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This post was written by Kristina Mendez, Ph.D.
This article responds to the urgent calls of the American Psychological Association, Division 45 Warrior’s Path Presidential Task Force Report (2020). The report unpacks the many ways psychology has been informed by Eurocentric, colonial, and white supremacist ideals. The report calls for the field of psychology to look inward at the many ways it perpetuates harm toward Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), to protect and defend those who are most vulnerable to this oppression.
The American Psychological Association recently issued an apology for its contributions to perpetuating systemic racism, citing the Warrior’s Path Report as a significant resource for this apology (APA, Council of Representatives, 2021). As a member of the Division 45 Presidential Taskforce, the author Dr. Mendez is committed to voicing the calls of the Warrior’s Path as an advocate for decolonizing our wellness practices to promote culturally competent healing for BIPOC communities and clientele.
This article is written primarily for BIPOC community members and BIPOC mental health providers, through a lens of gently holding space for the experience of centuries of ethnic and race-based stress and trauma (Parker, 2020; APA Division 45 Warrior’s Path Presidential Task Force, 2020). The Warrior’s Path Report calls on us to “be good ancestors to the coming generations,” and this must start with tending to our wounds of colonial oppression.
Dr. Mendez hopes that her writing will support platforms that make BIPOC voices and decolonized wellness visible for all people seeking support, especially BIPOC who have historically been squeezed into treatment approaches developed specifically for white men. The Warrior’s Path explains that psychology has demonstrated disparities in its standards for “empirical support,” rigorously studying what benefits white people and how knowledge should be communicated while haphazardly applying modifications for BIPOC (APA Division 45 Warrior’s Path Presidential Task Force, 2020).
Decolonizing our wellness returns sovereignty to BIPOC to meet their needs for wellbeing in ways that were lovingly created for them over many generations.
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Living in the United States, we navigate day in and day out the societal reinforcement of the ways that we are not enough. BIPOC in particular experience this on a more systemic basis, and this can lead to increased stress, chronic health conditions, and mental health concerns (Parker, 2020; APA Division 45 Warrior’s Path Presidential Task Force, 2020).
As we leave the first months of the new year behind, we may find ourselves encouraged or discouraged by resolutions made to “be better.” It can be exhausting comparing ourselves to Eurocentric, colonial, and capitalistic ideals that tell us we are not whole.
While the intentions behind aligning ourselves more with health and wellbeing are certainly admirable, the ideals we see portrayed in the media don’t always let us be the guide of our own process. These advertisements for “health” and “wellness” are intended to make us feel like we are not enough, and like they have the answer to what we are lacking. In this way, fear becomes our driving force in the quest for wholeness, rather than our authentic values. Our fears become shaped by what colonialism wants us to fear.
“Colonialism refers to the pervasive societal policies that retain authority over marginalized racial communities by imposing dominant cultural and sociopolitical practices (APA Division 45 Warrior’s Path Presidential Task Force, 2020, pg. 8).”
What I would like to make clear, dear reader, is that you were born whole. You exist as a testament to your ancestors, and there is so much intergenerational resilience and wisdom in your being.
I invite you to pause and reflect on whether this resonates. Colonialism has sought to industrialize our minds and bodies—to strip us from our connection to our true selves, our ancestors, the Earth, and our sense of sovereignty. It has systematically brought destruction and genocide to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who honor this connection, and have honored it since time immemorial. It seeks to continue to distance humanity from its wholeness so that it can fill that void with whatever benefits the colonial agenda at the time.
I invite you to reflect on this question: What made your ancestors feel whole?
Wellness is not one-size-fits-all, as we have often been misled to believe. Your unique being has ancestors from sacred places that had their own ways of creating balance in mind, body, and heart. From forest bathing to song and dance, your ancestors had wisdom in their ways. Though colonialism has sought to destroy our connection with our ancestors, our intuitive and remembered wisdom can be a tool to guide us. For Caucasian folks, I invite you to envision your ancestors before colonialism—the indigenous peoples of the places that your being descended from. They, too, revered and learned from the Earth and one another.
If your heart is feeling weary on your journey, perhaps it is time to reclaim sovereignty in your healing. If you don’t know where to begin, begin with the Earth.
If you listen deeply, the Earth may tell you of the lands walked by your ancestors, the foods that nourished them, the medicines that tended their ailments, and the stories they told around the fire. This is where your true wellness is. Remember the ways before ideals of anything were imposed. Remember the ways when rituals of wellness were inherently known because they are the purest truth.
If you don’t know where to begin, I suggest that you go sit with the Earth. Bask in sunlight, behold the wind rustling through leaves, and remember that you are a part of this inextricable dance of existence. I personally love to rest in awe of the butterflies that migrate thousands of miles from the place of my ancestors to the place where I am now. The Earth will help you remember your stories and will teach you about unconditional love. The Earth, like you, is resilient, and carries the memories of all time.
When you embrace the Earth,
you embrace yourself,
So you can begin to remember.
That you were born whole.