I was also introduced to a core philosophy which reflects the heart of the South African people–the Ubuntu spirit. This principle gave me hope amidst my private pain, within the collective pain of racism, pain that is evident in the Sharpeville massacre.
I believe it no coincidence, but instead spiritual attunement, that, although I knew nothing of this international observance a few months ago, I instinctively would answer its call, using my voice to raise awareness of racial discrimination. Over the past year, I have been disappointed that I haven’t been able to join the many rallies in regards to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. I secretly hoped I was doing ‘my share’ for the cause, when each time as a therapist, I actively witnessed and joined the pain of a Black man or Black mother, twisted with anguish, about how their personal lives, self and racial esteem, body image, and family dynamics were ravaged by racism. However, as a professional of movement observation and dynamics, I understand and believe that, at its core, any political movement is just that—a way to ‘move’ and mobilize your private pain, while simultaneously joining collectively with others to do the same. I knew I needed to ‘move’ and SHOUT something about the horror I was watching nightly, weekly, monthly, and yearly about the Black boys and men being killed by the police in every American city, without any consideration of the historical context of racism in America and worldwide. So, when approached by the ADTA to help commemorate Black History Month, I accepted the challenge, only if I could use my voice to raise awareness about racism. My intention is to help dance/movement therapists understand how race and racism impacts their personal lives and is hopefully a major consideration in their therapeutic interventions. My webinar, “Black History and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ Movement: Implications for DMT Practice in a Supposed ‘Post-Racial’ Society” is available on demand at adta.org.
So, what can I offer dance/movement therapists about how to raise their own awareness about racial discrimination? What can we do to make change and bring hope, in the face of racism? I invite you to answer the call, by posting a comment to this blog, and “voicing” your questions or sharing your reactions and stories, as open and sensitive community dialogue is, surely, a first step to raise awareness against racial discrimination.
Tutu, Desmond (1999). No Future Without Forgiveness. Image. ISBN 0-385-49690-7.
(This post is excerpted from a post originally published on April 12, 2015.)