Show Notes:

16: Benny Vaughn, an iconic figure in massage therapy, talks with Whitney Lowe and Til Luchau about his experiences as a African American massage therapist, and offers both practical advice and deep inspiration on how manual therapists can address racism and bias in their own lives.

In the Thinking Practitioner series, join two of the leading educators in manual therapy, bodywork, and massage therapy, as they delve into the most intriguing issues, questions, research, and client conditions that hands-on practitioners face. Stimulate your thinking with imaginative conversations, tips, and interviews related to the somatic arts and sciences, with Whitney Lowe and Til Luchau

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Til Luchau Advanced-Trainings        whitney lowe
Til Luchau                          Whitney Lowe

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Your Hosts:

Til Luchau Advanced-Trainings
Til Luchau

whitney lowe
Whitney Lowe

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(The Thinking Practitioner Podcast is intended for professional practitioners of manual and movement therapies: bodywork, massage therapy, structural integration, chiropractic, myofascial and myotherapy, orthopedic, sports massage, physical therapy, osteopathy, yoga, strength and conditioning, and similar professions. It is not medical or treatment advice.)

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The Thinking Practitioner Podcast:
Episode 16: Benny Vaughn: Black Lives Matter.

Broadcast date: 6/11/2020
©Copyright The Thinking Practitioner Podcast, Til Luchau & Whitney Lowe

Whitney Lowe:

Welcome to The Thinking Practitioner Podcast.

Til Luchau:

A podcast where we dig into the fascinating issues, conditions, and quandaries in the massage and manual therapy world today.

Whitney Lowe:

I'm Whitney Lowe.

Til Luchau:

And I'm Til Luchau. Welcome to The Thinking Practitioner.

Whitney Lowe:

Welcome to The Thinking Practitioner.

Til Luchau:

Hi, this is Til Luchau and this episode is sponsored by ABMP, Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. ABMP membership includes 50 plus member discounts on everything from massage tables and supplies to cellphone service. And all members can access 200 plus continuing education courses with free CE hours. You can read ABMP's award-winning member magazine, Massage and Bodywork at www.massageandbodyworkdigital.com where Whitney and I are both frequent contributors and where our special guest today, Benny Vaughn has been featured many times over the years. Thinking Practitioner listeners who join ABMP as new members can save $24 at www.abmp.com/thinking. ABMP, expect more. Hey, Whitney and welcome, Benny. How are you both doing today?

Whitney Lowe:

Doing great here on this, Til. Thanks for asking. It's great to get together with you again and we are very pleased to have a wonderful guest with us today. Benny Vaughn is joining us from Texas today for our discussion. So Benny, great to have you here on The Thinking Practitioner joining us.

Benny Vaughn:

Great. Thank you, Til and thank you, Whitney. This is a great pleasure. I am happy for the privilege to contribute today.

Whitney Lowe:

Very good, excellent. So for our listeners, for the one person may be listening who's never heard of you before, for those listeners who aren't as familiar with your background experience, I want you if you will just give us a little bit of the whole background. You've been in the massage field for over 40 years, ground breaking and doing all kinds of things during that time. So if you can give us a bit of a synopsis of your timeline through massaging in the field here.

Benny Vaughn:

Great, Whitney. Thank you. So this is my 45th year doing massage. And 45 years of doing massage, I'm still curious, I'm still interested and I am excited and thrilled each and every day when I go to my office to work with people. So 45 years now, I've been doing massage since 1975. I also am a board certified and licensed athletic trainer, which came after my massage therapy career began. And that happened after my first 10 years in massage therapy. I decided to go back to school and get my certification as an athletic trainer.

Benny Vaughn:

For those who may not know what an athletic trainer does, we are charged with the treatment, prevention and care of athletic injuries. And we often work closely with orthopedist as well as other sports medicine professionals.

Benny Vaughn:

I did that because one of the key vehicles in athletic training is manual therapy, and I just felt that a massage therapist would be perfect for that. My academic training is in health science education, University of Florida. Go Gators. I had to say it, right?

Whitney Lowe:

Right. Now, you remember I'm an FSU. I went to FSU-

Benny Vaughn:

I know. And that's why I said, go Gators.

Whitney Lowe:

That's right. Yeah. Now, it was only for one quarter of my freshman year, so I don't really kind of count that very much. But I did graduate from University of Georgia so go Dogs.

Benny Vaughn:

Yeah. Okay. There you go. I did go to high school in Georgia.

Whitney Lowe:

Right.

Benny Vaughn:

So most of my massage therapy career has been in sports and a big part of that is in 1969, I was a scholarship athlete at the University of Florida. I ran track there. And what's significant about that is at 1969, there were only five African American athletes at the entire University of Florida. Let me repeat that, only five. There were 112 black students on campus out of 28,000, and I was the third athlete recruited for track and field or African-American, and the fifth African American athlete overall recruited and signed by the University of Florida.

Benny Vaughn:

And it was there in athletics that I became interested in massage therapy because I had read and seen that many of my European counterparts who ran track at the time received regular massage and we weren't seeing that here in the United States. So that's where my interest began because I thought this would be great if I could learn to do this and then introduce it into the sports arena here in America. And that's what I've been doing the past 45 years. I've been part of four US Olympic teams, track and field where I have been the senior massage therapist promoting massage and ensuring that athletes with the US Olympic team receive massage.

Benny Vaughn:

And next month would have been my fifth Olympics in Tokyo. I would have been on the USOC sports medicine staff as the lead massage therapist. But as everyone knows, we were in a pandemic now and so I will do my fifth Olympic games as a senior massage therapist in Tokyo next year around the same time. So that's my history in a nutshell and I have done a lot to ensure that the professional self-esteem of massage, manual therapy bodywork is recognized as an equal partner in sports medicine care.

Benny Vaughn:

And from where I began in 1975 and how massage therapy was treated to 2020, we've made tremendous strides, great strides. And I'll end by saying, the '96 Olympics in Atlanta, the Centennial Olympic Games, the 100th anniversary of the Olympics, I was one of the staff members of the Atlanta committee for the Olympic Games and I was in the medical department and my title was program manager for athlete medical services.

Benny Vaughn:

So it was there in that position that I leveraged my position and authority to include massage therapy as an equal member of credentialing in the medical department. And that's the first Olympic Games certainly in America where massage therapists received the same medical credential, that athletic trainers, physical therapists, medical doctors and chiropractors receive because we were an equal partner. And I did all of that sitting at my desk in the Inform building, Whitney in downtown Atlanta.

Whitney Lowe:

Yep.

Benny Vaughn:

And with the press of the enter on my keyboard, that message went all the way to Lausanne, Switzerland to the IOC, and the next thing you know massage therapists are credentialed equally for the Centennial Olympic Games as they should be.

Whitney Lowe:

I mean, that's worthy of just taking a pause right there just to really take all of that in and let that sink in how hugely informative that was and impactful that was in setting a lot of things forward. And that's in my mind really just one of many of the things that you've done to break ground and to really be such a leader throughout our profession for all these years.

Whitney Lowe:

This particular issue we wanted to kind of call attention to a lot of current events that are happening especially with the Black Lives Matter movement and reflect on some of this in relation to what's going on in our profession. The things that you talked about here in terms of having accomplished really would be quite remarkable, I mean truly unbelievable for anybody's career having done that. It makes it even more remarkable I think because of a number of challenges that you've had to face that many of us would not have had to face along the way.

Whitney Lowe:

And I was going to see, can you tell me a little bit about some of the early experiences especially... This is always humorous to me when I hear people talking about having a really hard time building their practice. I mean, it's like, "Oh, this is so hard." Why don't you try being an African-American man in the South, in the '70s, in the massage profession and see how difficult that feels for you? So tell us a little bit about how those... What kind of experiences that you have encountered along the way there?

Benny Vaughn:

That was well put, Whitney. I have been on stage at massage conferences and I've actually said those words when I hear massage therapists say, "Oh my. This is so hard to make a living doing massage. There's too many massage therapists in my town. I've got to do massages for $3 now because there's so many of them and I can't do it." And I have stood on stage and I will say this again now on air, you are white and you are in America. You should have no problem at all building a practice, period.

Benny Vaughn:

And then I explained that in 1975, I began my massage career as a 24-year-old African-American male, doing massage in the deep south. And if you want to know about challenges, I mean, I got it from both sides. I got it from the African-American community like a guy touching people, massaging them. I'm not going to do that. So I got the whole homophobic fear and like, "Wow, why would you want to do that like touch somebody? Are you massaging men too?" "Yeah, of course I am."

Benny Vaughn:

I'll come back to that in a moment. The reality is that I began my career only massaging men, and I'll tell you why in just a moment. So some of the challenges that I had, and still even face today periodically, but my stature professionally of getting incredible results especially in the sports genre will usually override it. And what I mean by that, I cannot tell you how many times I've had parents show up, white parents show up with their white high school athlete to get care because they heard that Benny Vaughn was one of the best in town to see.

Benny Vaughn:

I've spoken to them on the phone. We've arranged the appointment and the look that I often get when I walk out into the lobby and the parents realize, "Oh my goodness, this famous massage therapist in sports is a black man." And the look is just sort of one of amazement, shock. Some try to recover, some don't. And I've seen that so many times because the idea in some people's minds is that, "Surely someone this successful in this profession has got to be white. A black man couldn't surely do this."

Benny Vaughn:

But in the end, they realize that I'm really good at what I do and I hold myself to a high standard and they get over it. But I have to tell you, I really should wear like a body cam because it would make a great sequence of videos, the expressions of some white parents' faces when they see me. And in the end, it's a teachable moment for me, it's an educational moment for them and I believe that through that interaction, they have a moment to grow and be educated and recognize their own biases and prejudices that are centered around color.

Whitney Lowe:

So do you see those attitudes and perceptions change over the course of numerous treatments or is it pretty quickly or how does that often shift and change for them?

Benny Vaughn:

Well, it shifts and changes pretty quick because I get results. I'm result oriented and they get results. And the thing that I think stands out for all of my white clients of which is like 99.8% of my clientele is that the results speak for themselves, and what they realize is that I treat everyone exactly the same. So I can have a pro athlete in my office who's making more money than I will ever see in my lifetime or I can see a 70 year-old who's on a fixed income and they both will get the exact same treatment of respect, dignity, professionalism because in my mind, a hamstring is a hamstring is a hamstring, and it doesn't matter which body it's on. It's a hamstring. And it does the same thing.

Benny Vaughn:

And so I by example just treat people equally and fairly to demonstrate to them that it can be done without using the color of one's skin or one's social position to dictate how you should be treated. I treat rich people the same as I treat poor people respect, dignity, and courtesy.

Whitney Lowe:

You've been involved with a lot of very high level healthcare professionals through your work with the Olympics and all these other venues, the University of Florida, the work that you did down there, all of it. Tremendously, again, very groundbreaking. Did you have similar types of challenges that because of your appearance in terms of breaking into some of those kinds of environments from the healthcare community?

Benny Vaughn:

Well, I'll tell, Whitney, most of the challenges that I had were not so much color based because by the time I returned to the University of Florida, the large percentage of athletes at the University of Florida now were African-American. And so that wasn't as much of a challenge. The challenge was more gender related. So it was more like, "Okay. Do we want female athletes to have a black male working with him?"

Benny Vaughn:

And that was a palpable piece there during my whole career. And I mentioned earlier I would come back to that. So the first three years of my massage career in Gainesville, Florida, I only provided massage therapy for male clients. I would not see any white female clients. Just wouldn't do it. Because the DNA of that relationship in the deep south is one of tragedy, trauma, lynchings, and riots over interaction between an African-American man and a white American woman.

Benny Vaughn:

I mean, we have incredibly brutal history of that. So growing up in Columbus Georgia that was in my DNA. I mean, I was taught as a young man to not even look at a white woman, not even look at a white girl, let alone speak to them. I mean, that comes all the way back from slavery, plantation days, the whole thing. So the first three years of my massage career, I would not massage women, and specifically I would not massage white women.

Benny Vaughn:

And so my practice was limited to males only. I only saw males. What happened is I kept getting requests from white women who want to become clients. Could you see me? Blah, blah, blah. Nope, I only see guys and there's a female therapist around the corner. She'd be happy to see you. But finally, the request became overwhelming because clients male and female were hearing that, "Wow, this massage therapist really makes a difference with whatever ails you."

Benny Vaughn:

So I came up with an interesting system and this is from my life in the deep south. So I would see a white female client only if they were referred by a white male. So there is my protection shield right there. So the husband, the boyfriend, the employer, so that was my protective shield against any accusations, any rumors or anything that would come up. I would only see white female clients who have been referred by white male clients. That was what I had to do to manage the prejudice, the discrimination and the racism because of the color of my skin.

Benny Vaughn:

And so frankly, I thought I was pretty brilliant coming up with that because my practice just like exploded. It just blew up. And now of course I don't even have to think about that now. I mean, my clientele is about 50/50. 50% female, 50% male. I have a pretty balanced clientele. And my age range is from middle schoolers who were brought in by their parents and of course the parents were there during the session, all the way up to, I think, my oldest client, 92.

Whitney Lowe:

Wow.

Benny Vaughn:

Yeah. So I mean they're active adults. And so I don't have to be as concerned about that anymore because my professionalism and my reputation has overridden the racist part of it because you can't dispute that. You can't come up with something crazy to make that go away. And so you can't come up with some story or anything because the results are demonstrating. "Man, this guy is a professional. He gets things done."

Benny Vaughn:

But that was how I began. I only saw men and then just the overwhelming request, I came up with that unique very southern based technique to protect myself. Because for people who may not know some of the racist history in America, just Google Emmett Till. Let's just start there. Google Emmett Till. Here's a young black man who was lynched, murdered, traumatized, brutally beaten with law enforcement, white law enforcement just standing on the sidelines. In fact, they gave him up from the jail to the white lynch mob.

Benny Vaughn:

For those who may not know this history, do you know why that young man was brutally beaten, killed, murdered and lynched is because he allegedly whistled at a white girl. That's like crazy to me. However, I've had the same experiences. And so in the deep south, all a white woman had to do was just say that colored man looked at me and that man could be killed. And that's like so crazy to just think that happened in America. Just go to the new museum in Birmingham, Alabama that highlights the tragedy of lynchings in America.

Benny Vaughn:

It's a sad tribute, but it has to be said and that museum opened last year, just the history of the thousands of lynchings of black men in the south, and many of those lynchings occurred because of some alleged interaction looking or speaking to a white woman. And if you touched a white woman, well, you were just dead. So this was in my DNA growing up in the deep south. This was in my DNA. So I go into the massage therapy profession and that part of my DNA being is going like, "Wow, I got to come up with a way to deal with my own concern of racism in my profession of massage therapy." But I have overcome it and I have overcome it by treating everyone with courtesy, respect, and dignity and treating everyone exactly the same, the way I want to be treated.

Benny Vaughn:

And I found that that created many educational moments for me with white clients. And so I hope that I have done my part in my profession of massage therapy, helping to reduce racist outlooks by giving people an opportunity to interact with a man of color and see like, "Wow, this is human being just like me." And so that's been my mission and I've done a lot of educating, let me tell you. I've had a lot of people come back and tell me like, "Wow, I appreciate learning this."

Til Luchau:

Well, I'm on the edge of my seat listening to you, Benny. I'm moved and there's so many thoughts and feelings going through my mind. Your stories of being a pioneer in so many ways, the barriers you had to face. The confidence, it sounds like you have or you found in your ability to get results and have that be the linchpin of your interaction and the integrity with which you would bring that forth.

Benny Vaughn:

Yes. Thank you, Til. Absolutely. So let me give you another little thread here. So my whole life, from the time of a young boy, I have often been the first African-American or the only African-American participating in something. I had an experience last year at the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. And in the Ford Museum, they have the original bus that Rosa Parks was on the day that she decided to not give up her seat to a white man and move to the back of the bus. And the rest is history. So I sat on that bus at the Ford Museum last year and it was during that time I sat on the bus and I listened to the narration of a Rosa Parks story which I knew. But at that moment sitting on that bus, because it was the exact same type of bus that I rode on in the '50s and '60s in Columbus, Georgia with my mother.

Benny Vaughn:

So these memories came back of you get on the bus, you go to the back of the bus. And so here I am, a 68 year old man and I'm sitting on this bus, and I am suddenly reliving all of these moments of growing up in Columbus, Georgia. And I remember specifically, Til and Whitney asking my mother one day, "Why do we have to go to the back of the bus?" I was probably seven years old. Because something inherently did not feel right about this.

Benny Vaughn:

But I didn't have the cognitive wherewithal yet, and I asked my mother, "Why are we going to the back of the bus? There's some seats right here." And I remember my mother jerking my arm so hard, I thought she was going to dislocate my shoulder." And she shushed me and said, "Don't say anything." That has always stuck in my mind.

Benny Vaughn:

So a turning point for me, so my father was in the army. He was a mess sergeant. So he cooked for troops. And he taught me a lot about how to survive encounters with white police officers, how to make sure that you survive so that you can move forward. So in 1959, he requested his family to come to his station during a 3-year stint in Germany, Crailsheim, Germany. And in a 24-hour period, I was moved from a segregated society in the States and dropped into an integrated society in a 24-hour period. This was culture shock. I was 9 years old. This was culture shock to me coming from the deep south. But this was the turning point for my life from that point forward to where I am today.

Benny Vaughn:

I can remember my mother sitting us down at the kitchen table once we got to the army base and explaining to us what had happened. And she said to us, she says, "Okay, kids." At that time, I had two brothers and one sister, and she said, "Okay, here's what's going to happen, kids." Says, "You're going to start school next week, and you're going to go to school with white kids." You're going to have white teachers and we're going to live in an apartment building with white neighbors.

Benny Vaughn:

At this point in time, my eyes must have been as big as saucers because she followed up and she said, "And it's okay." She says, "Where we are right now, this is okay." Because I thought, "Oh, surely, we're dead now. Klu Klux Klan will be here in a minute." And that was the turning point because during that time, I realize that people of all colors could live together in harmony, cooperate, and no one thought any different of you because of the color of your skin. That was a turning point in my life.

Benny Vaughn:

So when I came back to the states, after three years drinking out of the colored water fountain and riding at the back for the bus was no longer an option for me. So I got labeled radical. He's one of those black radicals, because I was interested in human rights, I was radical. Yes, I was radical. It's a radical departure from segregation and racism. Yes, I was radical. And so I started reading and following the Black Panther Party, Huey Newton. I started reading Malcolm X. I started paying attention to the civil rights marches.

Benny Vaughn:

It was a radical departure from segregation and racism and lynching. Yes, it was radical. And so that began to shape the way I would go about my life dealing with racism, which was education. Letting people know, "Hey, I'm really not any different than you." And just truthful. And so I play baseball as a young lad. Only black kid on the team. I have a photo of the team. I'm the only black kid on the team. I got bused to the all-white high school in 1964 which was the year after the civil rights bill was passed and signed by Lyndon Johnson.

Benny Vaughn:

So I got bused over to the white high school. Amidst great protests, I didn't want to go. And I endured all the name-calling and this and that and just all the stuff you have to deal with, threats. I mean, my goodness. I'm in the ninth grade. Really? Older white men, you got to threaten me? Seriously? I mean look at those little girls going to school in Little Rock, Arkansas with grown adults. White women and white men threatening 10-year-old black girls who just want to get an education. That's racism at some of his ugliest levels, ugliest levels, and I dealt with it.

Benny Vaughn:

I dealt with it by educating people that you and I are really no different. And if you're just using color the skin as a way to go about it, wow. So I still do that today. Because even in 2020, I still get that look sometimes. Not all the times. When a new client shows up and they realize like, "Oh my goodness, this famous massage therapist, African-American man. But what I find is a great moment for them because they suddenly recognize, "Oh my, look at me." Because I give them a safe place when they're there for the session to recognize.

Benny Vaughn:

I give them a safe place to recognize it and admit it to themselves because they realized very quickly I make no judgment, I make no call about who they are based on that reaction. I give them a safe place as I do for all of my clients, as all massage therapists do to be truthful with themselves often in front of me during the session, and I don't make any judgment. So that's how I've used a massage therapy with racism because I get opportunities to do it frequently just because the color of my skin. So I consider it a great privilege that I can do that.

Til Luchau:

Sorry. Tell me what you mean by be truthful with themselves.

Benny Vaughn:

Be truthful with themselves where they actually recognize that they have had racist tendencies. They admit it to themselves. For example, I would say this. So I had a client on table once, female client, white female client, and I was doing some work on a sports injury that she had. And at one point, she says something about her nails, getting her nails done and she said to me, she says, "Yeah, I went over to that chink place and got..." And then she stopped in mid-sentence because she had said chink. And she suddenly remembered, "Oh my, this is an African-American man massaging me and I just used a slur." Because at that moment, she knew that I knew that she had used the N-word too at some point in time.

Benny Vaughn:

So she apologized profusely. I told her, "I'm making no judgment at all about your character, but what I would encourage you to do..." These are my words, I said, "What I would encourage you to do is to take this wonderful opportunity to go deep and expand your own potential." Because her potential has been limited in her life because of those racist thoughts. And that's what a lot of people who subscribe to racism. I believe they are limiting their growth, they are limiting their potential, they are limiting their opportunities by being racist. And so that's what I said to her.

Benny Vaughn:

We've been good friends, clients, and it was that moment that she realized like, "Oh wow, look at me." And I've had other moments with white male clients who've asked me and who have just shared in private in the safety of the massage therapy treatment room that, "I've not had much interaction with black people, certainly not black men." And they're almost apologetic, "I hope it's okay. Can I ask you some questions like what is it like or what should we do?"

Benny Vaughn:

So here's something that I'm doing right now. Here's something that I'm doing right now and I started this week doing it. So I thought to myself given the situation that occurred in Minneapolis with Mr. George Floyd being murdered by Minneapolis police officer or former Minneapolis police officer, and the conversations, the protests and the disruptions that are occurring nationwide and globally, actually because of that, and I asked myself what could I do as a massage therapist to contribute to helping to eliminate racism? Not reduce it, not manage it, eliminate it. So just set the bar high, and then we'll see how well we do?

Benny Vaughn:

So what I began this week is I made a list of all of my white male clients and I have a pretty impressive client list here in Fort Worth, Texas. I mean, I massage the people who make this city go, politically, economically, et cetera. Very wealthy people, very influential people. People who can call the White House, who have the personal cellphone numbers, the staffers at the White House. These people are my clients. And so I said, "Well, what can I do?" I've got executives from Exxon and that whole deal here in Texas. So what I decided I would do is my contribution to the protest is that I would ask those select white male clients who I consider wealthy, influential, credible and are well-connected politically and economically in America that I would ask them to... Because some of them have asked me, "Benny, what can I do?" And what I tell them what you can do is leverage your white male privilege into an actionable step and create some change. Leverage your white male privilege into an actionable step that will create change."

Benny Vaughn:

Because this is what I believe. If a whole lot of white men start taking action and saying, "This is wrong. This is wrong. We're not doing this anymore." It will happen. It will happen. And so I have begun this week asking those white male clients of mine to leverage, and that word I use is leverage your white male privilege into an actionable step.

Benny Vaughn:

Now, there were some athletic trainers two years ago that I used another term and I'm just going to share it with you. So I was at a dinner with a group of athletic trainers. I was the only African-American person. The rest are all white female, white male athletic trainers working at various institutions including the military. We just got into talking about the issues of racism and sports and so forth because athletic trainers work with teams that have a lot of young men and women of color on those teams. And during that time, I said to them... And I think it's because I had a lot of military athletic trainers at that dinner that I use these words, but I told them, I said, "You need to weaponize your white male privilege and make something happen. Weaponize your white male privilege and make something happen."

Benny Vaughn:

There was dead silence in the room after I said that. Because they knew that was true and I think they were just shocked that an African-America man actually said it. So that's what I told that group. "Weaponize your white male privilege and make something happen." And so that's what I'm doing currently is I'm asking my white male clients... These are all white males over the age of 55 who have been very successful, ultra successful. They're attorneys. They're accountants. They've been with big oil companies. They're worth millions of dollars. They all have private jets and full-time flight crews and this kind of stuff. These are the white men that I'm talking to right now. If you want to do something for me, this is what you can do.

Til Luchau:

That's powerful.

Benny Vaughn:

Leverage your white male privilege.

Til Luchau:

That's very powerful. I'm just wondering if you... And I know we probably need to take a break pretty soon here, but before we do, I'm wondering if you can help me... I'm not an executive. I don't have a jet. I have privilege. We're a practical profession. We want things to do. We want to know exactly with this section what to do. Do you got any suggestions for us white males about how to use the privilege if we're not in that position you described?

Benny Vaughn:

Yeah. Thank you, Til. I think that white males who are involved in massage and bodywork and manual therapy, you're seeing a lot of other white male clients. And I think when a white male client hears from another white male an expansive thought towards racism, I think that maybe even more powerful than hearing it from me. Because hearing it from me, it's like, "Oh, well. You're an African American. Of course, you've got a vested interest in this changing." But if you're a white male with white male privilege, your vested interest is in equality and fair treatment. I mean, that's how it's going to be viewed.

Benny Vaughn:

When they view it with me, and I overcome it, but the initial viewing is that, "Well, of course, you're a black man. Of course, you're going to say that. All black men are going to say that." But they won't say that about all white men. So when a white man says it, it carries great power. And so you could use your white male privilege from your position of credibility and authority in this profession to another white male and it will be impactful for them to hear that from you. And sometimes may be more impactful than me because there's still some suspicion because their racism might still be preventing them from hearing what I'm saying because they're still stuck on the exterior.

Benny Vaughn:

But with you, they won't be stuck on the exterior because you look like them. So now they're going to really listen to your words and your suggestions. So I think that would be pretty awesome if all my white male colleagues did that. I'd be pretty happy.

Whitney Lowe:

Right. Good. So I got a couple other things that I want to touch base on here too. So we're going to take just a moment to pause to hear from our halftime sponsor, Books of Discovery.

Speaker 4:

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Whitney Lowe:

And thanks to Andrew Biel and the Books of Discovery team for their support of the podcast. Do be sure to check out their great offer. So Benny, a couple other things that come to mind with this discussion and this is so insightful and so valuable for us a lot to hear. I also want to kind of explore some of these issues about our profession in general because I've always felt that we... I've wondered like what is the key to getting a greater degree of diversity and inclusivity in our profession because we just don't have many people of color in our field? What's the trick to that?

Benny Vaughn:

Yeah, Whitney. I think the trick is in two parts. So the very first American Massage Therapy Association convention I went to was in Orlando, Florida in 1975, and there were only a handful of massage therapists of color there. And I would still have some fingers left over from counting. And I took note of that. I was like, "Wow there aren't very many African-Americans in this profession." And I began to wonder about that and think about that. And then I realized that part of it is because massage has often been wrapped up in the package of luxury. This is what the rich and famous do is that they get massaged.

Benny Vaughn:

Now of course, we see the massage is an important part of overall wellness and health promotion. And this is why I was not pleased with the governor, Governor Cuomo who categorized massage in New York City as a luxury. So massage therapists can't work yet because that's a luxury. No, Governor Cuomo. Let me tell you what a luxury is. A luxury is getting dental care. A luxury is getting medical care. A luxury is being able to have a physician that you can call and get healthcare. That's a luxury that a lot of poor people and people of color can't afford. So why don't we categorize all that as a luxury? But anyway, he categorized massage as a luxury. I disagree with him on that and it just tells me that the massage therapist in New York will just continue to do more work to educate the governor on that. So that's just an aside.

Benny Vaughn:

So in the African-American community, in the community of color, massage has always been painted as some sort of luxury deal that only rich people do this. And so there hasn't been an attraction to receive massage and certainly get trained in it because of that. I came at it from a sports angle where I saw it as a beneficial necessary component. And so it was easy for me to be attracted to it. So I think the first way that we attract diversity is to continue to frame massage therapy and bodywork as a part of healthcare.

Benny Vaughn:

So the same way that someone goes to school to become a dental hygienist or a chiropractic assistant or a physical therapist or a physical therapy assistant or whatever, we need to frame that massage is on equal footing with this. And so I think that would attract diversity instead of it being like, "Oh, this is like a luxury thing you do and this is sort of the same as being a driver or a butler or something which are all fantastic hospitality careers."

Benny Vaughn:

So I think it just needs to be framed differently. And then two, I think that the massage associations need to do print advertising and print publications that are read and distributed primarily in communities of color, Hispanic, African-American, whatever those magazines are or whatever goes on digital. So much is digital now and there are people who know more about that. But I think we need to target advertising about career opportunities and massage and bodywork in the areas where diverse communities will see it.

Benny Vaughn:

So as long as this in Massage Therapy Journal and ABMP, and in other professional journals, the only people that are seeing that are of course people who are already in it. So I say extend this. I think massage schools and bodywork schools and the student. The myofascial release and everything advertised and something other than the trade journals. I've never quite understood that why are you advertising a school and a journal being read by people who have already gone to school?

Benny Vaughn:

Now, I can see continuing education, but fundamental school? You should be advertising somewhere else to attract people. And advertise in Spanish, in Spanish language newspapers and magazines and say, "Hey, here's a pretty cool career that can serve health promotion and wellness in your community." So that's it. So one of the massage therapists that I took under my wing three years ago is Mexican, from Mexico. English is their second language. She went to school here at Texas State University, got her athletic trainer certification and then attended the Lauterstein-Conway school down in Austin, got her massage training.

Benny Vaughn:

I got a call from them in Austin saying, "Hey, we've got a student graduating that we think would fit right in with your facility at Fort Worth." So I interviewed her. She's been with me three years. And what we found is that the increase in our Hispanic clientele just exploded, because our Hispanic clientele felt comfortable that they saw someone that looked like them in the facility and certainly who spoke the language that they were comfortable with, and I took note of that. I took note of that like wow, look how this one massage therapist is influencing her community with the benefits of massage and bodywork. So I think if we take it to that community to advertise, to have articles about massage and bodywork, and Spanish-speaking newspapers and magazines, African-American magazines and journals, I think that's where it begins. That's how we expand it.

Whitney Lowe:

Yeah. Your idea of addressing this with the schools I think is a wonderful idea. And then as I think about that having traveled around the country to many different schools and also reflecting on my experience where I went to massage school, the immediate thing that comes to mind is these schools are all white. How do these people know what publications or how do I reach out to the minority communities to get that kind of diversity. And it really is going to require concerted effort on saying, "Well, let's step outside of our box here and say like, let's find some people that can help us find out what we need to do to reach out to these community." It's definitely going to take some effort in there.

Benny Vaughn:

Yeah. Fo to some Hispanic festivals. Go to some African-American festivals. Put up a booth there. I don't know. Do some seated massage at something at a place that looks different than you. And frankly, I actually wonder if there's just a fear factor of these majority white owned, white student body massage schools that they're just afraid to go into these communities. Here's what I would say to them. Imagine what it's like for me and what has it been like for me. So it can be done.

Benny Vaughn:

The fear that one might have is just an indication that you're at the border of the life that you know. That you're at the border of the familiar and now you're going into the unknown. That's a good sign. You should be fearful because fearful indicates that you're moving into something new, something that's unknown where you can make a difference for people.

Benny Vaughn:

So don't let fear hold you back. Just know that it's just letting you know, I'm at the border of the world that I know. So go to a Hispanic festival. Go to an African-American festival. Set up a booth information. Do seated massage. Show people like, "Hey, this is a great career. Here's what you can do." And I think that people would be surprised at the interest.

Whitney Lowe:

And an interesting thing about that too is that we are in a climate now where there is a great opportunity for that because we're seeing a decreasing enrollment numbers in so many schools across the country. So now they're having to look for students in a way that they never had to before because I think that's one of the things those of us in the white community are exposed to quite a lot is like, "Well, we haven't had to really work that hard. We haven't had to really go out and try to recruit students from minority places. We don't have much diversity in our field, but oh man, this is great. My school is full. Everything is jolly. Everything is going good."

Whitney Lowe:

But now we're at a place where there's a lot more economic pressure on many of these schools and I think they're at places where the COVID-19 situation has hit the schools hard. They're under much greater pressures now to have to do something. So maybe this is you know a beneficial time for all of those things to kind of come together as a perfect storm of let's talk about outreach for greater inclusion of lots of different communities into some of our educational programs. Because like so many things, I think these things start with education. They start with education and those plant seeds that they get percolating up later on.

Til Luchau:

There are going to be lots of ideas, Benny. I'm thinking of the Hispanic therapists, African-American therapists who come to our continuing education trainings and how in their way, they're moving in to what is predominately a white field and then the ways that I can as a continuation provider support and encourage them to continue their pioneering work, make room for them.

Benny Vaughn:

That would be super awesome. And what I would say to massage school owners, bodywork, school owners is that just consider that your attitude economically towards people of color might be racist. And what I mean by that is like, "Oh, these black folks don't have any money. These Hispanic people don't have any money to pay tuition and go to school." Because there's this racist attitude that people of color are also poverty-stricken. And the media and others have contributed to that because that's all they highlight. Well, let me tell you something.

Benny Vaughn:

There's some African-Americans and some Hispanic families that are rocking it, economically. So don't be misled about the human hierarchy that we've created. We've created this human hierarchy. Well, if you're a housekeeper, and if you're a cook, if you're a driver, if you're a landscaper, you can't have much money. You need to change that attitude, and be willing to offer your training to those communities and discover that they can afford tuition, they are interested in this. You just need to treat them with courtesy, respect and dignity, and not from a human hierarchy standpoint.

Til Luchau:

Yeah, that's great. That's right. We're probably moving toward our wrap-up as well, but I'm just really struck by something you said back, again, that safe place to be truthful with themselves. And your stories about those moments when clients opened up to you. And I recognized that moment. There's like this intimacy that happens in our work where people do relax and open up. And then your model of coming forward and standing in integrity and standing in confidence about what you offer, lack of judgment, it's not confrontational, it's expensive, getting in touch with their potential you say. I'm just thinking on the power of that on the individual level as well.

Benny Vaughn:

Yeah, it works. It works. And you give people a safe place to discover themselves, they will discover themselves.

Whitney Lowe:

So this has been just a wonderful exploration of a lot of different facets I think of things that we're grappling with. Is there anything that you'd like to leave us with in terms of in particular at this stage of where we are in our world and especially in this country, things that you would want to encourage us are sort of microcosm of today's discussion is within the massage and manual therapy world? But for those of us that are out there that are in positions to do something about it. I mean, I certainly feel like I've let a lot of time go by in my life of complacency of not really doing those kinds of things they could have been more impactful. What are the kinds of things would you like to call out for our communities of things that you think would be really advantageous for us to get engaged in?

Benny Vaughn:

I think massage therapists and body workers are in a fantastic position because you have credibility, you have authority of knowledge about humans and how body mind interaction creates that human. And I believe that our clients really listen closely to our guidance. What they listen closely to are the words we choose to describe to encourage and to educate them. So I would say to my massage therapists and body work colleagues, choose words carefully that allow people to think, to expand their perception and above all else, do not be silent when you hear something from a client that you believe is racist and not right.

Benny Vaughn:

You can do this in a non-judgmental way. And the way that you can do it in a non-judgmental way is that you just don't agree. All you have to say is, "Well, thank you for that." And so the two things that I will say to people when they start into that, they'll finish and I just say to them, "Tell me more." And then they'll blah, blah, blah, blah. Tell me more. And I keep asking them to tell me more until they get down to a point where they realize like, "Oh, wow. Maybe that's not so good." And that's a non-confrontational way to do it. I just ask them, "Tell me more."

Benny Vaughn:

So if a person said to me, "Those..." If they use the N-word. "Those N's over there," this and that. I just say, "Tell me more." "Tell me more." And then at the end of that, if they reach that point where they make the discovery, then I commend them and just say, "I agree." But if they don't make the discovery then I say, "I don't agree." And the power of not agreeing creates major change. So that's what I would suggest to my colleagues out there, because we have great opportunity, because our clients look to us often for more than just the technique we do. They look to us for all kinds of things because they know that that environment is confidential. They know it's safe. They know it's not going to be broadcast out.

Benny Vaughn:

So let's take advantage of that trust that we have built with our clients to allow them to safely discover that, "Oh my, I'm racist." And to do it in a safe environment so they can progress and make the changes that they want to make. So tell me more, I agree or I don't agree. And that way you're not being silent and you're not being judgmental. That has power. And that's what I do all the time.

Whitney Lowe:

Well, that's a great place for us to wrap up here today. I feel so moved by this discussion and I want to thank you so much for this. For those people that don't know, our relationship goes back 30 years. We've been friends and colleagues and you've been my main mentor over this time, and I just want to say you are so incredibly inspirational and have been such a big part of getting me to where I am. And I get what your clients have seen in recognizing that you get wonderful results because you get it in everything that you do. And you've modeled so much for me as an educator and as a person and I've learned so much from you over the years especially about a lot of these more personal issues. So I really thank you for sharing that with all of us here today.

Til Luchau:

From my side as well, Benny, I'm moved and I'm inspired and you have opened some possibilities for me to confront and act from my own sense of helplessness and anger, and uncertainty by everything that's going on. And your confidence and your clarity of what you bring forth has touched me. So thank you for that.

Whitney Lowe:

Great. So Benny, where can people find out more about you and your work? If you will tell us where you're located?

Benny Vaughn:

Yes. And the reason I went, woo, because I'm learning technology now and I've come along to the fact that I'm doing this tells you how far I've come because, Whitney you know where I was about a decade ago with technology. I was nowhere. So probably the best way is to just email me. And the reason I say that is that there has been a technology glitch with my website. The platform got hacked and all the people that had websites on his platform, it just disappeared. But my email is good and it's just benny.vaughn@bennyvaughntherapy.com. And that's B as in bravo, E as in echo, N-N-Y dot Vaughn. V as in Victor, A as in apple, U-G-H-N @bennyvaughntherapy.com. That's probably the fastest way to reach me is to just shoot me an email. It may take 48 hours for me to get back to you, but I will get back to you, benny.vaughn@bennyvaughntherapy.com.

Whitney Lowe:

Great. Thank you so much.

Benny Vaughn:

Thank you.

Til Luchau:

We'll be sure to put that in the show notes. For those of you who are listening can access those. Thanks to our sponsors for making this happen. Thanks to our guest, Benny, again to you. Come by our site for the full show notes, the full transcript, the references and extras. We'll put Benny's contact information there. It's thethinkingpractitioner.com. And Whitney, what's your site?

Whitney Lowe:

People can find us over at the academyofclinicalmassage.com. And also, Til, where are you on the web with your stuff?

Til Luchau:

We are advanced-trainings.com. If you have questions, you can email us both at info@thethinkingpractitioner.com or look for us on social media under our names or thethinkingpractitioner.com. Please rate us on Apple podcasts or wherever else you listen, and be sure to tell a friend. Thank you both.

Whitney Lowe:

That sounds great. Benny, thank you again for being here and we'll look forward to some more discussions next go-round.

Benny Vaughn:

Great. Thanks, and thanks for the privilege to both you.

Whitney Lowe:

All right.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Annette Oevermann

    Thank you Benny Vaughn, Til Luchau and Whitney Lowe for this excellent and inspiring conversation!

    • A pleasure, Annette, thanks for listening.
      -Til

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