A Box of Chocolates

By MusicWorx Intern Meera Sinha

In November 2018, I have the incredible opportunity of presenting on a topic that is very near and dear to my heart: the importance of diversity and inclusion in the music therapy field. Music therapy is such a unique field because music spans across cultures and reaches almost every person in the world. Unfortunately in the United States, the demographics of our profession do not reflect the brilliant medium that we use. By the time you’re done reading this, it is my hope that you will gain a better understanding of the identities, privileges, and biases you hold, as well as how understanding and practicing diversity and inclusion can make you an effective music therapist.

I like to reference this graphic to help me think about the various identities that I hold.

Let’s start with identity. I define identity as the combination of who you are, how you see yourself, and how others see you. The identities you hold are related to your race, religion, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, class, ability, education, age, national origin, etc.

Some identities tend to hold more privilege than others, which means holding certain identities gives folks special rights or advantages that others don’t have. In order to understand if an identity is dominant or holds privilege, we must take a look at the present society. In the United States, dominant identities are being: white, straight, cisgender, male, English-speaking, Christian, high-income, able-bodied, and educated. The identities that don’t fall under the “dominant” category are called oppressed identities.

To understand more about the privilege you may hold, take this quiz.

Another term often associated with identity is the idea of intersectionality. This is how our various identities overlap and connect as related to the ideas and beliefs present in our society. For example, a person may be Latinx, cisgender, female, queer, upper class, able-bodied, and English-speaking. This person holds privilege in their gender identity/expression, class, ability, and language. They may be oppressed based on their race, gender, and sexual orientation.

Vocabulary Recap!

  • Identity: the combination of who you are, how you see yourself, and how others see you. The identities you hold can be related to your race, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, religion, class, ability, education, age, national origin, etc.
  • Privilege: special rights or advantages made available only to a certain group of people
  • Dominant identities: identities that have privilege (white, straight, cisgender, male, etc.)
  • Oppressed identities: identities that are prevented from having the same opportunities, freedoms, and benefits as others.


Things to Consider

  • What identities do you hold?
  • How is this the same or different from the folks you are surrounded with?
  • Considering the music therapy field, the majority of music therapists are white, educated, female, upper-middle class, straight, cisgender, English-speaking, and able-bodied. How does this relate or differ from your identities?


Why does all of this matter?

In order to be effective music therapists, we must understand our own identities and privileges and how they impact our daily lives. Our identities impact the way we walk in the world, the way we interact with others, and the way others view us. The implications of this idea are important to consider in a music therapy context. The majority of music therapists hold dominant identities. What if our clients don’t fit the same identities? Are we still creating a space safe enough for them to fully express themselves?

Oftentimes folks of marginalized or oppressed identities experience microaggressions. These are the well-intentioned comments or actions that are often quite hurtful. Usually the offender does not understand how their words and actions are impacting others. Some examples of microaggressions are:

  • Speaking to a female who has children: “Don’t you miss your kids when you’re at work?”
  • A white person clutches their purse or wallet tighter as a person of color walks by.
  • Speaking to a person of South-Asian descent: “I have all of Ravi Shankar’s albums on vinyl!”
  • Assuming a person’s gender identity/expression.

Many folks who receive microaggressions are frequently told they are overreacting or oversensitive. The very nature of microaggressions is that they are not intentional. However, that does not mean they are not hurtful. Microaggressions are small comments and actions, but their impact adds up.

Here’s a great illustration of why microaggressions hurt.

In a day, I experience more microaggressions than I could possibly count.

  • Meeting a new person and being asked, “Where are you from?” When I answer honestly saying that I’m from Pennsylvania, they ask, “No, where are you really from?” What they’re really asking is, “Why is your skin brown?”
  • Everyday when I walk into the hospital with a guitar on my back for my music therapy internship, I inevitably get a few comments from men passing me by saying, “Wow! That must be heavy! Can you handle it?” I’m strong. I can handle it.
  • When having conversations in groups where I’m the only person of color, I notice that people check their phones more while I’m talking as opposed to when other group members are talking. This makes me feel like my words are not as valuable as my white peers’.
  • I’m from a small town that is full of folks who have dominant identities. When I walk into a restaurant in my hometown with my immigrant family, including my mom who uses a walker, everyone’s eyes are on us from the second we step into the door as if they’re wondering, “where did these people come from?”

Everytime I notice a microaggression, I am reminded that the identities I hold make me less than those who have dominant identities. Being reminded multiple times a day that my identities are less valuable than others heavily impacts my sense of self.


Things to Consider

  • When you’re watching a TV show or movie, listening to a podcast, sitting in a lecture, etc. are there identities that you pay more attention to? Are there characters or people you don’t appreciate as much but don’t have a particular reason why? Are there certain identities that are common amongst those you pay more attention to and those you don’t pay as much attention to?
  • As you’re walking through the world, notice who you look at and listen to more. Are there certain identities you’re more likely to pay attention to?
  • Notice how folks act around you. Are there subtle comments or actions that feel hurtful though they are well-intentioned?
  • Are you saying or doing things that seem well-intentioned on your end, but are taken the wrong way?

Though the ideas touched upon in this post are extremely important, they are merely surface level topics in a much larger conversation. I encourage you take time for self-reflection in order to understand your identity, privileges, and biases. In order to create a safe space for everyone around us, we must understand where we are coming from. This seems to be a tumultuous time for our society. One small thing we can do to make it safer for our clients is by creating these safe, diverse, and inclusive spaces to allow for full expression. It is my hope that you begin your journey of self-reflection as it relates to diversity and inclusion if you have not done so already.

If you are attending the 2018 American Music Therapy Association conference in Dallas, TX, I hope you will take time to attend A Box of Chocolates: The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in the Music Therapy Field or any of the other presentations related to this topic.

Sign up for the 2018 Conference


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