The more I do antiracism work the more I am drawn to abolitionist thinking and reimagining a world where every life matters, everyone has an opportunity to thrive and there is collective liberation. The prison industrial complex is abolished, cancel culture is gone and we have a path to compassionately hold people accountable for harm/isms while also giving them a path to redemption and reparations. We have the capacity to hold intense feelings, talk about hard things in an embodied way and all heal from racial harm. What do you imagine?
At the same time I am aware that racism will never end because it is embedded in every institution. It is in the air that we breathe. That realization can sometimes feel overwhelmed or disheartening and then I remember the words of Mariame Kaba: "Hope is a discipline". You have to work at having hope again and again; find your inspiration. Work to reduce harm and build up communities of resilience.
I was watching my favorite movie, Remember the Titans, with my 14 year old son recently. Why do I love this movie? It tells the story of a high school football team that is experiencing forced racial integration in the early 1970s and how by working together and building personal relationships they were able to heal/change their racial conditioning. I love these movies that spark hope about people's ability to change and heal in the context of relationships.
The reality is that most of the US is still highly segregated so that many people don't build meaningful relationships with people racially different than them where authentic and messy conversations about race can occur so we move around in the world with lots of prejudice, white body supremacy and antiblackness.
So we are watching this movie and one of the high school players was overtly racist and not willing to change his beliefs and his racist beliefs led to physical and emotional harm. I called him a racist and my son turns to me and says why are you calling him a racist rather than saying that he has been conditioned by a racist society (which is what I have taught him). I said because for that time period his overt actions of harm are based on racism. He believes in white superiority and the inferiority of black people.
I have found in the last year or two it is not helpful to call most people racist. It seems to shut down conversation, simplify what I am trying to communicate and racism has many different levels given we have all been socialized by racist forces. Most white people I encounter don't meet the traditional criteria for being an overt racist. Until we create a paradigm where there is a path for redemption and repair when you are called out as a racist I don't know how many people are able to face that truth and do better. Cancel culture is part of white supremacy culture. We can do better to hold people accountable and support them in their transformation.
My son is often calling out/calling in white peers who use the n word. I had to work with him to have a more nuanced conversation with peers about why white people should never use the n word as he was calling everyone racist. I want him to hold is outrage and keep calling people into these messy conversations about race while not dehumanizing them.
How are you cultivating messy conversations about race? How are you exploring your racist conditioning? How does antiblackness still show up in everyday life? What is inspiring hope for you in your daily life to sustain your antiracism work?
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What if we all bought into the idea that we are biased? Our different identities and the life experiences we have had create our unique signature of bias. When I reflect on the power and privilege wheel above I count that I have 7-8 privileged identities even though I live in a black female body. This lens or filter impacts how people view me and how I view the world.
Our brain sometimes likes to create efficiencies where it accumulates information that we can access when we need it. I have begun to think of my brain as a filing cabinet of information about different things. The goal in anti-oppression work is not to get rid of the filing cabinets of information so that we all become color blind and are no longer able to celebrate differences. The filing cabinets of information can help us be more culturally sensitive and we also risk reducing people to stereotypes if we our filing cabinets have limited information in them. What if we expanded what was in our filing cabinets of information. For Black history month this year I was sharing a Black Joy Manifesto video in my workshops. I wanted to celebrate not only stories of Black trauma, pain, oppression and stories of resilience but many different images of various kinds of Black people experiencing joy. Too many of us don’t get exposed to enough images of that.
When I think about White people I know that my filing cabinets of information is varied. Books, movies, news, education classes provide me a wide variety of representation so that my filing my cabinet is not stereotypical. Can you say the same about various different BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or People of Color) groups? What’s in your filing cabinet of information about groups that tend to be marginalized? If we don’t expand what is in our filing cabinet we can’t help but walk around with stereotypes which leads to implicit bias which leads to microaggressions. All of this does harm on a daily basis. This is the more subtle form of racism.
Sometimes we can expand our filing cabinets of information by developing meaningful relationships with people who are different from us but sometimes that is not possible so we can seek out information that centers their voices and stories. Once we expand our filing cabinets of information about various groups of people we can start doing a power analysis.
I appreciate the way that Sonia Renee Taylor (see video below) and Resmaa Menakem talk about white body supremacy. It’s the idea that the white body sits on the top of the hierarchy and the black body sits on the bottom of the hierarchy. We can see the parallels to a caste system where people at the top of the hierarchy have greater institutional power and hence privilege. The closer you are in proximity to white bodies the higher you rise on the ladder though there is likely a ceiling, only so far you can go on the hierarchy if you do not live in a white body. There are other oppressed identities you can hold such as being in a female body or gender nonconforming body that can bring you lower in the hierarchy even if you are in a white body. Other oppressed identities that can intersect with whiteness to bring you lower on the body: queerness, non Christian identity, disability, neurotypical brains, bigger bodies, not being a U.S. citizen or being a native English speaker.
When doing anti-oppression work and trying to be an ally, trying to be culturally humble or have more effective conversations with people about topics such as race we have to do a power analysis. Power analysis involves looking at where you fall on the body hierarchy. This graph below of power and privilege shows some identities that tend to be dominant in terms of institutional power and those that tend to be marginalized or oppressed. The identities at the center have the most institutional power and hence are higher on the ladder.
Try it out for yourself. Create a ladder. If you are white presenting put yourself at the top of the ladder. If you have other identities that tend to be oppressed lower yourself on the ladder. Now imagine you are talking to someone about race and racism, where do they fall on the ladder. The person who has an area of domination related to race works to decenter themselves when talking about race and listen to those lower on the ladder because they likely experience a higher degree of oppression. If both individuals are part of a marginalized racial group the person with the lighter skin tone is higher on the ladder because of proximity to white body supremacy. Some of us have marginalized identities that are not visible unless we disclose them, that puts us higher on the ladder. Some of us have multiple marginalized identities so we are lower on the ladder. If we think about intersectionality of identities, coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, the individuals at the bottom of the ladder are those in black bodies, queer, trans or gender nonconforming, poor, disabled, and fat. We want to center the voices of the most marginalized. If the people at the bottom of the ladder feel like their lives matter, institutionally in terms of policies and access as well as personally, than all lives truly matter and the ladder collapses.
Check out this tasks about the tasks of the privileged and the tasks of the subjugated as described by Dr. Kenneth Hardy.
Want to learn more about being anti-racist check out resources here. Reach out to Dr. Nathalie Edmond for additional trainings or email her.
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? What would it mean to allow more people to take up space without our biases trying to contain them into what we think is professional or acceptable.
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.