Equality, Diversity & Inclusion series with Sona Dave: BLM Allyship Guide for Dental Professionals

Next in the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Series, is from Sona Dave, who has just finished her first year of dental school.

Sona, who has just finished her 1st year at dental school

Here in the UK, we like to think that racism isn’t a problem. That we don’t see colour so it’s not an issue. This false equivalence of a colour-blind society to a post-racial utopia is harmful as it rejects the need for systemic change while invalidating Black, Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC) experiences.

Dentistry doesn’t exist in a vacuum void of racism. As dental students and clinicians, we are often branded as ‘’nice’’ people. However, nice people like you and I, can still perpetuate and uphold systemic racism and anti-blackness, whether we mean to or not. We must dispel the narrative that only ‘’bad’’ people are racist. Racism is not a one-off event; it is an entire system.

I would argue that we cannot fully treat and care for patients without having an idea of their world views and experiences. To provide true holistic care, we must dismantle the systemic racism and oppression that directly impacts the general and oral health outcomes of BIPOCs. 

Before you think about making changes at home, work or university, I implore you to unpack your own implicit bias. 

This guide is by no means exhaustive nor is it intended to teach you everything about allyship. I would recommend using it as a starting point and using my PDF for further resources. 

What can I do:

1. Become aware of your own complicity

Ask yourself how you have unconsciously upheld systems of racism, anti-blackness and perpetuated the exploitation/oppression of black people. 

This is an arduous and ongoing reflective process. Here you will need to embrace responsibility and accountability. 

Ask yourself if you’ve ever participated in the following:
  • Rejecting the idea of privilege
  • Feeding into & benefiting from the model minority myth
  • Assimilating as a POC to become more palatable
  • Internalised racism (e.g. using ‘’whitening creams’’)
  • Appropriating black culture
  • Blackfishing
  • Saying the N-word
  • Microaggressions
  • Racial gaslighting
  • Being colour blind
Becoming conscious of your own behaviours can often lead to feelings of guilt. Channel these feelings into a productive conversation and action, whilst putting your own fragility aside. 

2. Learn

Our education system has starved us of the necessary substance to understand race relations in the UK. History repeats itself, so we need to learn the past to better understand the present and challenge the dynamics that persist. 

What we need to learn about is the dark history of the UK.

This includes but is not limited to:
  • Colonialism
  • The enslavement of black people
  • The British eugenics movement and race science in the 20th Century
  • Parliamentary acts (Commonwealth Immigration Act, Race Relations acts)
  • False premise of blackness being synonymous to criminality & sus laws
  • Riots (1958 Notting Hill, 1979 Southall, 2011 London)

3. Unlearn

The past has left us ignorant with medical misconceptions and myths about our black patients. This has manifested itself in inaccurate diagnoses as a result of unfamiliarity of how different diseases appear in BIPOC.

By learning, we will gain a better understanding of everything from the normal appearance of gingiva of BIPOCs to accurately diagnosing dental pain in black patients. 

4. Don’t rely on BIPOCs to educate you

It is your own responsibility to self-educate. Don’t rely on BIPOC friends and family to explain the terms and events outlined above. Recalling and explaining racism can often be triggering and traumatic. Don’t put this emotional labour on your loved ones. See my PDF for more.

5. Listen more and speak less

Elevate and amplify Black voices using whatever privilege you have. The reallocation of power to marginalised people must not stop at tokenism – in whatever affirmative actions you take.

6. Although it is OUR collective problem, you are not saving anyone

However good willed you may be, don’t reduce allyship to an act of altruism. Allyship motivated by altruism is purely self-satisfying; it feeds the narrative that black people need saving and is underpinned by the false premise that the saviour is an “expert” on the issues black people face. 

7. Reflect on how departments, academic institutions, and practices are unintentionally racist

Are they actively anti-racist rather than focused purely on diversity?

Look around, how many black folx do you see? Is this a microcosm?

8. Question whether you are a performative ally

You can’t pick and choose whenever it suits you to be an ally.

Do not claim you stand in solidarity with Black Lives if you do not:
  • Continuously put in the work to unlearn your unconscious bias and behaviours
  • Have difficult conversations with your loved ones, educators, colleagues, etc
  • Speak up in situations of racism

9. Acknowledge you will make mistakes

The first step to unlearning our implicit bias is hold a mirror against ourselves and holding ourselves accountable. The journey ahead will be laden with many mistakes and missteps. Accept this and continue to learn. 

The onus is on us to change dentistry for our colleagues and patients. Be a part of history or get left in the past.

Do you want to write a post for the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion series? Please get in touch! Whether you're a dental student, foundation dentist, dental core trainee, associate, dental nurse, therapist I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

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