By Dr. Tabrizi BA, DC, DO
As someone who likes to make sense of things, the world is a difficult place right now. On the topic of systemic racism, I neither want to preach nor project, but can only speak from my own experience.
I could easily be accused of making a judgement error. That I am virtual signalling and that I should lend this platform to African American people. But I do not feel that I am making a normative mistake.
I don’t feel that shame, or fear of feeling stupid or not woke enough can lead to anything positive. It is important to not be complacent, and to take an honest inventory of our own behavior.
As part of a visible minority myself, I have experienced racism in my own life, yet I realize that does not give me a free pass in terms of checking my own biases with regards to other people. Having lived in parts of Asia and the Middle East, I have seen how global this issue is in the systems of inequality and the attitudes of superiority between different cultural groups.
Growing up in my dad’s village when I was very young, there were a lot of refugees and, as the locals, there was the sense that we were somehow ‘higher’. But as the travels of my youth took me to various places, I always felt like an imposter myself—like I had to adapt to fit in. When I first came to this country, being surrounded by the overwhelming positive messaging about being white, it felt like I had to apologize for everything I was not. In looking different and not speaking English, I was not immune to racial slurs and even being physically beaten.
In going to school in the U.S., I remember being in anatomy lab late one night with friends, and seeing the security guard ask for the ID of only my black friend.
And I have come to realize the effects this can have across a lifespan. The ways that it shrinks you as an adult and makes you feel small. Bruises heal, but losing your voice and being marginalized is a much bigger price to pay.
This is not meant to elicit pity. Or even empathy or understanding. It’s not about comparative suffering. It is about being able to learn to trust each other, and in recognition of a pain that we can all connect to in some shape or form.
Because without trust, we continue to jump to immediate judgement.
Those experiences prime your nervous system and make you hyper-aware. Whether they are physical or emotional, blatant or subtle, once or repeatedly—racism is not a monolith, but a spectrum of beliefs and behaviors that show up in many ways. And they leave a mark on how we see ourselves.
If I could have a conversation with my younger self, I would say the things I wish I would have known back then. As children we see things. Your parents tried to shield you, but didn’t teach you how to deal with it. I wish you had someone tell you, not just the empty words of ‘it gets better’, but show you how to metabolize it.
As an adult, I try to have the discipline to not reduce this issue to blaming colonialism or even white privilege without truly understanding it. I try to acknowledge the complexity of how we got here without being distracted from what we need to do to move forward.
In recognizing that our brains focus on the negative over the positive, we tend to recognize only our headwind and not our tailwind. Examining the ways in which we have privilege and acknowledging that, sadly, we are not alone in our suffering can generate the awareness needed for change.
There will be awkward conversations ahead, including the ones we have with ourselves. They are imperative for the wellness of our community and society. As we neither discount nor reduce our own experiences, while being courteous, open-minded, and human in recognizing someone else’s struggles.
The challenge is to try to be open to what is happening in life now. We can forgive ourselves for the technical errors and the judgement errors—those being the errors we make from not quite understanding the scope of the issue or in misjudging a moment. As long as we are honest with ourselves and proceed with the intention to learn and be better.
I believe people should not be defined by their mistakes and, as long as we continue to evolve, it’s a good thing.
But we must be committed to examining and eliminating the normative errors. The ones in which we over-generalize and make assumptions and try to cover up for what we don’t know. There are times when we don’t have the bandwidth to fully understand or simply don’t want to feel stupid. Even though it may not be based on malice, the capacity for harm remains. Anytime we index ourselves against someone or something, we may, consciously or unconsciously, exercise micro-aggressions or injustices against other people.
We have often chosen self-preservation over doing the right thing but, in this case, they are both the same. Because when we lose trust in the basic constructs of civility and society, no one wins.
Historically, humans have been very tribal beings, with a tribe being defined as a group of people that are self-sufficient. But that level of tribalism or romanticism of the past has little value to where we are now, as we have seen through the pandemic how we need each other.
It is not about giving lip service to the term ‘ally’, but doing the personal work so we can exercise sovereignty in our actions. Supporting those people and organizations that really understand and have lived this experience so that trust can be regained.
For a better understanding and more education around this complex issue, joincampaignzero.org is one of many resources.
Dr. Tabrizi is a chiropractor, osteopath and a passionate member of both the local and scientific community, whose goal is to teach that the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is much more than being symptom-free. His practice is rooted in the philosophy of treating the person rather than just treating the illness or ailment. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.