“As I lead this army, make room for mistakes and depression” -Kendrick Lamar, “Mortal Man”
(For reference, I am a white female and go by the pronouns she/her)
As a student becoming a therapist, multiculturalism is a mandatory class in a graduate school program. The lectures and the classes emphasized that you and your experiences alone are not enough to empathize with those who not only look like you, but especially to those who don’t look like you. I loved the classes, and heeded the messages that the seasoned professors were imploring is to do…look inward, listen, learn and when you think you’ve learned enough-keep learning. I am now understanding I have not done enough.
I was first awakend to this experience while working in the intensive outpatient setting when I was freshly licensed. A young adult black male had just been informed he had to return to prison. He was angry. We went into our individual session and I started with stating “I know…” He yelled back, “No Faith, you don’t know”. I replied that he was absolutely right. I didn’t know. I didn’t understand anything that had to do with prison, with what he was going through in his life. He started crying and walked out of the room. I stayed silent sitting in my chair.
He was discharged, and reported back to prison.
I talked about the interaction in supervision and received feedback that “it’s okay, you’re learning”. I had other black clients in that level of care and the internalization of the affirmation of “I don’t know” strengthen the rapport of those relationships. Since that interaction with that young adult, I will ask black clients what it’s like for them having a white therapist, we talk about what’s working for them, and what’s not. I now know that I could have done more. I’m unlearning the thought of “it’s okay” and replacing it with “do more-speak up, ask questions and advocate”.
Recently, I have been feeling angry both outwardly and inwardly. I’ve had a lump in my throat that will not go away, tears in the corners of my eyes that seem to well up more, and dissipate less. One sunny Saturday afternoon I told my husband to hang with the kids, I had to go for a drive to cope with my emotions. In the car I was feeling hot and the air conditioning was not providing comfort. I realized I felt fiery. I leaned into the fire. Without learning what this heat means within myself I will not be able to work through it properly. I am learning that my comfort is correlated with my priveldge.
I am learning that the fire within myself wants me to grow and change. It means getting out of my comfort zone, it means making small changes within my life and household that will transform into a lifestyle of becoming more of an ally. This means more researching, listening, educating myself, unlearning what I thought I knew and creating space in my mind and heart hear to others. This fire is more than just sadness because I know I must change to see the change around me.
My feeling of failure is a sign of my privilege and also a sign of my awareness because our failures are important for our own evolution. The first step in change begins with awareness, one cannot change something they are not aware of.
And, psychologically, I am aware of my priviledge to even be able to reflect on my past and acknowledge hope for change in the future. According to Abraham Maslow, a motivational psychologist who developed the Hierarchy of Needs Theory in the 1940s, human needs and concerns are hierarchical.
This information is vital to both look inwards and outward. If I was concerned about my next meal, housing, or security I would not be able to to think the way that I am thinking. If I was not educated in the knowledge that my emotions have messages for me, or how to cope with these emotions, I would not be able to process these thoughts. The list goes on and on and on. This is important to think of for yourself and others (especially when slowly coming out of a pandemic).
Additionally, this can be education for yourself to build empathy and become aware of your own privilege.
For when we listen, when we really listen, we can understand more of where someone is coming from in the hierarchy while hearing one’s words and can better understand (or know when to disagree and utilize some healthy boundaries) someone’s point of view.
Sharing a tweet from Ashlee Eiland, Pastor and Preacher and author of Human(Kind), she states “Not many will see you learning, confessing, repenting, uprooting, re-tooling, forgiving, inviting, empowering. But we will see its fruit. The hidden work is the heart work is the hard work.
My changes include supporting local and national black owned restaurants and business, reading up on black history and historical events, registering for webinars and multicultural trainings, donating to charities for specific black causes and communities, signing petitions, voting, following black influencers, buying books written by black authors, evaluating the toys and books I have for my children and being aware of their diversity, modeling behaviors of kindness, fairness, compassion for my children, the list goes on which is important for me. These are changes I feel I can make. What changes can you make?
Let’s get to work!
“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people”. -Virgina Woolf
About The Author
Faith Ulsh, LPC Hello! I’m a therapist at Olive Branch Therapy Group and a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). I received my undergraduate degree from The University of Vermont and my graduate degree from Monmouth University. I’ve been in practice in since 2016