Speech Pathology and Audiology are in desperate need of Blues, Jazz, and Hip Hop. Ninety-two percent of speech-language pathologists and audiologists self-identify as white, according to the 2019 Member and Affiliate Profile. Our specialty is lucky enough to hold the reigns in areas of communication and feeding.
Louder for the folks in the back: WE GET TO DO COMMUNICATION AND FEEDING!
These are arguably two of the most interesting parts of being human. What do humans love?
Conversations, Comedy and Laughter
Music and Singing
Food and Drink
If you have a problem with hearing, thinking, speaking, or swallowing, then at least one of these can suffer. It might be argued that these behaviors make us human. Yet, our field’s biggest grievance that “No one knows what we do” persists. Why?
As a profession, we have not adequately attended to the messy, indescribable beauty of functional communication and feeding, so we don’t easily draw folks outside of our profession into our occupation. We often overlook and outright ignore the manifold ways that communication and feeding are steeped in culture, folklore, ethnology, and humanism. Instead, we have taken a reductionist approach, by prioritizing pain-staking analyses of the tiniest aspects of these big beautiful behaviors, rarely pausing to take stock of the whole human, the whole culture, the whole of humanity (see more about this by Pillay & Kathard). In essence, much of our research amounts to dozens of salaried professionals staring intently at just one sequin on the biggest most dazzling and bodacious gown the world has ever seen. If our profession controlled the runway, might everyone be wearing beige and off-white? There is a reason that the fashion forward are called ‘fierce’, not ‘familiar’ and certainly not ‘feeble’.
Enter 8%. Bring your moxie.
Moxie means courageous spirit and vigor. It also refers to skill and know-how. Historically, marginalized groups around the world that have been stripped of their humanity manifest a cultural oneness around communication, often creating new paradigms of artistic expression. Several of these examples exist in the United States alone:
Slave driver took your language away? Tell runaway slaves where to meet up after dark via old negro spirituals.
Sharecropper and Jim Crow crushing your potential? Express the harsh realities of your existence by creating Blues and Jazz.
Can’t afford to purchase instruments? Create Hip Hop and rap to share the truths of black neighborhoods while making vocal percussion (beat boxing) with your oral cavity, larynx and pharynx.
Your profession does not amplify your voice? Dear Great Eight: Do not hibernate. Use your unique traits to activate, advocate, cultivate, and elevate.
Can people who are not part of a cultural community solve ‘problems’ for the people within that community? This is not up for debate. Let us be clear about the source of the real problem. After years of directing funds and resources to issues around multicultural affairs, the needs of the 8% still require approval through a predominantly white filter known as the governing body of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). In other words, white people who proclaim dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in our profession also have the power to determine whether to support and fast-track the interests of the 8%, yet have few DEI wins. Why? Many are unwilling to entertain the possibility they, themselves, are the primary barriers to the DEI goals that they laud publicly. The members of this white filter have not demonstrated that they can stomach the open and raw, but illuminating conversations that others without association power are willing to have. This blind spot is obvious and is being fleshed out in public forms. What is this blind spot exactly? The lived experiences of the 8% can never be fully known, savored, and appreciated by the 92%.
Take this as an example: Women who have recently given birth often say “No one tells you about (insert common birthing ordeal) before you have a baby”. Well, prior to their first birthing adventure, I’m willing to bet that these women did hear accounts from other mothers, but their stories did not land on a mind that was porous because they had no context for comprehension. It’s well known that most women who have given birth love to talk about their experiences, even within hearing ranges of others who cannot stomach stories about watching your baby’s head crown with a birth mirror for labor progress feedback. Those of us who have given birth feel that we can speak most openly about the intense physical and emotional processes of pregnancy and birthing among others who have transitioned through the same portal. How much real progress can be made if policies and permissions regarding pregnant women and their babies need to pass through the very narrow lens of men? Lullabies, another musical genre derived from a unique need, are often found in mother-child interactions to communicate a very specific type of message from mom to baby to instill peace in troubled times (PLEASE go to sleep!). I sang to infants who I babysat completely differently than I sang to the two that I birthed.
Most faculty members and clinicians are not deeply affected by the experiences of other communities (i.e. Black, Brown, trans/nonbinary, neurodivergent, with a visible or invisible disability, food insecurity/coming from a low SES background, having an accent/being a sequential bilingual etc.). Thus, they are scarcely aware that the trajectory of our field is weighted heavily by the full participation of the 8%. We possess the x-factor because we survived the process of becoming professionals among the 92%, forcing us to tap deeply into both self-awareness and discernment about what white people want (which remains largely unexplored by many white people). Will our discipline’s creativity curve flatten because the majority does not own the world view needed to inspire a new musical genre? Do they know that deviation and disruption are required to shift current paradigms that govern our approaches to communication and feeding? Great leaders like Orlando Taylor fought this fight by writing scholarly articles to press our profession to advance with intention on issues of multiculturalism in the wake of the 1968 riots. Around this time, a similar argument was raised: Should our professional association become active in political issues? The ASHA leader spotlighted the 1968 ASHA Convention in Denver that hosted an intense and pivotal debate between Dr. Taylor (who believed ASHA had a responsibility to become politically active) and a member (John Michel) who was opposed to the idea. Dr. Taylor recalls:
“A segment of the membership was very supportive, but a much larger group was threatened by these issues,” he said. “ASHA had been a very tranquil organization historically, with no discussion of social responsibility.”
Here we are in the midst of yet another awakening and many members feel exposed and vulnerable.
Dear 92%: Do not shove your head into the sand. For when it emerges, you might loathe having sided so clandestinely with the white side of history.
Dear 8%: Necessity is the mother of invention. Adversity spawns creativity. Should we continue to agonize over the 92%’s failure to champion our immense potential? The discipline is almost 100 years old and the answer is clear: