On not discussing whiteness during therapy.
October 30, 2019 5:58 PM   Subscribe

"The couch in my therapy office is occupied mostly by white people. Anxious white people and depressed white people. Obsessive white people and compulsive white people. White people who hurt people and white people who hurt themselves. White people who eat too much, drink too much, work too much, shop too much. White people who are bored, envious, guilty, numb. Racist white people and antiracist white people. White people who look across the room and see a white therapist listening. We talk about everything. Except being white."
posted by The corpse in the library (38 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
I mean, isn't one of the key aspects of whiteness that it tends to be the cause of very few problems for those who experience it?
posted by 256 at 6:08 PM on October 30, 2019 [7 favorites]


I mean YMMV but a non-zero portion of my continued psychological problems are probably caused or at least exacerbated by my clear and full knowledge of the fact that as a white male American, simply continuing to exist in this society inevitably contributes to a vast quantity of human suffering, and that it's entirely possible that if I died it would be a net positive for the world as I stop sucking up resources that would probably be better used by other, more effective, more deserving people.
posted by Caduceus at 6:29 PM on October 30, 2019 [27 favorites]


It's sort of interesting. I'm finding myself mulling over a possibility. The way people in my white orbit, for example, will view someone descending into racial hate as someone who has underlying psychological problems that drove them to this narrow-minded search for some kind of satisfactions. What if it's the opposite, though - what if the underlying problem, though, IS whiteness? Something to mull.
posted by Miko at 6:32 PM on October 30, 2019 [7 favorites]


Yep. It seems to me like when you treat people who are Historically White People Normal in Belief as though they need therapy because that is recently maladaptive, or at least lightly tut tutted at, you're missing the structural fault in the room.
posted by LucretiusJones at 6:37 PM on October 30, 2019


I guess, specifically in therapy, race comes up only when it needs to depending on the person? A white 50 something upper middle class liberal who doesn't spend much time online that's struggling with depression in New Hampshire probably will have less of a complex around race and how it influences their mental health than a poor white person growing up in the inner city who's very "trying to do the right thing" with activism in a diverse community, or a white identitarian who hates the way the world is going. Whiteness might be a canvas for some problems to spring up, but it seems very conditional.

I might be completely missing something, though. This is coming from a person who experiences the world as a white dude(TM).
posted by Philipschall at 6:38 PM on October 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


As a white male American, simply continuing to exist in this society inevitably contributes to a vast quantity of human suffering, and that it's entirely possible that if I died it would be a net positive for the world as I stop sucking up resources that would probably be better used by other, more effective, more deserving people.

This is extremely false and I hope you can find a better psychological place for yourself in the world.
posted by value of information at 6:56 PM on October 30, 2019 [84 favorites]


Ironically — or not — the field dedicated to uncovering, understanding and repairing our dysfunctional patterns can’t perceive the white elephant in the room. Having put numerous other social and racial groups under the microscope, psychotherapy continues to resist turning an eye inward to the group behavior of white people as white people...
Yes, but also I think no, it isn't ironic, because this kind of ambivalence towards collective behaviours, collective experience, and collective trauma is absolutely part of the history of psychiatry and psychoanalysis, isn't it? Thinking of the early splits between Freud and Jung about collective cultural mythology, but also the ongoing hostility to psychiatry in the 1920s–1940s as a Jewish science, from religious points of view (i.e. the Catholic Church rejecting the emphasis on sexuality, and view of 'sin') and racist ones (Nazi hostility to the Jewishness of so many psychologists). Nor is it ironic considering the growth of psychiatry-psychology as a science, and the acceptance of psychoanalytic ideas to treat individual patients in Europe and America in a specific historical context—the extremely collectively traumatic First World War, and its aftermath.
once I began to consider that white people could be a separate social group, with particular psychological dynamics, influenced by our specific cultural history, all meticulously detailed in the annals of psychological theory and research, I couldn’t stop
It seems to me that psychologists lag the other humanities in analysis of those kind of collective dynamics because psych, uniquely, faced 20thC exclusion per se from respect as a profession within dominant groups, and persecution (in a way that, say, historians, or economists, did not). I'm fascinated by the way psych can both see its own blind spot here, but also retreat into individualising analysis of fundamentally political acts:
White Americans are in the midst of a public mental health crisis — just check the acting out: suicide, addiction, mass shootings...
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:00 PM on October 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


What if it's the opposite, though - what if the underlying problem, though, IS whiteness?
Rock stars suffer from acquired narcissism because they are rock stars. They aren't grandiose or delusional because they actually are rock stars and everyone is treating them like they are rock stars, and it messes them up, infamously. So, the fact that I grew up in a world where all the stories were about people who looked like me must have messed me up somehow. How could it not?

In fact, I'm remembering some cringy reactions I had to some things which were clearly not for me or about me. (The one that always pops to the top of this list is "Cat Person", though in that one the difference is gender, not color.) Where my thoughts were those of a spoiled brat; "What an unfair portrayal of the character that is most like me"/"This just doesn't speak to me." Well duh, why do I carry the expectation that every single thing would or should speak to me?

Oh, right.
posted by Horkus at 7:28 PM on October 30, 2019 [29 favorites]


As a white male American, simply continuing to exist in this society inevitably contributes to a vast quantity of human suffering, and that it's entirely possible that if I died it would be a net positive for the world as I stop sucking up resources that would probably be better used by other, more effective, more deserving people.

(This is my own reaction.) You are neither the first nor the last white person to perform self-flagellation in reaction to your whiteness. This helps no one and only elevates your own feelings above the suffering you believe you are causing. I don't believe you hold any major positions of power, so it's highly unlikely that your death would help anyone either. Therefore, if you want to help someone, you need to use your privilege as a white person to fight against the harm caused by whiteness. If the guilt you feel is preventing you from doing that, then the first step is to get the help you need to channel that emotion in a positive direction.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 7:30 PM on October 30, 2019 [60 favorites]


Whiteness *is* the thing and I got tired of my white therapists telling me the problem was my liberal guilt. I now see a therapist who is a nbwoc (and I also wrestled with *that*, bc I didn’t want to take therapeutic slots away from other poc who needed them). I’m in a mixed race relationship and I urgently needed to talk about racism w someone who didn’t dismiss my partner’s and my experience, but who wasn’t my partner. It’s helping a lot, and I have many takeaways, but the main one is that as bad as our health care access is, the way we administer mental health care feels like hoarding.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:48 PM on October 30, 2019 [18 favorites]


I guess this is a hard comment to write but I'm going to dive in with the relevant, but admittedly anecdotal and quasi-firsthand, experiences from my take in this field. Forgive me if I jump around a bit.

So, some of y'all may know that DrMsEld is a practicing clinical psychologist who, in what I think is likely very short order after finally finishing said program and getting her license, is now one of two people in charge of a thriving practice. Without going into too much detail that means employing/supervising low double digit number of therapists and providing a range of services up to including telehealth options. I do some IT/handyman work for them because they're in that fuzzy place between needing full time staff of that sort and not being able to afford the same. So I'm in the office, if around the edges, a fair bit. I'm also Poarch Creek but pass as white for most people so bear that in mind that I'm not coming at this from a completely sheltered, silver spoon type of background.

That's the setting. So, let me say that sure, her office sees a lot of white people. But it's not all white people all the time, that's nowhere near her siutation. Certainly it skews a bit whiter than the general populace of our area but I can't help but wonder how much of that is due to the simple ability to walk through the doors and set an appointment which takes some sort of payment and the time/ability to be able to show up. That's even from their point of view where their practice accepts many insurance companies like Tricare and Medi____ rather than limiting themselves to the much, much more lucrative self pay clients that they could run with if they wanted to.

That's the meta-causation that I think is more likely presenting itself here. I could be wrong but their office is about the most welcoming place you can find in this town for gay, transgender, non-binary, POC individuals simply because DrMsEld is fully fucking woke and has a zero tolerance for any sort of negative behaviors towards the same. Her partner is less woke but just as game to be tolerant.

Don't get me wrong, they aren't flying a rainbow flag from the corner of the building but I did get them to put up an all gender restroom sign on their bathroom (ok ok it was already shared gender but the sign is a bold move in this community!).

So, that gets down to the nut of the issue for their practice at least. Two things: money and community support/opinion. They can't keep their doors open without paying their staff and bills and they can't exist in a community this size if their reputation takes a drastic turn so they can't be handing out flyers for the satanist church or the nearest Pride parade lest they alienate the clients that are able to pay to keep the lights on (read: all the self pay clients are white don'tcha know it).

And finally, just from the cases she's shared with me, 'whiteness' as a topic isn't really something that she'd have time for in the first place due to her focus on evaluations, suggesting research-supported therapy modalities based upon those evaluations and her experience, writing reports on the patients in question for their needs, and supervising her minions as needed. So that's her role as a licensed PhD, maybe the therapists she supervises are different or maybe different practices handle it differently, DrMsEld isn't big on talk therapy when it's placed next to research driven outcomes so YMMV and all that.

... and maybe her little corner that she's carved out is just intrinsically different than most practices out there. I admit that. Hell, if it's true then I'm all the more proud of her for handling a difficult job (running a business while helping people and not getting sued) with grace and aplomb.

Don't get me wrong, white people are fucked up and continue to fuck themselves up while being intrinsically frail and egotistical with a dash of pulling up of ladders behind them after they've voted against their own (and everyone else's) best interest after arriving in a SUV that's killing the planet and cursing the gays/blacks/illegals/hipsters for ruining their hometown vibe... I just feel like therapy access is perhaps more determined by Socio-economic status, or lack thereof I should say, of non-white individuals.

It just seems like assigning identity as the/a primary causation of a person's (or a child even, or someone with developmental delays, therapists here see a lot of those let me tell ya) need for therapy/aid, rather than an ancillary thing that needs work, sure, is a bit bold.

I told you I'd jump around. Apologies.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:49 PM on October 30, 2019 [12 favorites]


The essay is good! It addresses many of the questions or issues that folks have brought up in comments here. I'll point out, in particular:
Helms saw race as an inherently conflicted part of how Americans understand themselves. Like any psychological conflict, white identity could be resolved. Or not. Helms called whiteness “a culture shock experience, with race being the source of shock.” Her theory of white identity, built on interviews with average white people, acknowledged the possibility, even likelihood, that most white people would never come to terms with the shock of their whiteness. The shock is blinding, and that is where most white people start, at color-blindness, which Helms calls Contact. The next phase is Disintegration, when a person first acknowledges being white and becomes ambivalent about the unearned racial privileges they enjoy. This is the “white guilt” phase, which is followed, paradoxically, by Reintegration, in which a person tries to lower the cognitive dissonance of whiteness by doubling down on the idea of superiority. This is the overt racism phase, the alt-right phase. An easy place, Helms observed, to get stuck. She hypothesized it would take something emotional — a painful or shocking experience, perhaps — to jackknife someone into the next phase, Psuedo-Independence, when they begin to yet again question the structures of racial discrimination, albeit in a superficial and intellectualized way: the Bernie Bro phase. The next step is Immersion/Emerson, in which the person continues questioning the role of race of their life and society, and becomes increasingly active and personal in their growth, which captures the spirit of many left-leaning white activists. The ultimate goal is Autonomy, in which the white person finally allows themselves to surrender to the emotional weight of America’s racial history. The paralysis of guilt and resistance is overcome by an acceptance of one’s, and one’s people’s, place in the racial landscape. What emerges, phoenix-like, Helms predicted, is an emotionally-charged commitment against racial prejudice, both within oneself and society. The Jimmy Carter phase. Helms acknowledged Autonomy to likely be an ideal, at least for now, a state of consciousness and action to be worked towards and occasionally reached but never fully achieved. Helms’ experience as a counselor therapist informed her ideas about white racial identity, but her work is rarely used in actual therapy sessions with white clients, despite its potential as a template for understanding and reducing racist feeling, thought and behavior.
posted by eviemath at 8:04 PM on October 30, 2019 [15 favorites]


This bit made my jaw drop (emphases added).
In the 1960s, a group of black psychiatrists petitioned the American Psychiatric Association to add “extreme bigotry” to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, citing the frenzied, often homicidal violence against civil rights activists. The APA rejected the petition, making the claim that “extreme” prejudice was so normative among American whites that it was more of a cultural phenomenon than an individual pathology.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:06 PM on October 30, 2019 [29 favorites]


I was looking for more resources describing Helms' most well-adjusted stage of white identity development, "Autonomy," and found this piece on "Developing A Positive White Identity" [pdf] which people here may find interesting. Notably, the goal is not to get white people to feel abject or despairing (which, based on the article, seems to correspond most with the second out of the six stages, "Disintegration"), but rather to create a new, positive white identity that is anti-racist.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:10 PM on October 30, 2019 [13 favorites]


Thanks en forme, this resource is great. For UU Church members, but really applicable to lots of white people who are part of institutions or community networks. Being accountable is not about abdicating your own moral compass to some designated person of color who is perceived to be more moral than you, but about a commitment to building relationship.
Whether accountability relationships are inside an institution or in relation to leaders of a People of Color
community there are certain qualities for these relationships that are very important. The Rev. Chester
McCall writes,
“I find it interesting that when it comes to the issue of accountability for most people it means
having authority over someone or something. The kind of accountability I am speaking of is an
accountability of “right relationship”. It is the accountability of the integrity of ones word. No we are
not perfect, we break our word daily and we are not always in right relationship – but we have a
covenant to be in right relationship and to expect each other to uphold this commitment, so that
when we are not in right relationship those around us are empowered to say so, to point out to us
that we have broken the covenant. For me accountability is relational – not authoritarian – it is
about being in relationship and acknowledging when what you have done be it intentional or
unintentional has caused hurt and/or harm”
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:19 PM on October 30, 2019 [9 favorites]


The number of people who experience having their whiteness named out loud as a racial attack is another piece of evidence for why issues of whiteness should be part of psychological therapy. Being put in a racial category is so mundane to me that I was flabbergasted when I read about some reality tv dude who went on local TV to talk about being called "white boy" at an airport Popeyes as a racist slur. "Spicy combo meal for that Asian girl" would not have made me bat an eye. Similarly a lot of white people in Hawai‘i experience being called haole as derogatory. One Hawaiian language scholar, when asked on public radio if haole was a derogatory term, responded along the lines of "well is it haole or expletive haole? because the first one is descriptive and the second is derogatory."
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:35 PM on October 30, 2019 [27 favorites]


I guess, specifically in therapy, race comes up only when it needs to depending on the person? A white 50 something upper middle class liberal who doesn't spend much time online that's struggling with depression in New Hampshire probably will have less of a complex around race and how it influences their mental health than a poor white person growing up in the inner city who's very "trying to do the right thing" with activism in a diverse community, or a white identitarian who hates the way the world is going. Whiteness might be a canvas for some problems to spring up, but it seems very conditional.

I think this is kind of missing the point of bringing up whiteness in therapy. The point isn't to treat individual white people who have a "complex" about race. Whether or not you are consciously aware of it, being white and a part of a white American culture involves a certain set of assumptions and mindsets that change the way you interact with the world, sometimes in ways that can damage your own mental health. Just because you're not around a lot of Black people doesn't mean you haven't absorbed these cultural norms. Personally I certainly absorbed a lot of racist attitudes growing up in a liberal white state. In fact, because very white places in the US didn't become that way by accident those norms may actually be particularly salient (and hard to see from the outside).
posted by en forme de poire at 8:40 PM on October 30, 2019 [23 favorites]


I think the fundamental issue is that before you can tell the fish about the polluted water they’re swimming in, you have to get them to understand what water is to begin with.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 10:04 PM on October 30, 2019 [7 favorites]


It is quite a leap for many to go from "racism is a thing in our culture" to "racism is our culture and I'm steeped in it whether I feel like a racist or not", which is basically how to describe this whole fucking mess. Learning this is something which is not a casual education.

So yeah, you have to know you're in water to begin with, which is difficult enough. I'm not very good at all this, but I do keep trying.
posted by hippybear at 10:14 PM on October 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


The article mentions leftists and I keep encountering online leftists who basically deny "identity-based" analyses of racism on the basis of sophisticated sounding arguments, such as it is not foundational/material/class-based. So they dismiss white fragility (Robin DeAngelo) and would also dismiss this article. It's a strange cognitive dissonance because they acknowledge that racism exists but that concepts like "whiteness" are wrongheaded. I have not successfully figured out whether their dismissal has an ounce of merit, and I wish someone would save me the labor and write an insightful article clarifying this phenomenon as well. It's kind of sad that the left has these different camps, and cannot resolve the gap between.

Also, once my therapist basically told me that my mentioning (in therapy) the white race of a fellow student who was being an asshole to me was "divisive". She then directed me to empathize with that person as-a-person. I am still with this colorblind therapist, because I have had to make do.
posted by polymodus at 10:55 PM on October 30, 2019 [8 favorites]


If we can recognize that masculinity as constructed in our society confers great privilege but is also deeply disfiguring of the man's humanity, I don't see why we can't say the same about whiteness--which means it is not merely a fitting, but an imperative, subject to address in therapy. (Though given how limited access to care is, it may not be the top priority.) Being white has made me richer/healthier/better-educated than I would be otherwise. It must also have made me a worse person with worse relationships with the world around me.
posted by praemunire at 11:18 PM on October 30, 2019 [25 favorites]


Whether or not you are consciously aware of it, being white and a part of a white American culture involves a certain set of assumptions and mindsets that change the way you interact with the world, sometimes in ways that can damage your own mental health. Just because you're not around a lot of Black people doesn't mean you haven't absorbed these cultural norms.

Yeah, exactly. Growing up white and liberal in Portland it was too easy to absorb the ambient whiteness of the city as just the state of things and not really even be aware of how that basic fact of social demographics both restricted my view of the US and the world and masked off a lot of self-awareness of how the city got so white in the first place or how that legacy of racism still operated, and inculcated itself in me, on a day to day level in this hippie-ass deep blue town I was growing up in.

Getting away from that easy, self-satisfied image has meant moving on from the safety of seeing the past as some unfortunately pathologized but fortunately bygone episode—boy, they sure were racist back then—to understanding that then is now and they are us. That being a well-meaning white person in a city over-represented by well-meaning white people isn't a cure for racism, it's a rug drawn over the racism that is still present and systemic. Portland is a town that it's easy to not know you're white in, if you're white and you're not trying to know it, and that's not doing the place or the people in it any favors.

And that feels resonant with much of what the article talks about, about the absence of the confrontation of one's own whiteness as an active state of being and acculturation, and the implications of that on the psyche and mental health of a person who hasn't contextualized their own experiences of the world in those terms. The framing in terms of therapy is complicated because for it to even apply directly to any given person presumes access and inclination to therapy both of which aren't anywhere near as universal as the underlying issues, but then psychological theory and practice definitely filters more broadly into social space through discourse and self-help and media in general, etc., so it's not like a change within the discipline wouldn't have broader effects in the long run.

To run with Big Al 8000's metaphor: if you don't understand that there's water, you don't really learn much about how to swim. Its only when the current shifts that you realize how little you've learned about how to navigate.
posted by cortex at 11:44 PM on October 30, 2019 [9 favorites]


I think a lot of people commenting so far would like the work of Layla Saad, who has a book coming out soon called Me and White Supremacy. This is pretty much exactly what she attempts to address - it's a workbook (I have the free version) to guide you through examining how being steeped in a racist culture has effected you... and what you can *do*.

Caduceus...you especially. As a white man you can uniquely influence other white men (and certainly a particular type of white man) that the rest of us cannot. That is your job. You are *needed*. We need you to start breaking things down from the inside, from all those spaces we can't get into yet. Break it down until there's room for others. Even if the ways you do this seem small...sometimes it's the small things that are most insidious.

I'm sure mefites could come up with a long list of pretty simple suggestions along the lines of "Hey dudes it would be really helpful if you could...."

Seriously moping helps nobody. There's work to do.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:22 AM on October 31, 2019 [17 favorites]


The only way I keep from feeling the same way as Caduceus is through that sense of work to do, but I'd be lying if I claimed the idea of debt and responsibilities, the thought that it would be running from justice was any sort of panacea.

Maybe I have no right to be as exhausted in every sense as I feel, but even that thought doesn't make work the motivator it could be.
posted by Acid Communist at 8:04 AM on October 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


that it's entirely possible that if I died it would be a net positive for the world as I stop sucking up resources that would probably be better used by other, more effective, more deserving people.

This is extremely false and I hope you can find a better psychological place for yourself in the world.


Yeah, couldn't agree more. Many years ago, I encountered a turn of phrase in a song by a guy named Clive Robertson:

T.A.N.D.O.O.C. -- There Are No Deficits Of Our Creation.

Bit of a mouthful but it stuck with me. At first, I guess, because of how it spoke bluntly to the whole Christian Original Sin doctrine. But over time, it's taken on a deeper, more catholic (note the small c) resonance. The Problem didn't come with us into the world (our essence). The Problem is the world (the stuff our experience throws at us and how it forms us). It may begin to manifest from the moment we're born (the bad information we're fed by those nurturing us), but it nevertheless is of problem of the world, not the actual stuff of who we are.

I can't prove any of this, but it has helped me with my ongoing functioning in the ongoing here and now -- keeps me looking outward as opposed to getting lost within.
posted by philip-random at 8:28 AM on October 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


I am white, and grew up in a mixed family. It obviously did not absolve me from my whiteness, but my mother's whiteness and relation to race (growing up with black family) is markedly different from my father's, who hadn't met a white person until he was a tween. Even then it was not in a peer relationship, it was the worker's at his father's small, labor-intensive business. My father's ingrained racism was one of the biggest wedges between us growing up. I have only been in therapy on and off and haven't had the time to address my relationship with my father, but becoming an adult and being in leftist spaces and working in activism to counteract my anti-whiteness has granted me this insight and it's really been helpful, both in understanding my own whiteness and also working to repair the relationship with my dad.

My last time in therapy, though, I did talk about the crushing reality of the white capitalist patriarchy. My therapist was a white man, but left-leaning, activist, and jewish. thankfully he, too, felt both despair and obligation and he "got" it. He actually got it before I brought it up, which was very affirming for me.

So, to the men in here that think you're better off dead - you're not. I'm saying this as a lesbian misandrist (i kid) - there are roles to fill that only you can fill. Not only that, but for me as someone who is constantly shat on by the patriarchy, and as a survivor of sexual assault, it's been really healing for me to have the very few male friends that take on some of my emotional burden in healing. Feeling safe around a man is something I never thought would happen, but it does and it's been integral to me being able to exist in the world.

That being said, dear white people and especially white men - please stop making this about you and your self hatred. This is one of the few times it's not a total derail, because the thread is about whiteness and not about racism, but it still doesn't help. You are not better off dead, and I'd bet on it that your subconscious leads you to that conclusion because it's easier to hate yourself and wallow than it is to do the work you need to do to be anti-racist.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:54 AM on October 31, 2019 [12 favorites]


You are not better off dead, and I'd bet on it that your subconscious leads you to that conclusion because it's easier to hate yourself and wallow than it is to do the work you need to do to be anti-racist.

Glad I sat on my self-hatred post, this is a better distillation. I do think there's more to it than race-- still tied to mental health and well-being, but the arguments against continuing to live are awfully compelling and AFAIK the only way really around it is to convince yourself and truly believe that a human being's life is a thing worth upholding despite all of the harm it will cause.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:16 AM on October 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


Maybe I have no right to be as exhausted in every sense as I feel, but even that thought doesn't make work the motivator it could be.

Thing is, in the long run, you have to approach/realize the work as solidarity work, not as charity: doing with, rather than doing for. You have to find a way to connect anti-racism to your own struggle and your own needs. That's the effective motivator.

The connection is there; the essay gives an introduction. I haven't read enough Baldwin but he also seems to have quite a lot to say that is relevant to why anti-racism is important for white folks themselves, as well? For me, it is the realization that "an injury to one is an injury to all" or "none of us are free if one of us is chained" are not just slogans, but observational statements.

Or, connecting to The Whelk's latest post and the labor-related post before that - what will it take for a reinvigorated labor movement to grow in strength, based on democratic unionism, and potentially be able to organize a general strike or similar action that is large enough to actually change our economic structures and circumstances, for working class and middle class white folks as well as the rest/majority of the working class? It will take community, of a sort that us white folks (with some exceptions) tend not to be super great at (see descriptions in the essay, for example). You know who does have the sort of community organization that we'll need as a model? (Not every of course but) many non-white communities. ('Course, we have to learn to look to Black, First Nations, Latino/a communities for leadership and expertise, not just for some sort of, like, magical negro assistance in helping us learn to be in a slightly healthier community with other white people while still reserving leadership roles for ourselves or other white folks, or ignoring how the entire structure of racial hierarchy is still harming all of us.)
posted by eviemath at 9:41 AM on October 31, 2019 [17 favorites]


... okay, The Whelk's second-to-latest post. He's prolific. :P
posted by eviemath at 9:42 AM on October 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


When I was doing more direct client care, I was trying to do some of this with clients, though more in the context of case conceptualization rather than necessarily directly in the room (partly because I was mostly doing assessments, not as much ongoing treatment).

We (the mental-health industry, and society at large) pathologize normal non-white interactions all the time. Latinx and Asian/Asian-American families get labeled "enmeshed." Black and Native self-respect gets labeled "rage." Et cetera. White WASPy culture gets seen as "normal" and "healthy," even though many times it creates enormous problems in relationships; prioritizing autonomy and self-reliance over community and interconnectedness can lead to isolation, depression, anxiety, and broken relationships.

We definitely need to start looking at the cultural costs of whiteness, and as culture often determines our values, and as our values often determine our actions and desires, it makes perfect sense that the therapy room is one place to be bringing in that discussion.

Therapists are in fact often taught that it would be negligent not to factor race/ethnicity into our conception of a client of color or who belongs to another marginalized group. I don't think I was ever taught that we need to do the same for white clients. That's a problem, and one that should be addressed in our field.
posted by lazuli at 9:58 AM on October 31, 2019 [25 favorites]


Thing is, in the long run, you have to approach/realize the work as solidarity work, not as charity: doing with, rather than doing for.

Absolutely quoted for being fan-fucking-tastic. Another way that whiteness is part of the problem. "I should just get out of the way because i'm worthless" fails to realize that this is your mess, too.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:12 AM on October 31, 2019 [8 favorites]


Therapy is often some white-ass shit, is what's going on.

You know who can't afford a therapist? Most people.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:52 PM on October 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


I often hit a wall that my mental health symptoms are too debilitating for someone as privileged as myself. So I’m often talking in therapy about how privilege is a traumatizing thing. White people are dehumanized, so they will accept and even lead in a society that is dehumanizing to others. This is not to minimize the suffering white supremacy bestows on others. Just identifying the trauma I need to process in a space specifically made for that purpose.

From a societal standpoint, the violence is contained. The privileged are allowed to graduate from the dehumanizing hazing. They make sense of it by recasting it as a meritocracy. That they have earned their place, and can be blind to the fact that others cannot.

But a child’s brain can’t differentiate between shades of violence. They just knows they are not able to be safe unless they comply with their Family of Origin’s belief system. I don’t think the suicidal ideation is one of avoiding responsibility. I was just reading a book that was arguing that suicidal thoughts (not plans) are normal in those who experience trauma so young. It’s the first way they can imagine the trauma ending. And as we grow up and finally gain agency over our bodies, it becomes maladaptive and dangerous.

To some extent, going to therapy is indicative that they understand this power structure is toxic and not working on some level. While I have developed a dissociative disorder* trying to tamp down my anxiety and make sure it doesn’t hurt those around me, Benioff & Weiss feel no shame that their inexperience crowded out more experienced talented folks still waiting for the recognition they so rightly deserve.

And who knows. Maybe they go to therapy too, and it’s an issue their therapist never brings up. I realize I’m an outlier in discussing race as much as I do in therapy. And I don’t promise I do it well enough. But my dissociative tendencies makes it easier to talk about concepts and work backwards to the underlying emotions that are walled off.

*I have a lot of feelings about how much of ptsd tips seems to be “If you just let it suck a bit more, your brain will dissociate, and hide all your unwanted symptoms from you. This couldn’t possibly have any unwanted consequences down the line.”
posted by politikitty at 12:35 AM on November 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


(*clicks link*)
Yet the field of psychology, so intimately involved in all matters of the white heart, is nowhere to be found [regarding whiteness].

(*Control + F for "Frances Cress Welsing"*)

(*"Phrase not found"*)

Well, this is the exact topic that I told kalessin that I would never broach here, so MetaFilter, I'm not super eager to get into this, but you do need to recognize that there's a lot of African-American and African-descended scholarship (including psychiatrists of course) who have extensively thought about, written about, and studied racism. Here's Dr. Welsing on The Phil Donahue Show. The most relevant quote about her goal as a psychiatrist starts two seconds into minute eighteen--
The issue is, is that if we're going to have peace on the planet, there has to be justice. And white supremacy-- where you have the tiniest number of people on the planet holding down the vast majority [of?] people on the planet-- happens to be the highest form of injustice. And so if we're going to have peace-- see I'm not talking about "destroy white people"-- I'm saying "but we do have to eliminate white supremacy." And I say in the back of that paper: the challenge to white behavioral scientists-- help people who classify themselves as white become comfortable with their color, and comfortable with their minority status, so that they are not feeling negative and then mistreating all of the people that they say are what? Non-white.
(*emphasis, punctuation, and errors mine*)

It didn't go super well from there. That show aired more than twenty years ago. I'm not optimistic about it working here and now.
posted by tyro urge at 7:08 PM on November 1, 2019 [11 favorites]


Thank you, tyro urge. I will look up more Frances Cress Welsing.
posted by lazuli at 10:17 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Therapy is often some white-ass shit, is what's going on.

You know who can't afford a therapist? Most people.


Maybe this isn't what you intended, but to me this starts to feel like endorsing the myth that therapy is for white people. I think that is potentially damaging to people of color who would benefit from therapy but are facing mental health stigma. I'd rather say that the fact that therapy is so expensive, and there's so much insurance gate-keeping, and that it's so hard to find a culturally-competent therapist, is actually white supremacy -- especially since minority stress has been documented to hurt the mental and physical health of people of color.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:01 AM on November 2, 2019 [6 favorites]


it took me two days of reading plus two days of no internet to get through this extremely good and very thorough link - at first i was just impressed by the topic, because i'm in the middle of a lot of realizations about how my whiteness is still very invisible to me and how i need to make it more explicit in my life, and then i was impressed by all the references to work already done on this topic. bookmarked so i can come back and make my way through those references.

i also thought about how men are fucked up by the patriarchy, and i have some communities where men talk about that damage explicitly and work on how to make progress from there. i have no equivalent for white people. that's a conversation i'll have to figure out how to start having with the people in my life.
posted by gaybobbie at 9:55 AM on November 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


Caduceus, I've been sitting and thinking about your comment all morning. I believe you that you are in crisis, and that must be extremely difficult. I don't want to dismiss your pain.

However, the way you frame your understanding of your own privilege and impact on the world concerns me. Some of it is, I think, distorted thinking that may be a manifestation of the mental health issues you have mentioned. However some of it is representative of how many of those in power view calls to action by minorities in general, and I think that is part of why you are receiving such strong pushback.

So: yes, you are privileged. That does not mean your life is not difficult or painful, or that those who critique the existence of privilege are saying the world would be better without you. What we are saying is that the world would be better without the power structures that exist that give you privilege over others. You existing or not existing does nothing to change those power structures, so focusing on "the world would be better off with me dead" is misdirected. This is why you are being encouraged to change your actions, because that is how you can impact those problematic power structures. It is not that your very existence harms others, it is that actions taken by you and those who interact with you can harm others through the reinforcement of those power structures. Which means you have the opportunity to take different actions, and aid in the dismantling of those structures.
posted by arabidopsis at 11:52 AM on November 4, 2019 [7 favorites]


« Older Why I Haven't Gone Back to SCOTUS Since Kavanaugh   |   Clever Seamstressing Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments