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Anti-Racism & Allyship for Rehab and Movement Professionals
By: Nataliya Zlotnikov, MSc, HBSc

This blog, 'Anti-Racism & allyship for Rehab and Movement Professionals' is based on Dr. Jennifer Hutton's online healthcare continuing education course that has the same name. 

Nothing happens in a vacuum, and so, before we get into a few of the resources that will help us become better allies, we will place current events in a historical and social context so that we know why it is crucial for us to become better allies. 

This blog will take you through four sections:

  1. A brief history
  2. Current context
  3. Current context as it relates to health
  4. How to become an ally

We conclude this blog with an excellent resource video from Dr. Hutton.

We are also aware that this is a very short blog and therefore cannot cover the necessary depth of information that this topic deserves; although it is a great place to start. 

If you would like to take a look at the full course, it is available at the link below. 

Click Here for the Full Course 


In This Course, You Will Learn:

  • A summary of the history of white supremacy's effect on the healthcare system and healthcare education
  • How racial trauma has an effect on physical and mental health
  • The stages of allyship and the steps you can take in each stage pertaining to your profession
  • How to use your privilege inside of your workplace and for your client base
  • Resources to further your antiracism work personally and professionally

Why Now?

Since the formation of Black Lives Matter (BLM) - "an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. BLM is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, contributions to this society, and resilience in the face of deadly oppression" - in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman. You may have heard some terminology that you were previously unfamiliar with such as allyship, microaggressions, tokenism, white saviourism and a few others pop-up in the media. 

Below is a video from Dr. Hutton's online healthcare course that clearly explains these and other terms as well as draws on real-life examples from her clinical experience. 

What Does It Mean?


Part I: A Brief History

Slavery Really Wasn't That Long Ago

Slavery in the United States lasted for about 350 years.

It was abolished in 1865.

The Civil Rights Act was not passed until 1964. To put that into context, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his 'I Have A Dream' speech in 1963 - that is just 58 years ago. 

If you have any thought viruses, it's very hard for them to just disappear in 1964, when we reach the Civil Rights Act. If you've lived through whites-only signs, colord-only signs, beatings, and lynchings you will have some biases and ideologies form as a result.

We cannot just talk about race relations or competencies in the 2000s without educating or understanding fully all that has happened until now. We cannot understand current issues without understanding what came before.


Slavery Is Canada's Best Kept Secret

Searching for a timeline of slavery in the United Stated yields a plethora of results. Searching for the same for Canada? Meager results with no clear timeline to be found. Why is that? Did slavery not happen in Canada? What does it take to erase/whitewash 200 years of history from the collective consciousness of a nation? 

For those of us residing in Canada, we often hear about American slavery, but seldom hear about slavery within our nation's borders. 

In school, we often learned about the Underground Railroad, and have grown up with the idea that slavery somehow stopped at the American border. Canadians are too polite for slavery. But the Underground Railroad lasted approximately 30 years and was preceded by 200 years of slavery within our own borders. 

Now, a small but growing number of scholars are unearthing court records, local registries and a host of archives to get a glimpse into the less luminous chambers of our past. 

You can read a little more about slavery in Canada in this CBC article, Canada's slavery secret: The whitewashing of 200 years of enslavement.


Part II: Current Context 

What Is Racial Trauma?

Racial trauma is defined as the cumulative effects of racism on an individual's mental and physical health.

Racial Trauma Continues to Happen 

It is hard to heal from something that today continues to happen regularly.
Here are some examples of racial trauma regularly experienced by Black Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) today to name just a few: 

  • Witnessing harm against members of a person’s group: For example, seeing an unarmed Black person being killed, such as the videos you saw over and over again of George Floyd.
  • Microaggressions: Can be intentional or unintentional and sometimes even well-meaning. But they communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial messages or assumptions to the receiver because they belong to a stigmatized group. Such as a White person telling a Black colleague that they are 'colorblind' to racial differences. 
  • Others not taking experiences of racism seriously: This may happen when people question if someone’s experience was real or simply saying that racism no longer exists when the person you are telling this to experiences it regularly. 
  • Direct exposure to racist abuse or discrimination: This may be hearing racist stereotypes at work or being the recipient of a racial slur.
  • Fears about personal safety and safety of one's family: Based on media and/or personal experiences, being afraid that the law that is meant to protect you will instead harm you.
  • Exposure to racial or ethnic stereotypes: An example of this is when academics or textbooks assert that some racial groups are better or worse at certain tasks.
  • Racist abuse of loved ones: This can include attacks on partners, parents, or children. A common one I see today is the unfair and often disrespectful treatment of BIPOC children by other students as well as teachers. 


Part III: Current Context as It Relates to Health

Racial Trauma and Health 

Research has shown that BIPOC's experience with racism, trauma, and microaggressions affect mental and physical health and is linked to feelings of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations and physical health issues.

There have been studies to determine appropriate healing measures for race-based stress (counseling, group therapy, etc.). But even these are difficult because even if you find those coping spaces, there is still continuous exposure to toxic environments, resulting in trauma continuously manifesting in the body as a result of the continued exposure. 

If you are constantly in a state of stress, you will begin to see increased vigilance and suspicion, increased sensitivity to threat, psychological and physiological symptoms, increased use of coping mechanisms such as alcohol and drugs, increased aggression, and no sense of future. 

The body was never intended to be in a stress state forever.

Intergenerational Trauma

Research has also uncovered an association of parental trauma with epigenetic alterations in both the exposed parent and the offspring. It was concluded that this finding offered an insight into how severe psychological and physiological trauma can have intergenerational effects. 


Part IV: How to Become an Ally?

What Is an Ally?

Ally: A person, group, or nation that is associated with another or others for some common cause or purpose. 

We are always learning how to be an ally to someone. We are working to help make things better for them and see what they need. It may not be a fight that will help us, but it is a fight that will help them. 

Stages of Allyship

Below are the four stages of allyship. Although there is no all-the-way-through-and-then-you're-done, you will likely bounce between these stages as you start to learn. At the same time, it is also important to go through all the stages in order to be an effective ally.

When the work has not been done we end up with performative allyship, white saviourism and other forms of implicit bias. 

  1. Awakening/awareness
  2. Education
  3. Self-interrogation/assessment
  4. Action 

1. Awareness

  • Acknowledge that racism and disparities exist.
  • You acknowledge your white privilege (or your privilege depending on where you are located).
  • Action steps in this stage:
    • Commit to being aware in all spaces.
    • Determine need for accountability.
    • Commit to the process of learning and unlearning.

2. Education

  • Be intentional in this stage (consider the voices that you are listening to. Make sure not just to listen to voices that agree with you and make you feel comfortable; all voices are important, even the angry ones).
  • Build your foundation.
  • Become a student all over again and commit to truly understanding history and how it has brought us to the present.
  • Look at racial trauma research.
  • Create a curriculum to pace yourself: Webinars/workshops, books, YouTube videos, TED talks, documentaries, research, etc. 

3. Self-Interrogation & Examining your Setting

Questions to ask yourself personally:

  • What does it mean to be white in America (or wherever you are)?
  • What were you taught about BIPOC growing up?
  • Can you recall a time you were able to identify racism but did not speak up?
  • What does your circle of friends look like?
  • Prior to the latest events, what were your thoughts towards BLM and protesting against police brutality?
  • Can you identify implicit bias or racism in those around you?
  • Are you able to confront racism/implicit bias?
  • Are you holding those around you accountable?

Questions to ask yourself professionally as a clinician/movement professional?

  • How are you leveraging white privilege in the professional space?
  • If you are a business owner, are you willing to refuse business from those who demonstrate racist beliefs or are not in alignment with your business values (may not be possible in every setting)?
  • Does your belief towards certain races and/or economic statuses change how you approach your patients/clients?

Examining your setting: healthcare professions

  • Diversity of the profession
  • Diversity of management, admin, staff
  • Patient population demographics
  • Hiring and demographics of turnover rates
  • The demographic of the community you are serving
  • How are you showing up for your community?
  • Cultural competency training measures
  • Diversity of your governing associations, speakers for conferences, masterminds, social media

4. Action

There is so much that can be done, try not to let that overwhelm you. Do as little or as much as you are currently prepared to do. Some action is better than no action at all. 

Immediate action:

  • Protesting
  • Signing petitions/sending emails
  • Posting information about protests and any way to help bring justice
  • Speaking up against racist remarks 
  • Research who you are voting for on all levels

Long-term action: 

  • Continue your education curriculum
  • Have the hard discussions with yourself/family/friends/boss/coworkers
  • Hire a therapist (to help you deal with some thought viruses and biases you may be having a difficult time working through)
  • Find your tribe of those doing antiracism work
  • Seek to be a part of and connect with those in the BIPOC community

Long term action in your setting:
Once you've examined and identified implicit bias, commit to doing real work to change in your setting.

Such as:

  • Changes in processes, policy, procedures
  • Hire Diversity Equity Inclusion (DEI) consultants or coaches for business procedures and policies
  • Have discussions with management and administrations
  • Address your governing bodies



There are so many resources floating out there that sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start. Dr. Hutton created a collection of resources specific to healthcare. We've included these resources for you in the video below to help you with your allyship process. 


For additional resources, take a look at our blog, Resources for Anti-Racism in Healthcare.


Click Here for the Full Course 


Messing Up Is Okay!

When you're trying to become an anti-racist you're going to mess up, but if you're convicted that this is something that you believe in then you will be able to get those reps in, get back up and keep moving. 

Remember that as you go through these processes you may feel very strong emotions such as anger. Such feelings may compel you to call out everyone in the comments section of social media, however, calling people out is often not needed. Many times, you can pull someone aside and have a conversation with them. Remember to consider what you are trying to achieve with your words. 

Embodia Is Here to Support You

We may no longer be hearing about BLM in the media every day, but it is vital that we keep the momentum that has been created by the movement going. Self-awareness is not enough. What is needed is a commitment to working for sustained improvement and not walking away after the media spotlight has moved on.

The Embodia team is dedicated to advocacy and addressing the lack of diversity in medicine and leadership, and most definitely the harms done by systemic racism. We understand systemic racism directly affects the social determinants of health, widens economic disparities, and negates the pillars for a fair judicial system.

This is a responsibility we all carry. In this mission of demanding anti-racism and transformative change, members of our Embodia community - you are not alone. We are united in solidarity with you and with Black Lives Matter. We stand against systemic racism and acknowledge the brutal harms and acts of hatred that are committed daily in Canada as well as historically. Standing together, we will forge connections with others and will not be silenced. 

To those who "will decide to sacrifice the privilege of walking away and choose to bind themselves to those who don’t have the choice, welcome to the fight. We’re glad you’re sticking around."

--J. Dadjo


Take care and keep well. 
In solidarity, 

Your Embodia Team

Dr. Jennifer Hutton

Dr. Jennifer Hutton, aka Dr. Jpop, is a pediatric physical therapist from Nashville, TN. She became interested in PT when her youngest cousin was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Jennifer spent time observing him in different therapies, and subsequently determined that she would work with children in a similar capacity.

She graduated from Loma Linda University with her Doctorate in Physical Therapy in 2008, and moved back to her hometown. She spent two years treating in an ortho setting before finally transitioning to her dream job with children. Jennifer enjoys treating the developmentally delayed population, as well as children with neurological and orthopedic diagnoses, both congenital and acquired. While the world reminds children with special needs of their limitations, she believes they are all capable of the impossible and helps them see that their special gifts will help them be their best selves. Jennifer loves to showcase her “pop stars” and share creative treatment ideas on Instagram. She is also an instructor for RockTape and is currently working on her own educational content for pediatric movement specialists.

As a Black woman, Jennifer knows what it is like to identify as different, and it has helped in her quest to be an ally for children with disabilities inside and outside of the clinic. Now she is educating others on how to be effective allies to BIPOC and furthering her desire to create a diverse and inclusive space she calls Dr. Jpop’s Neighborhood.

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