**I wrote this post while I was still living and working in Ohio. Since then I have moved to Florida and obtained a new job! So, when you read about co-workers and supervisors know they are from my previous job, not the current one. **
A little while ago, my supervisor voiced wanting to host “Lunch and Learns” in the office among the therapy team. I think the point of this was so that we could glean from each other and build camaraderie while engaging in dialogue around certain topics.
Being new to the team, and to the position, I had NO intention of facilitating or presenting anything. I just wanted to watch and listen (as is my usual tactic whenever I’m assessing if a situation is emotionally safe for me). My supervisor, however, had other plans.
She mentioned the Lunch and Learn to me the first time to tell me about it. Then again to see if I’d be interested in attending. And then again to ask me what I’d like to talk about.
I’m sorry, what? Every therapist on the team wasn’t required to present. Why was I being chosen?
Being new to the team, my new supervisor wanted me to participate more (she didn’t get the memo about me laying low) so I think this was her way of pushing me out there. I talked for a couple minutes about topics I was comfortable with (ok it was more like a rant) and her response was, “So…mental health and African-American culture?”
I talked to a couple co-worker/friends about my reservations about the whole thing. My biggest fear was that the conversation would get hostile. I’ve been in enough rooms where people, with the best intentions I think, talked about race and I cringed THE ENTIRE TIME. So many misunderstandings. So much rage for me to maintain.
I was afraid of the same thing happening but this time with me having the floor in a professional setting where I usually code switch. I could see it unfold: Someone arrogantly says something inappropriate, then they’re not be open to correction, and then…I would have to go there. Only a couple people have seen that Laketra and I didn’t want her to make a cameo during the presentation.
There are few topics that get that type of a rise in me. Race conversations, specifically about a culture that I’ve lived my whole life (and no one can tell me differently), is one of them. I don’t care if people don’t think I’m an expert on this topic, and I am not the spokesperson for the black experience, but again, having been exposed to this community every day with no days off, I may have a thing or two to say about it.
Everyone assured me that those in attendance were going to be respectfully curious and appreciative for the conversation. They also had ABSOLUTE confidence that I could handle myself should the situation go left, but they would be there to help me tame my fervor. I also made it clear that I didn’t want anyone to be afraid to ask questions. As long as their question was proceeded by humility, they would be fine lol
The day came and basically, everything went well! People were engaged, asked questions, shared experiences, gave advice, and even came up to me afterwards to talk about extending the talk. I was calm, encouraging of others, assertive, and kept my passions in check.
My presentation was basically centered around understanding how historical events (ie: slavery) have impacted this demographic long term specifically in the areas of mental health. Below are some of my talking points:
- I said “black people” instead of “African-American” because of the rise of the debate that we have been mislabeled and we’re actually aboriginal. Also, some black people don’t want to be called “African-American” although I know that is the politically correct term.
- “All skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.” (A phrase used to assess trust between black people.)
- Historical and current events (ie: Tuskegee experiment and police brutality) have caused mistrust and trauma in black people. As a result we don’t trust health, “justice”, and school systems.
- Misconceptions about black people and depression = black women have to be strong, black people can be strong ALL THE TIME because our ancestors survived slavery
- We can take our cares to Jesus AND a therapist
- Be careful about using labels like “aggressive” or “difficult” with black women as we are tired of the stereotype (maybe we’re sad? overwhelmed?)
- More culturally sensitive clinicians. If “black” is not your primary culture (but it is for the populations you serve) it is your responsibility as a professional to become educated on the subject.
I didn’t want to make excuses for black people. I just wanted everyone to meet their clients where they are.
Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions or want me to expand on one of the talking points.