Issues of race in the US routinely boil over into violence. Charlottesville is only the latest example. Before that, there was Charleston. And Charlotte. And Ferguson. And Baltimore. After each one, there is a wave of questioning on social media amounting to, “Why aren’t more white people speaking out about this?”
Some of that questioning comes from well-meaning and legitimately confused white people. Some of it comes from people of color who are tired of seeing senseless death after senseless death be forgotten with each new news cycle.
The problem with white people sharing on Facebook that they are against racism and racial hatred is that it’s an empty gesture. It reaffirms the individual’s beliefs to people who probably already share them. It becomes a circle of self-congratulation where white people get to reassure each other about how woke we all are. It feels good and does nothing.
If you are a white person and would like to do something real about racism, start by confronting your own. This is not a one-time event, of course. It should be an ongoing process of assessing your biases and actively working to counter them. It should involve interacting with people who make you uncomfortable, precisely because they make you uncomfortable.
Next, support policies that meaningfully address our violent and racist history as a country. And by support, I don’t mean expressing support on social media or signing a petition. Give your time and, if possible, your money. Talk with people who disagree with you, and convince them. Vote.
Finally — and this is the one thing I’ll say here that is specific to the therapy world — make your values clear to your clients as they relate to race. We have a specific responsibility to address issues of race and racism overtly in therapy because of Psychology’s highly troubled history surrounding race. Whether you personally were part of that racist history is irrelevant. People of color have every right to distrust therapists to this day because of it. Joining this profession means signing up to be accountable for that history.
Whether you or I say anything on social media in response to specific incidents of racial hatred (or hatred based on sexual identity, nationality, and so on) doesn’t matter. Pushing people to say something about racism provides only hollow victories: President Trump was praised for belatedly using the term “white supremacists” in a follow-up speech about Charlottesville. At the same time, he continues to support policies that would strip health care from millions of people in order to give rich mostly-white people more money.
What we actually do about race, racism, and equality matters. Do something about it.