Mental Health Stigma Suicide

(Non-Pandemic Post) Racism in Mental HealthCare.

This has been digging at me for awhile. I collaborate with several therapists and prescribers of African American (also Jamaican and Haitian) descent.

There is one in particular who practices close to where I am located, and who is simply phenomenal. I refer practically everyone to her. She’s seasoned, she doesn’t get phased by high acuity, and she can take on complex families and cases, and she is always open to collaborate.

I’ve had more than one client come back to me after a couple sessions with her (often white parents of a white kid) who ask for another referral as they “don’t feel it’s the right fit.”

You can imagine my facial expression right now. It’s the one that smells and calls out bullshit.

I always pry to the Nth degree…exactly what is not the right fit? Yeah but exactly what didn’t go well for you/your child…I need to know precisely the issue because I don’t want the same issue to happen with the next person I refer you to. They usually smile because people tend to smile when they get uncomfortable. They squirm in their chairs, and make super vague statements about what went wrong.

I push until it is awkward to push any further.

I’ve then spoken to the therapist and we hash it out. We are comfortable enough with one another that she can say if she feels it is related to race or not and I agree or disagree. Most often I agree.

There was one case that the family just didn’t want to do therapy work. It was almost palpable relief to us both in that dialogue that there was one white family who wasn’t racist, just lazy. We laughed about it.

As I said, she is seasoned. I value her input and I value her clinical opinion. I don’t think I can put into words the enormous respect I have for her clinically. It’s hard to find good therapists. Especially forty years into a career when they can be burned out or a little crazy and not as invested in their clients. But she invests everything in her clients. I definitely have a top ten therapist list of who I would refer my own family members to. She’s on there. Probably at the very top.

To hear her question herself and her skills because of ignorant people who discontinue treatment abruptly because they are racist creates this anger and hurt that again is hard to put into words.

I’ve read “Me & White Supremacy” by Layla F Saad which helped me explore my own internalized racism and white privilege because I have Black clients who have made me do better and be better. Hearing experiences of African American women who have been abused and marginalized and ignored creates a space that cannot be ignored by any white person I would hope.

I’ve fired a client after they fired that therapist. One client admitted to me it was because of race. One client admitted to me it was because they didn’t feel they could benefit from treatment from a Black woman. I told them they likely then couldn’t benefit from treatment with a lesbian. So I’d provide them a referral and they could leave.

No one else has ever admitted to me that it was due to race. Though I have asked outright. I told her recently that I fired that person and she remembered them even though it was a few years ago. I didn’t tell her at the time. I didn’t know if it was right or wrong or what.

The older and more experience I gain the less tolerance I have for racism, hate, homophobia, bullshit.

It eats at me that a skilled clinician questions their skills because white people are ignorant.

I can’t apologize for other’s behaviors but I can ask white people to do better. Check your privilege at the door because there are plenty of brilliant Women of African American Descent who know so much more than you and who can support you and just do their jobs as clinicians. Skin color should not qualify a person to be or not be your therapist. That’s ridiculous.

I’ve lost clients because I’m out about being Queer. But I don’t wear it on my skin. I have it easier.

To all the clinicians of minority status whom I work with please know I’m challenging clients in my office. I’m not letting it go if they discontinue treatment abruptly and if they admit to discontinuing treatment due to the color of your skin I’m discharging them from care.

And Dear white people. Do Better.


Dykes and Privilege

There’s this quiz floating around Facebook about how privileged you are. I took it. I got 36% out of 100%. Basically not privileged. There were a couple reasons. It asked questions about curly hair assuming the answers would only pertain to Black people. I am not Black, but I have excessively curly hair and I’ve had all kinds of questions about it over the years including people asking to touch it. The quiz also asked about gender identity and sexual orientation. I’m pretty sure that the fact I identify within my assigned gender is the only reason I even got 36%. Because based off of my curly hair, lesbian status, and female status I was assumed to be a Black female lesbian and told I have no privilege in the USA.

This made laugh because honestly if I didn’t laugh I would cry.

First off I thought a male had to make this quiz up because what idiot doesn’t realize white women have curly hair too? Then I felt bad because I was making horrible generalizations about some stupid white guy sitting in front of a computer screen in his mom’s basement or something. But I couldn’t stop myself. Then I felt bad that literally the only difference they could come up with between the rich African American culture and white people was curly hair that looks fake. Are you kidding me?

Then I couldn’t get it out of my head. Because my sons are white males. I have no idea how they will identify in terms of gender or sexual identity but they already have white male privilege. They came out of the womb one step ahead of most of the population. What do I do with that? How do I raise boys into men?

Like any person with a question I googled it.

There are a lot of articles about how to raise Black men and how to raise Christian men but not so many about how to raise white boys into men. Because it’s just intuition? Because people assume they will just make it? I can tell you the most awful experiences of discrimination I have witnessed and faced have been from white straight males. A Queer friend of mine made the exact same statement recently, that walking down the street she is most terrified of white males. Because they have privilege? Because they can say what they want and get away with it?

Having babies seems easy compared to raising men. I want them to be compassionate and kind but not weak, tough but not aggressive. The country is so divided right now and people’s ideas of what a man looks like are so different. I’m trying to enjoy their pudgy faces and bellies and ignore the unease settling into my stomach about who they will become. But occasionally I get glimpses. They look at me sideways or with a mischievous little grin and I can see a boy in there not a toddler.

Parenting unites people across religions, races, and sexual identities. Because we all want the same thing for our kids…at least that’s what I used to think. I’m learning that some parents want their kids to be happy based on their own definitions of happiness- cookie cutter house, heterosexual marriage, kids, etc. While some parents want their kids to define their own happiness even if it is anti-everything their parents have taught them. I want my kids to be good people, don’t we all? But my definition of good people is clearly different from my wife’s parents who think good people attend church twice a week, are straight, disown any one who isn’t straight, and don’t question religion. Whereas my definition of good people is more broad, more complicated I guess.

I feel like this is the shit kids should be talking about in school. What makes some one good? What makes someone nice? What makes someone mean? What defines a bully? Because my definition is clearly different from a person who believes in white supremacy. At the end of the day who’s right? And how the hell do I teach that to my kids?

Parenting is so much more than the 3 AM feedings, and the constant vacuuming, running around, and wiping aways snots and tears. It’s a daily life lesson in love, happiness, and morality. What do you choose to fight your kids on? What battles are the important ones? For two lesbians raising two babies into men it feels more complicated some days. I can’t take away white privilege. It’s unfortunately just there. But how do we teach them to harness it and not abuse it?

And one day if they are identifying differences between two ethnicities will they be humble and open-minded enough to recognize that hair does not delineate an entire race? And that perhaps we don’t need a quiz to tell us about white male privilege? But then I’m like why did I even take the quiz?

Race is such a loaded topic I’ve been hesitant to address it in here in a blog post. But when I started this site I promised myself to get into the nitty gritty. I am white. I am aware there is white privilege. This is based off my life experiences and my experiences working in healthcare for the last decade. Assumptions are made all the time about minorities. Like in the emergency department one time, a woman of Color accused me of racism. It was groundless, she was not in her right mind at the time. But still, my co-workers came up to me to make sure I was okay throughout the night because the whole scene was very intense. After the sixth person said “Of all people, I know you didn’t say anything racist,” I finally asked, okay so why does everyone keep saying “of all people”? The response floored me, “Well because your dating a woman. Your gay, duh.” So because I’m with a woman I can’t be racist? That was the assumption made by literally all of my co-workers. In my case it worked out. I’m not racist. However, I was appalled. Because I certainly know gay people who are racist. Just like I know gay people who voted for #45. Which literally makes me want to vomit, but moving on.

My point is that not all minorities like each other. There are plenty of Hispanics and African Americans who are not pro-gay. And not all gay people are pro-every other minority. It’s weird I know. It’s also weird that some LGBQ people don’t support transgender folks. I’m thinking there’s just not enough of us to split hairs. I’ll take all the friends I can get.

I’m going to close now with a memory from seventh grade. I was sitting next to my friend. I had known him forever. We were best friends through middle school from the age of 4 or 5. Our science teacher wanted to do a class devoted to “diversity” so we had to come up with a list of 5 differences between us. I named one, “boy/girl” then I literally sat there chewing my pencil unable to come up with anything. He looked at me like I was the biggest idiot on the planet and said, “Uh, I’m half-Black!” I was like, oh yeah, sure, write that down. I was so floored by that revelation. I literally had never thought of him as Black or white. He was just my friend and always had been. I felt uncomfortable and weird and wanted to say just take that back buddy. I didn’t want that to be a difference between us. But it was. We never talked about it again. We both lived in the whitest of white towns, and there he was half Black. And I literally never brought it up again, and neither did he.

“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King Jr.