Last week AAMFT released a statement on the Charleston murders. Based on feedback to the post, AAMFT realized this statement was not enough. It was brought to the attention of AAMFT that the voices of those who shared their concerns felt slighted, and their perspectives should also be considered and included in a thoughtful response. Below is a blog post and valuable resources created by three members of our organization.
Christine Ajayi Beliard, PhD, LMFT is an Assistant Professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Mr. Karlin J. Tichenor is a doctoral candidate in the couple and family therapy program within the department of Human Development and Family Studies at Michigan State University. He is a minority fellow alum of AAMFT and a King-Chavez-Parks Future Faculty Fellow of the State of Michigan. His research and clinical interests include African American heterosexual couples and the impact on historical trauma on couple development and maintenance.
DeAnna Harris-McKoy,PhD is a pre-clinical fellow, couple and family therapist, and assistant professor at Texas A&M University Central Texas who is committed to social justice in her personal and professional life.
While we agree that space should be created to discuss the oppression of all marginalized groups, this space has been dedicated to supplement AAMFT’s blog concerning the massacre of nine black people in Charleston, South Carolina. It is our sincere hope that this ability to admit silence, offer space for conversation, will lead to authentic dialogue that can propel not only the MFT community, but serve in the process of fostering change within the larger systems in which we all reside.
Purpose of this Blog Post
The intention of this initial blog is to introduce the beginning of an ongoing courageous discussion within the field of MFT on race, historical trauma, and our potential role in fostering healing as family therapists. We would first like to share our sincere hope to shed light on this pandemic to increase not only awareness, but provide resources and to create a dialogue that can assist us as we navigate our role as MFTs in our country’s current racialized climate – which is mired by generations of historical oppression of Black people. Yes, we could choose other words that are more palpable and neutral – minorities, disadvantaged groups, people of color – yet, we choose to not skirt around the issue. Black people have been and continue to be brutalized.. Polite conversations and silence on issues about race in this country and our world can no longer co-exist with the explicit brutality embedded in white supremacy and racism. If you had a reaction to the words white supremacy and racism, ask yourself why. What is it about these words that create a sense of discomfort? It is really almost impossible to separate all of our lived experiences from these “pillars” of our society. There are many writings, videos, and online resources for exploring these topics, and if you have a reaction to these words, we would suggest further exploration. (You can check out the resources found later in this post.) It also must be said that we acknowledge that the Black experience is no “one” experience, although there is a shared history of oppression. The experiences of Black people cannot be separated from their ethnicity, migratory experience, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, education, level of physical and emotional ability, health, among other intersections of experience. That is why an ongoing dialogue is essential. We also recognize the need for varying platforms – conference workshops, presentations, published scholarly and pragmatic resources, and leadership conferences that overtly engage in discussions about race and ethnicity for marginalized communities generally, and particularly Black people. This blog is not meant to be a comprehensive piece, but a launching pad for future ongoing discussion. Our aim initially is to set the tone for the future direction of our field concerning race relations.
The House We Live In
Black people are worthy of not only life, but equality and the right to have their narratives, experiences, and dreams honored and our assistance in helping them heal from trauma that impacts them daily. If there is contention about this point, it is steeped in white supremacy – the belief that white people’s experiences, beliefs, and lives are superior to that of others. Such ideology is often transgressed implicitly. One reaction to this series might include a comment suggesting that highlighting the needs of one group, namely a minority group, over the needs of others is “insensitive” and “prejudice”. To be clear, white supremacy is not an ideology only held potentially by white people. If we can agree on the definition, it is evident, especially for us as systemic thinkers, to understand the role of white supremacy in the institutions and lived experiences in our country. As an example, many people have recently made a stand against the flying of the confederate flag over public institutions in our country. These flags have flown for years, with little traction for removal. Sadly, it took the deliberate racial act of murdering nine Black individuals for some to even acknowledge the role of race in the experiences of oppression and violence in our country. Moments such as this cause us all to question and start to “see” the house we have lived in for so long. Moments such as this will either lead to a period of emotional rawness, and then, back to business as usual, or spawn us into true healing and change. What will determine the outcome, is the same as how we conceptualize change clinically. The plight we find ourselves in personally, professionally, and as an organization is isomorphic to the plight of our country. If we were to visualize our country as our “client,” what would we conceptualize as the presenting problem, appropriate clinical intervention(s), and how would we ‘know’ when change has really occurred? We are sure we can come up with awesome case plans, and working hypotheses on the “real” problem, what is holding us back from experiencing true change, and ideas on how to move us forward. We have the clinical skills to pioneer lasting change in our country, but we must simultaneously attend to our own wounds and inflictions as such pandemics have a global impact
Fostering Change as MFTs
Why are courageous conversations about oppression necessary? As marriage and family therapists, we are charged with understanding and recognizing systemic processes that influence the experiences that shape the lives of our clients. One of the systemic processes that occur is the dominant narrative of white superiority/black inferiority that is related to the overt racism that we are currently witnessing and disparities in education, wealth, housing, and health. If we disconnect the racial climate from the lives of our black clients, we may be silencing a clinically relevant piece of their stories (the same hold true collegially within the organization). MFTs are the group of clinicians best trained to conceptualize, systemically, these issues, and even how to foster change in our country.. We must first be willing to look at our own wounds and inflictions of hurt as we assist in the healing of others. We must be willing to question our own implicit and explicit biases, assumptions, practices, and willingness to sit with the pain and discomfort that is often easy to bypass with “another good question.” Our understanding and recognition of systemic processes cannot be as an outsider to the narratives of those who trust us to walk alongside them. Our personal “secret” conversations have influence on who we are in the room. What are we allowing behind closed doors that we are unaware of its impact and offensive nature as a result of privilege and unintentional apathy?
AAMFT has added these additional resources from the authors to our website for use by MFTs:
- Facing the Pain, Larger Meaning, and Lessons of the Charleston Massacre
- Strategies for Persons of Color about Self Care
- Practical Ways to Counter Racism and Supporting Black People as MFTs
- Recommended Reading List
To get the dialogue going, consider these questions, and feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comment section:
1. What is the role of MFT as a systemic field in creating and maintaining change with regard to race in our country?
2. What type of stance should the organization take nationally?
3. How can clinical scholarship create and maintain relevance with regard to this topic?