So often when we think about racism we think about overt acts of racism such as verbal and physical violence against BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), as well as systemic racism that shows up in mass incarceration, unequal access to higher education and certain jobs as well as the long time legacy of red lining which impacts current access to wealth. I heard someone say post-election "now we can go back to regular racism".
As a Black female presenting person who grew up in a two-parent middle class home in New York/New Jersey I experienced few overt acts of racism. Though my parents were from Haiti and came her in adolescence and young adulthood they quickly were indoctrinated into the hierarchy of race in this country. They raised me to shy away from African American culture because of the way it was negatively regarded, and they worried that any association to it would create more barriers to success. I have gone to schools in predominantly BIPOC areas as well as predominantly white areas. I have been reflecting on the stress of navigating predominantly white areas for much of my life. I have many white friends and for the most part have been very kind to me and polite and yet until the last decade there were few meaningful conversations about race.
Colorblindness was what I grew up in and was the norm for many decades. I can remember people in high school not describing me as black even though that would have been the best descriptor for me if you were going to pick me out in a crowd. I blended. Blending was my survival strategy. Blending and becoming the model minority is pretty common. Many BIPOC people are so good at this that White identifying people do not realize that BIPOC people have transformed themselves into a version that can assimilate into predominantly white spaces. That assimilation translates to: not appearing threatening, being professional, not adhering to any stereotypical assumptions about the marginalized identity, not being fully seen.
The question is what did it take for me to blend, to assimilate into predominantly white spaces. What parts of myself did I have to leave at the door? What was the consequence when I did bring more of myself to work? What was it like to not see enough magazine covers, tv actresses, book characters, dolls reflect my skin color? It led to me internalizing some anti-black notions around standards of beauty and what kinds of occupations black presenting individuals could have. When I did see black characters on tv and movies they often inhabited stereotypical roles that I could not relate to. What are the long term consequences of internalized racism and/or colorblindness?
What are the many ways that racism shows up in daily life. Microaggresions are much more subtle and common experiences of racism in the world. Gerald Wing Sue does a lot of research on microaggressions. Microaggressions are subtle verbal or nonverbal insults, microassaults, indignities, and denigrating messages directed towards an individual based on their marginalized identity. It is often done by well-intentioned people who are not aware of their implicit bias (unconscious stereotypes and assumptions about others). Some describe microaggressions as deaths by a thousand little cuts. The person experiencing microaggressions often is caught off guard and wonders if they heard correctly. There can be doubt as well as uncertainty about how to address the microaggression because the comment or behavior is usually subtle. There may be worry that addressing the microaggression might give the appearance of being too sensitive or emotional (i.e. I don’t want to be seen as the angry black woman). Often these microaggressions are suppressed and yet still can cause a stress reaction and accumulate over time. There is a risk no matter what. You either risk environmental response by saying something or risk losing part of yourself by not saying anything. Chronic voicelessness can lead to rage, shame, grief, depression, disconnection with how you really feel, lack of authenticity as well as physical health problems.
How do you begin to uncover your own unconscious biases so that you do less harm to others who hold a marginalized identity? If you hold a marginalized identity, how do you care for yourself in ways that honors your full self and feelings. What is the harm of raising another generation of White people who are colorblind, lack racial literacy, do not have the language to talk about race in a meaningful way, and continue to commit microaggressions?
Want to learn more? Want to be an anti-racism parent, therapist, manger, business owner, human being? Sign up for upcoming anti-racism training. Schedule a training for your team or community with Dr. Nathalie Edmond. Check out anti-racism resources.
Have you heard about "anti-racism" recently?
In the last few months we have seen a centering of the ways systemic racism affects Black and Latinx communities in a different way. Especially when it comes to higher proportion of deaths by COIVD, police brutality, healthy and economic inequities. We have heard and seen black grief and rage and may not understand the trans-generational and cumulative impact of 400 hundred years of discrimination because we likely grew up in the time of color blindness. You may have only recently heard the phrase "anti-racism".
Making Your Therapy Practice More Anti-Racist
You likely have been wondering how you can be more of an anti-racist practice. Of course, you feel for the BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) communities. You support the premise of Black Lives Matter [too] and care about diversity, equity and inclusion in your practice. You have often thought I am not a racist, but have begun thinking are you anti-racist? What does it actually mean to be anti-racist? It is taking an active stance against racism. To be “not a racist” is a stance of neutrality. It is often being indifferent or minimizing the legacy of white supremacy in this country that supports the white supremacy system continuing. Check out my other blog post about white supremacy and history of racist policies. The reality is we are all indoctrinated and conditioned into white supremacy [the system that creates white privilege]. We likely learned a Eurocentric curriculum in school. We might have grown up or currently live in segregated areas. We went to graduate school and learned therapy models that centered white, cis, male, heterosexual, able bodied, neurotypical, Christian, upper middle class theories of understanding human behavior, culture and therapy.
Unlearning Racism to Embrace Racial Justice and Anti-Racism
We have an opportunity to unlearn racist ideas but first we must deconstruct our current paradigm that centers whiteness without naming whiteness. We have to lift the veil and make visible what has been invisible. There are a lot of different anti-racist or diversity, equity and inclusion options out there. Why is mine different? I really embrace a paradigm shift for everyone (no matter what your race is or how you have been an ally in the past). I bring a mindfulness lens to all trainings and conversations along with a clinical background. As a black licensed clinical psychologist who is also a yoga teacher and somatically trained, married to a cis white man, raising bi-racial children who has worked in community mental health, been a clinical and administrative director at partial hospital, intensive outpatient and inpatient programs, worked in college counseling center and owns a group practice I have seen the ways anti-racism is rarely embraced as a value in a way that transforms a culture.
white supremacy and racism lives in our bodies
We bring those bodies into our therapy rooms and our bodies talk to each other. When we talk about racism we have to do it not only from a cognitive place but also a fully embodied stance so true transformation can occur. We have to understand how implicit bias takes root unconsciously and how our bodies react first and then the mind follows. We have to learn to settle our bodies (engage our ventral vagal nerve) as Resmaa Menakem talks about. Learning about different cultures (cultural competence) is great and yet not enough if our paradigm doesn’t shift and reduce our implicit bias. We have to embrace cultural humility, a recognition that we often don't know and will always be learning.
How do we move away from centering whiteness as the norm?
How do we create truly inclusive spaces- spaces that welcome the intersectionality of identities, that affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all beings. How do you start to critically analyze from an anti-racist lens and do a power analysis? How do you recognize the barriers to having productive, embodied discussions about race? Who do your websites and marketing materials speak to? What is not explicitly stated? Where is your practice located and who can easily access your services? What is your payor mix? How do you hire and retain BIPOC clinicians? How do you partner and become an ally for BIOPC communities from a genuine place rather than a performative place? How do you hold space for black rage and grief as well as the intergenerational trauma of racism? How do you start to see the model minority stereotype as anti-blackness culture? How are you unintentionally committing microaggressions and how do you repair that? How do you build shame resiliency and skills to sit in discomfort?
There are certain values related to white supremacy culture.
When we start to intersect it with other identities we uncover sexism, heterosexism, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, and religious intolerance.
An Anti-Racism Assessment for Organizations
I have adapted this anti-racism assessment grid from National Juvenile Justice Network which looks at the culture of different organizations. There are four main categories:
Embrace the Best of Yourself, Reject Shame and Become More Anti-Racist
What if you were to embrace "I want to get it right rather than I want to be right" as Brene Brown says when she talks about moving away from unhealthy shame to accountability? How do we step into vulnerability to address your blindspots, the areas that you were purposely never thought because white supremacy system cannot persist if everyone is awake and aware about the anti-blackness culture that is the foundation of the United States. Shame is not a social justice tool but rather a symptom of white supremacy. Shame interferes with our ability to feel empathy, build bridges or invite people into the conversation. How can you create more healing in your communities for white, black, indigenous, people of color, and multiracial people where there is less stigma about mental health issues and therapy is more accessible for everyone in your community?
Are you ready to get started with an anti-racism consultant?
Check out my anti-racism resource page to start this process. Schedule a training for your staff. Join one of my upcoming trainings. Purchase an online training video. Learn more about me here.
Nathalie Edmond is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of trauma from a mindfulness based and somatic approach. She is also a yoga teacher and anti-racism educator. She lives with her family in New Jersey.