Weaving Compassion and transformation (The end of an era)
It’s May 11th 2021. The Prime Minister has just announced that from Monday we can visit in the homes of friends and Family without wearing masks. We can hug with discrepancy and we will also be able to dine inside cafés and bars, go to the cinema and engage in community and social entertainment and gatherings, so long as we continue to be vigilant of the risk of spreading the Covid virus. I feel blessed and give thanks. Millions of these people have died, lost love ones and and continue to be unwell because of the pandemic that we’ve been through since I arrived here over a year ago. I’ve not written anything since March and I am ready again. I am up early, in town collecting a parcel from the post office. I go to my favourite coffee station and sit outside as there are now 2 tables and four chairs on the pavement.While sipping Earl Grey tea I people watch.
I’m thinking about compassion and reflecting on one of the final meetings with my clinical supervision groups. A white therapist, L. had been using weaving with a group of Pakistani women. As a parting gift, she had sent some brightly coloured and differently textured strands of thread along with a cardboard weaving loom that she had made for everyone in the group. She carefully showed us the stages of weaving. On the small 5 x 4 x 4 Cardboard loom that we each held equally in our hands on the screen, eagerly waiting for instructions. The threads on my loom had fallen off so L. gently talked me through the stages of setting it up again. While the others in the group collected the colours and textures that they wanted to use for the auspicious weaving weaving process.
As we began i was taken back to basket weaving in primary school and needle work in secondary school. These were times I did not notice my gender or skin colour, or the feelings of loss and abandonment that had been with me since early in my life.
I felt enriched by L’s quest to raise her white children differently, as she had told me. As a result of our supervision work she had missed a meeting to attend an Anti racist parenting class. It was those moments that confirmed for me that a reflection of my own compassion, harnessed throughout the years in my work as a Therapist.
It has taken a few days to realise that being in this final group meeting has taken me back to a very important time in my life and I can remember that creativity always kept me sane even in my feelings of madness.
It’s sunny and warm and it feels like spring is here at last. The weather has been up-and-down with occasional days like this and in between days when it feels like winter is clinging for as long as it possibly can.
There were four therapist in the group. As her parting gift, D. sang to us about joy. She has this incredible way of throwing out words and music from inside of her that express how she wants to connect. D. and I have worked together for good awhile and she is one of my Master graduates, contributing from the soul and supporting facilitation of my workshops. When I listen to her singing I am moved and feel the deep connection between us. I have witnessed her anger at racism and seen her grow through it. Her voice becomes charged with the passion of her experience and sharing from her heart the sheer brilliance of her inner voice. The best way she can express herself. I feel her greatness and bear witness to her personal development and journey to becoming an icon in the profession.
DD, another group member expressed her gift of self expression and growing confidence in the training work that she is now doing in one of the major training Institutes in London.
She demonstrated how horses accelerated her personal development as a black woman. She is aware that one of my biggest challenges is a fear of large animals. And that I want to overcome this and find a way through connection with horses that will assist me to develop my sensitivities and intimacy with animals. I had made myself believe that animals wanted attention that I could not give them because I needed too much attention myself. As an emotionally undernourished child this piece of me missing, yet I have become a therapist and educator to be proud of and assisted hundreds of individuals to take pride in their heritage, love themselves more and expect to be deeply loved, respected and supported in relationships. I know DD has come into my life with wisdom and knowledge of her experience, to assist me in going to that place of fear within me and overcoming the trauma of being bullied, installed in my early life. During the meeting she shared the screen and showed us a video of the horses that she has worked with and will continue to work with as an equine therapist. She explained her own terror of large animals, before this amazing experience came into her life. This was her gift to me as we part from the roles we have shared for the past few years.
And this is the piece that A. read out as her complimentary parting gift:
My name is Anne, and I’m a racist... but I’m working on it. I’m working on it knowing that this is a lifelong process which has no finish line, and if I truly want to commit to working on it, that I have to explore the most uncomfortable parts of myself. I have to be willing to lose privilege, comfort, stability and my understanding of the way the world works. I’m not just a racist, by the way. I’m a homophobe, a transphobe, an ableist, an ageist and a sexist. How could I not be? I’m a straight, cis, white woman with a powerful passport who grew up in a world designed by people like me, for people like me. For all intents and purposes, it’s in my best interest to stop writing this essay now because succeeding in this work means that people like me have to lose out so that other people can win. Or so I thought.
My passion for anti-bigotry was largely a self-flagellating exercise fueled by guilt and shame with the intention of making things better for others while martyring myself on the altar of privilege. Looking down from the ivory tower atop my moral high ground, I could shout the truths of wokeness to all the bigots below. I, alone, would atone for millennia of injustice by laying my comfort down for the comfort of others- sacrificing myself for the greater good! I could have easily spent my entire life like this. I sought ways to do more work and to affirm my suffering which lead me to Dr. Isha Mackenzie-Mavinga who, instead of validating my guilt, offered me compassion.
Bigotry is fear. Holding onto fear only separates us from ourselves and from others; it is an unhealthy clinging that blocks self-exploration. In this way, bigotry is a sickness of the majority we’re desperately trying to cure by looking at the symptoms, not the cause. “Racism is the result of a misplaced white gaze,” Isha said to me. With that, I realized that I needed to turn inwards. Isha’s invitation to explore my relationship with my whiteness lead me to explore my need to be good, and my inherent belief that I am bad. Her compassion reminded me that my sickness is worth healing, not just to save others, but to save myself. In my desire to be a healer, I forgot that I am also worth being healed. In that respect, maybe I was right; people like me have to lose our fear so that everyone can win.
From the beginning, I knew I would do my reflective inquiry on something involving my work with minority clients, but it was this exploration of my inherent belief that I am bad that lead me to my struggle to be seen as good. It was Isha’s compassion that allowed me to ask myself, “How is my need to be good disproportionately affecting my minority clients?”
Healing Voluntary Servitude and Increasing Self-care. Dr Isha Mckenzie-Mavinga June 2020
It was never our job to take care of the slave master and his family, but once upon a time this was the enforced role on African peoples through slavery. Even though our descendants were being slaughtered, maimed and abused, we were expected to care for our abusers. We are tired and worn down by the constant struggle to emerge from historical, intergenerational and every day traumas instilled by racism and the pressure to assimilate and not be fully ourselves.
Our current responsibility is therefore to take care of ourselves and our own families. Our need to liberate ourselves must be on warriors backs and not by increased voluntary servitude. In other words, by rushing to the assistance of white people and institutional distress about the cause of black lives matter.
Since the killing of George Floyd and the resurgence of black lives matter enquiries about therapy and support for training courses and groups of people working in the caring professions have increased. Caution about self-care and the mental and emotional toll of responding is needed.
Suddenly professionals are crying out for support to unravel concerns about institutional racism. Some are genuinely traumatised as are we by news items that suggest outrage and critical mass of pain, disappointment and the need for institutional racism and statues representing oppression to be dug out and eliminated.
For some this is traumatising. As the status quo changes it may feel scary, and a threat to their mental health. In psychotherapy practice and teaching I have noticed that white people expect us as black people and people of colour to lift them out of their distress about the monster they have created for centuries within institutions that were built on our backs. The collusion of hatred and oppression of our ancestors has perpetrated ways to keep people of colour as underlings and in servitude. This is born out once again by statistics evidencing our over representation in the mental health system the penal systems, those impacted by the outrageous Windrush scandal and the high level of our people who perished due to COVID-19 and lack of attention to adequate protection of health workers. All this points to the problem of decreased levels of our survival in the West.
The current climate of righteous indignation is a surge or catharsis from the trauma of what has been sublimated in the collective unconscious, but blatantly obvious for many sufferers and observers who have tried to draw attention to this matter. Assimilation strategies and defences are laid bare as we make attempts to survive the trauma of racism as it is now exposed and in our faces.
In my writing and in training I have mentioned black Western archetypes, (Mckenzie-Mavinga 2009) step and fetch it’ and the ‘Mammy’ archetype portrayed in those who feel a duty to caretake individuals and groups displaying guilt about their role in maintaining a racialised status quo, oppression, misrepresentation and miseducation of black people and people of colour. Not to mention legalised murder by so called law enforcers and mental health system staff by using over medication and over restraint to shut us up .
My Doctoral study (2006) highlighted the process that occurs when racism has been identified on training courses and white students appeal to their black peers for absolution. A form of distraction from the pain of racism their selfcare.
White privileged individuals who are part of racist Eurocentric systems sometimes feel they are losing something by giving up their privileged positions to create anti-racist alliances with us so that we can liberate ourselves, our families and our clients. They do not realise that their change can also liberate them and they load pressure onto us to educate them and save them from their feelings of guilt.
Black lives matter is showing that we are collectively emerging from the trauma of our past and have high expectations of rising above the intimidation, undermining and crushing collective mental stomping on our peoples.
This gross situation that we have been living with in the western World and its effects in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean has created mental, physical, spiritual and emotional malaise. The underdeveloped mentality of the privileged white has caused them to feel guilty that we have exposed the treatment of us and we are now saying that it is enough.
An aspect of slave mentality that remains is where we put our own well-being and sorrow aside and we rush to educate, soothe and support the fragile psyche of a people who have been publicly found out and challenged on the role of suppressing us throughout history.
We want their allyship but it is not our job to take care of them. We often forget that we have our own wounds to heal and we put these aside and rush to show white people what they should do to recover from their guilt. This act often takes priority over our own needs for recovery and survival.
It is our job to focus on our own recovery and when we feel strong enough, when the pain has dissipated when we feel loved, supported, nourished and respected enough then we may use our experiences and skills to inform those in the white privilege group how to train themselves up and be better for us.
We are at risk of burnout and mental ill-health if we are trying to convince ourselves that this change can occur by Mammying. They convinced some of us that our brains are underdeveloped and that our best is all that we can achieve rather than our maximum potential. These projections are invalid and racist. Their emotional capacity is underdeveloped because many have been trained not to feel, so it is difficult for them to empathise and accept that white racism hurts us deeply. This intergenerational trait gave them licence to kill and maim us during slavery.
They are slow in learning humaneness and they present to us as though inadequate and not knowing. The same character projections that they laid on us. This has been called ‘white fragility’ (DiAngelo 2019) The truth is that they are fearful of being called out on their racism. Facing up to their responsibility to change white racist attitudes is a challenge that they are reluctant to take on. They will come to us looking humble wanting our pity and needing to be rescued. They are pitiful and they try to make us think they do not know how to change their inadequate world of white privilege and patriarchy. We may become confused and buy into this need for our care. What are they offering us? We are intelligent people we need to stop and consider whether we are being rewarded and compensated for our emotional physical and spiritual labouring to bring institutional racism to an end.
Internal racism (Davids 2011)
We become inhibited and embarrassed by their silence. It is difficult to sit with and we jump to rescue them from their difficulties and inhibited stance. We want them to pull their heads out of the sand and boldly speak out to each other and get their act together, but the pain inside us is excruciating and we want to recover from it so we try to rescue them. They are slow to learn what they need to know to help each other and we do not need to save them.
We are prone to driveness and compulsive independence as components of internalised racism we were driven during slavery and expected to work over and above human capacity without rest and rejuvenation. Without this replenishment it was difficult to see who we are because our gaze became distorted and we just kept going for the survival of our people and generations to come. Our people are trained to watch each other being slaughtered, not cry out for help and not create close communities that fight for each other. This heinous lie kept us separate and subservient. We therefore need to be vigilant with each other by reinforcing our connections and self-care.
Now we have a job to do on ourselves and with each other which is to expel the negative ways we cope with daily racism and self-harm instilled by racism. Together we can be stronger clear of thinking and develop a positive black gaze that reflects who we really are and gives us the opportunity to emerge from ways that are not healthy for us. We need to remember that healing from the hurts of our past as black people and people of colour is a priority over the teaching of a privileged group and their assumed white power. We need to recover from the mental and emotional wear and tear that the struggle to survive racism imposes on us. This is how we strengthen our minds and end voluntary servitude.
DiAngelo, R. (2019) White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Red Globe Press.UK
Fakhry Davids, M. (2011) Internal Racism: A Psychoanalytic Approach to Race and Difference. Penguin Random House. UKMckenzie-Mavinga. I. The Challenge of Racism in Therapeutic Process. Palgrave Macmillan.UK
The meaning of transculturalism, as a competency for professional practice must not remain vague. For therapists to emerge from training with multicultural competencies their knowledge and understanding of diversity and oppressions need to be supported. Development of awareness and practice in these areas is a training responsibility.
Working with immigration, refugee status, intergenerational trauma, oppression and sexual health need to be identified as competencies on the training agenda and this Knowledge should be transferred into practice. Training courses must therefore prioritize these issues and fully integrate them into the curriculum. Therapists need to feel competent to address these complex issues in their practice and be supported by their supervisors and respective organizations. In the first place trainers have a responsibility to re-evaluate their attitude and approach to teaching multiculturalism.
Therapists need first to acknowledge, then understand the nature and impact of difference and similarity, identity, culture and belief systems in the therapeutic relationship. Therapists must accept that their clients may experience oppressions. This means that therapists must examine the impact of oppressions on their own personal development process and their clients. Therapists should develop ways of being present in the client’s process of cultural identity development and oppressions. Most importantly therapists must find ways to engage with clients in non-oppressive, empowering ways that support intercultural, intracultural experiences and the impact of racism. The rigid application of traditional theories that rely on Eurocentric thinking need to be challenged and re-framed for their usefulness to individual experiences.
It is not enough to create a curriculum that has no way of evidencing students learning about multiculturalism. Students who are not confident in transcultural dialogue may bypass a cultural issues criterion in their assignments. Trainers can use their own transcultural awareness to support these students to develop their understanding and ways of reflecting on the process. This may mean being explicit about engaging with the social and cultural elements of the training.
Dialogue about racial context raises vulnerabilities and fears among student groups. Due to these fears, some students do not disclose cultural and racial information about their client’s background unless prompted. Often rigid belief systems prevent students from empathizing with clients of a sexual minority. Disabilities are sometimes denied for fear of offending. Students are quick to abandon clients whose cultural diversity they are unfamiliar with rather than face their prejudices and mistakes and walk with the client.
Appropriate use of transcultural literature to supports these concerns are important for a multicultural curriculum. It is not enough to add references and expect students to convert text into practice. Transcultural concepts tend to remain theoretical mysteries. They need discussion, elucidation and ways of integrating them into practice. Multicultural literature does not always give suggestions about working with attitudes about diversity and oppressions. Students claim that they want models of applying transcultural and intercultural therapy. Unlike the application of traditional models, they may struggle with the cultural aspects of therapy and need support.
It is also important to be aware of Eurocentric frameworks that dominate traditional approaches to understanding psychological well-being.