Updated: Jun 5
Due to the George Floyd protests and massive resistance to anti-Black racism, I'd like to talk about how we can move forward in the dietetics community.
As a Ghanaian-Jewish-Canadian woman I have had my fair share of racism and anti-Semitism directed my way. Being a part of the Canadian dietetic community since I started my undergraduate degree in 2014 as a bright-eyed 18 year old, I knew something was not right the very first day I walked into class. Almost everyone was white and female, only a few racialized students were present. Immediately I knew that the next four years, and likely my entire career, would be spent assimilating. I'm shutting that down right now.
Efforts have definitely been made to move diversity in dietetics forward. We have a Diversify Dietetics Canada group and I often felt heard by my professors when I voiced my concerns about the lack of Black faces in dietetics during my master's. However, right now I truly feel like people are willing to learn and listen. So, I'd like to add my two cents on how we can be anti-racist in the dietetic community to better help our clients and audiences.
As a disclaimer, I am not an expert in critical race theory, nor do I have years of experience in the profession. This article is simply drawn from my experiences as a Black woman who grew up in a very multicultural city, but had to balance the lack of diversity in my studies and my short career.
We were all taught the social determinants of health as well as patient-centered care. However, I'd like to provide some applicable tips you can use in your own dietetic practice. Here are my tips for being anti-racist in the dietetic community to better serve our patients, clients and audiences:
Tip #1: Get educated and speak up!
I do not have all the answers. Your Black friends and colleagues don't either. This is why everyone is recommending for you to do the work to educate yourself. I'm working at this too!
For information about the African Diaspora you can follow the Instagram account Dispersed Afros by Sheerel Gordon. If you're looking for something structured you can take this Cultural Competence course from SickKids.
Being anti-racist also includes speaking up and calling people out (or in) on racism. Don't be shy now.
Tip #2: Make nutrition information accessible.
This "tip" is not new. If you're reading this article it's likely that you found me from Instagram and that you run your own nutrition Instagram account. It is so important for us to share our nutrition knowledge through social media. Maybe don't share everything you know (that would be exhausting), but there are people out there who don't know what a dietitian is. Making nutrition information accessible is the first step to getting the right information to the right people as well as protecting them from quacks like The Medical Medium. So keep posting, sharing and engaging! We need you!
Tip #3: Get curious and ask questions, respectfully.
We need to take an interest in, and celebrate, the differences in our clients and audiences. Food is soooo personal and sometimes difficult to discuss, particularly when the person you're talking to has no idea what you're talking about. Ask questions about the cultural foods, spices and seasonings used. By doing this, you are creating space for your racialized clients to discuss food. Don't ignore racial differences but don't stereotype either!
Tip #4: Celebrate healthy foods from all cultures.
We all know that salads and smoothies are not the epitome of healthy eating. However, so many culturally significant foods get left out of the conversation. Clients and audiences need to know that their cultural foods are healthy too. Bulgar, kidney beans, lentils, okra, guava (just to name a few) have incredible benefits to our health but don't get enough love. Let's celebrate stews, dahl, curry and rice dishes.
Tip #5: Advocate to make the profession more diverse.
Push the governing bodies, schools and advocacy groups to create more opportunities for students and dietitians of colour. I have dreams of funds, grants and scholarships particularly for RD2Be's and RDs of colour, as well as recruiting students in high schools. However, the first step to increasing diversity in dietetics is knowing how un-diverse it is. In Canada we still do not have race-based data, so we don't even have a baseline. This is our first step to improving diversity in dietetics.
As dietitians we are encouraged to constantly evaluate our interventions and our programs. Same goes for anti-racism and your activist work. There is always more work to be done and more knowledge to obtain. So I encourage you to reflect on your conversations with others, systemic racism in your community and the ways in which you are privileged. Are you holding yourself accountable for your words and actions? Are you holding others accountable? It's all important.
Again, I don't have all of the answers. This information is solely based on my experience navigating the field of dietetics. However, let us all move forward and allow everybody to feel seen and heard.