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Equality vs. Equity and Justice

There have been some ongoing discussions within the field of music therapy on how to address the needs of our therapists from marginalized communities. This has led to some controversy on who we choose to lead our professional organization and how we conduct our conferences. Our clinical journal, Music Therapy Perspectives, chose to focus on social justice in the fall 2020 issue. There is still much I need to read and digest but will talk a little about the article “A Problematic Conflation of Justice and Equality: The Case for Equity in Music Therapy” by Hakeem Leonard, PhD, MT-BC.

One of the first concepts Dr Leonard introduces is that of “centering”, basically meaning that history and social issues are seen through the eyes of the dominant culture. He then uses two examples from history to examine the differences between integration and justice. The first was “Black Wall Street”, a thriving community in Tulsa, OK until it was destroyed by white supremacists. The success of this community was not restored with integration and despite the loss of lives and businesses is a little known incident in American history. The second example was the political disenfranchising and social oppression of Black people after the Compromise of 1877.

Dr Leonard then addresses some of the issues within our own profession. There is some contradictory or incomplete language between the Code of Ethics and the Non-Discrimination and Equal Opportunity Policy. He then points to a statement from the American Public Health Association that more completely addresses the issues of social justice.

Discriminatory laws and systems have necessitated a balancing act for Black entertainers and public personalities. One example of this was Black performers as part of minstrel shows. Being in a minstrel show allowed for public expression but also contributed to furthering harmful stereotypes. Much of this continues in entertainment today.

Dr Leonard points to the need for more research on the needs and self-expression of Black clients in music therapy. He also explores a cultural shift in the therapist/client relationship allowing for more self-advocacy and exploration of the client’s world view. There are also implications for music therapy education and training.

These are really important issues and I’m glad to see them addressed in our professional literature. It also clarified why there were so many concerns about our 2019 conference and how it was handled.


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