Racial Injustice and Occupational Therapy – A Male Minority OT’s Perspective

Occupational Justice Featured

In light of recent social turmoil, there have been several posts about the topic of race from both occupational therapists and students alike. I thought I would add my 2 cents as a minority male occupational therapy practitioner.

I grew up in San Francisco — or as my Genetic teacher used to say, one of the most diverse cities on the planet. SF has many “pockets” of multiculturalism–people, food, music, art, businesses, languages, and well, culture. In this 7 x 7 mile city, you can find people from many different races and sexual orientations (including the LGBT community).

Growing up, to go to school, I would leave one of most “ghetto” parts of town, pass through the financial district (which generates a lot of wealth), Chinatown, then end up in North Beach (Italian). As an Asian-American, race has always been a topic that my family talked about. While my older family members emphasized the importance of maintaining Asian culture in America, I was also learning about American life — McDonald’s, Sesame Street, and Backstreet Boys.

The recent movements of BLM and Stop Asian Hate evoke strong emotions and flashbacks for me. In high school, I was the victim of an unprovoked physical assault by another minority on the bus after school. After the assault, I was so embarrassed that I did not even file a police report. Going to school was even more embarrassing as I felt the piercing eyes of other students looking me up and down and whispering about my bruises. It was around the time of Halloween and I’ll never forget what one teacher said to me (unknowing that I was the target of a likely racial hate crime),

“Hey, nice costume! It looks really real.” — referring to the bruises and my black eye.

To many people, the hate and vitriol against minorities may seem like a remote experience happening to “other” people. To me, every incident is as real and stinging as my flashback.

In writing this post, I encourage the occupational therapy profession (one of the most wonderful and supportive communities) to advocate for not only occupational therapy, but for our communities and the recent call for change in racism, gender, and whatever may come in the future.

We chose this profession to help people and make a difference. I believe occupational therapy can be a strong platform to bring on change for better communities through health and wellness by being sensitive and proactive about culture.

My wife made an interesting point about how as a society, we have come a long way in terms of technology and advancements, but we are still very primitive in how we treat each other — largely based on our appearance.

So I challenge you, especially OT students and new grads, to think about your school projects, interactions with clients and co-workers, research, and how we represent and present the profession as we celebrate OT month.

  • Include minorities in photographs and videos in your PowerPoint presentations, blog posts, home exercise programs, and research (inclusion criteria).
  • Hang out and socialize (or virtually online) with someone who is from a different race, background, or culture.
  • Always use a translator service when working with a client or their families who speak a foreign language.
  • Try to provide handouts in the client’s native language.
  • Create multicultural interventions (photos, videos, experience opportunities).
  • Celebrate culture with events such as potlucks.
  • Recognize the achievements of other cultures and backgrounds.
  • Support minority and multicultural businesses instead of shopping on Amazon or Target.
  • Try new food, listen to new music, or watch a foreign movie.
  • Learn a foreign language.
  • Use your OT creativity to create content and posts on social media.
  • Do not minimize or gaslight social movements such as BLM or Anti-Asian hate.
  • In your personal life, do something uncomfortable by immersing yourself in an unfamiliar situation or place (that is not dangerous).
  • Get out there in public and speak up along with the other groups, e.g. BLM.

These seemingly small acts and practices can have a large ripple effect on our community and profession. I am excited to see the recent changes in the OTPF-4 to include social change terminology and to bring it to our attention. Change can happen today. But this all cannot be possible if you first do not take care of your own mental and physical health. Eliminate negativity from your life, focus on your goals, and do something that you feel will have a lasting impact on your community that when you look back on in your career you can be proud of.

Thank you for choosing OT.