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Special Edition: Reflections from the Racial Awareness Event

Fri 23 Jul 2021 - Davina Vencatasamy
Davina Vencatasamy qualified as a Music Therapist in 2006 from ARU and has been working in SEN and Mental Health settings ever since with a wide range of client groups. She is currently focussed on working on EDIB issues in Music and Music Therapy.
Following the findings of the BAMT Diversity survey and report, on the 24th April 2021 the British Association for Music Therapy began their journey into exploring the issues of race in Music Therapy. The Diversity Report (BAMT 2020) highlighted sever gaps in the diversity makeup of the profession. One the whole, we are made up of white, middle class, cis gendered, heterosexual women. However, for those of us on the margins, it has been a struggle to get our voices heard, particularly in the arena of race. Race can instantly shut down conversations, put up defences and wound with impunity, however unintentional.
Overview of Racial Awareness Event

The event was a powerful overview of some of the lived experience of its members, some of which had been marginalised for a long time.  In giving a voice to their members of colour, BAMT have started to listen to difference of experience and are now driven to engender change for the profession. 

Davina Wilson led the day, framing the beginning of the day using a TED talk featuring Caprice Hollins.  It spoke openly and clearly about opening up race conversations to give space to the pain and difficulties that lie within them.  She asked us to acknowledge our defences when thinking about our own complicity in racism whether that is at an unintentional level or being part of a system, which is inherently racist.  Some of those defences were witnessed on the day which highlighted the amount of work that we need to do, however, it was extremely positive to finally have started a process which exposes these defences so we can confront them and learn from them together. 

The event drew an audience of 217 registrants.  This is an unprecedented number of participants for any event ran by BAMT in the past.  The online and accessible nature of the event contributed to this but perhaps it is disingenuous to simply credit our new affinity to online meeting platforms for this figure.  The online nature also meant that people from all over the world were able to attend including those from China, India and Canada.  Key people in positions of power attended which was significant and indicates that the wiliness to learn and engage with this difficult work is present which was encouraging.  We all hold the power to make changes within the profession in the UK, however it would be silly to think that there are not some key players within the profession that could push the agenda further, quicker.  This is where the work is. 

The event proved significant for the panellists too.  It was always going to be powerful to take part in an event such as this; not only because it was a difficult subject matter and that the conversation was a long time coming but because for therapists of colour, this completes something in the journey of becoming a therapist.  Race is excluded in so many aspects of life to the detriment of their everyday survival yet in therapy, it seems as though it should be the one place where it can be acknowledged for what it is, debated and accepted for the destructive ideologies it encompasses.  And yet we have chosen instead to push it aside.  This event was important for me and my fellow panellists because for the first time, there was a platform and appetite for it. 

One of the panellists, said of her experience, “the racial awareness panel was not just a much needed and overdue space for conversation around race issues and the lived experiences of these within the music therapy profession; on a personal note for me it was also a large gulp of fresh air to be able to share my experiences of race, colonisation, migration and more with a group of people who understand it and never question it. In the time since, we have learned from each other and developed our relationships and it has given me so much hope that this is just the beginning of a supportive and accepting work environment, which we can then extend to the rest of the profession, so others will benefit from it too.”

The Beginning of the Journey

On the day, a word cloud was created which captured the overarching sentiments of the attendees.

As it shows, there was a wide range of mixed emotions, which could, broadly speaking, be classified into two main areas; those who have been waiting for this conversation to start and those who have not really ever had to engage in it in a meaningful way. This may be for a variety of reasons. Those of you who do not experienced racial profiling and do not have to engage with it, that is great and should be appreciated! It is a painful, debilitation experience and no one here wants others to feel pain. It may be that you have never questioned your client's colour because "you don't see race or colour in the therapy room" which is understandable, as we have not been challenges in this in our clinical practice.

This event and my personal goal is to ensure that these practices are robustly challenged in a supportive way so the other side of that word cloud that contains the pain and frustration can begin to be address. For those of us who do experience bias and receive the microaggressions that may be based not only because of race, but all types of discrimination, the other side of that cloud reflects that. Anger, heaviness and exhaustion comes from those who have held this alone and not had a community or others to draw from. That is not what we perceive ourselves to be as Music Therapists; as a profession we pride ourselves at our ability to connect and communicate effectively. Which brings me to the dominant word in that cloud: 'hopeful'/ The more times the word is mentioned, the bigger the word appears in the graphic. As Music Therapists we have such a deep and rich resource at our fingertips. 

Conclusion & Links

Predominantly, we get into the profession to make a difference and to help others. Along the way, we learn how to listen, communicate, empathise and engage. These are all the skills we need to be able to overturn systems of oppression and make a real change. The work is still tough and will be hard. It will also require us to sit with discomfort and pain to really challenge what we think we already know. We have been getting it wrong. But I am 'hopeful' we can do better.


BAMT Diversity Report 2020 - Read it here

TED Talk by Caprice Hollins - What white people can do to move race conversations forward