I moved to a small, relatively rural, and not very diverse town from a larger city. When I saw that a local organization that offers mental health services was having a panel discussion about working with African American individuals and families, I was intrigued. I was already on my third therapist in less than a year and still not feeling completely satisfied with the level of care of was getting.
What would such a discussion sound like?
I didn’t know what to expect but I never would have expected what I saw. It was a room full of white therapist asking a panel of two black people what it is like to be black. What was it like growing up black? What values do black families have, and similar questions. I wasn’t able to stay for the whole thing, so I don’t know if the questions got any more complex, but it was an eye opener for me. I went back to my own therapist a few days later ready to talk more candidly about some things that had been on my mind.
In my next therapy session, I rehashed an incident in which my son didn’t come home from a sporting event at all, staying out all night without a call or text to let me know where he was. When it happened, I emailed his coach to see if he knew the last person my son was with after the event. I then talked to my son’s teachers to see if they noticed changes in his behavior at school. Everyone I spoke with was shocked that someone as respectful and well-mannered as my son did something like that and was sure there had to be a good reason. The school staff and administrators were his biggest advocates. One of his teachers expressed that she was glad we moved to this small town because he was such a pleasure to work with!
For most parents, when your child doesn’t come home, you’re in a panic. You’re scared that something happened. You hope they are ok. You’re angry that they could be so irresponsible and inconsiderate, but there are some cultural concerns that I’m sure none of his non-black teachers and coaches took into account. One of my primary fears was that my 16-year-old son would become the next unarmed black person killed by police or some neighborhood watchman protecting their fine community. And I didn’t doubt for a moment that all the teachers and administrators that were so quick to advocate for him would remain silent while his character was assassinated by the community to justify the act.
I opened up to my therapist about my fears; those cultural fears that can be the blind spot of a white mental health professional working with black clients. To talk about my fear of racial profiling and injustices would be like trying to convince someone my son not coming home made me afraid that he had been abducted by aliens. To someone that can’t or won’t take the time to acknowledge racially motivated triggers as a legitimate concern for African American families, they both sound equally delusional.
My fear was probably no different than my father’s refusal to allow me to have a pager way back in 1996. He told me that only two types of people have beepers, doctors and drug dealers, and since I was neither, I didn’t need one. I thought he was being unreasonable but I’m sure in his mind he was just trying to keep me alive. Even if we go back centuries, I’m pretty sure there was a slave or two that complied with the master’s demands because they prayed the conformity would save their families from the inhumane torture that no slave was truly exempt from. As "cringey" as this panel discussion seemed surface level, it could have been on the right track by looking at black experience and black families. It could be what potentially opens the door for the conversational depth needed to have compassion for the African American experience.
Inclusion is often a discussion where the concept of conformity is purposely omitted. Conformity buys black people a seat at the “I don’t even see color” table of America. That seat is your reward for your willingness and effort to comply. With the appropriate amount of conformity, you might even earn the title of “not really being black” because you are so much like them now. What an honor, right?
It’s been a model that has kept the oppression of America running pretty well. Now, with talk of diversity, the country is taking an unexpected, and in some circles unwelcome, turn. Diversity encourages more than just inclusion. It promotes acceptance of differences. That acceptance requires changes in tradition, shifts in power, and compassion for others. This country was built on the antithesis. Although I’m sure that can be a scary thing for groups that have benefitted greatly from the system, we can no longer applaud our diversity when what we are really pushing is conformity and not recognize it as the racism that it is.
I commend those white therapists and black panelists that participated in the discussion. We have to start somewhere, and they started where they were. We’ve all been taught the model of inclusion through conformity. We are now trying to learn inclusion through diversity. It’s probably going to look really ugly before we can see its true beauty, but the beauty will be just as uniquely amazing as the melting pot of diversity that makes it up.
It was the day before New Year’s Eve, and I was feeling a little lonely. Both my sons were out of town and would be through the new year. I was home alone with my twin toddlers and they were wearing me out! I had a cousin in another state celebrating a birthday that day and decided to text a simple happy birthday message to my him. He texted me back but decided to use the opportunity to ask me how I was doing and to let me know that if I ever needed anything, even just to talk, to just call him. It started a daily text banter with the occasional phone call that really helped me.
However, in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think that he wants something. What could his angle possibly be? We’ve never really had a relationship before. Why now? I even talked to my therapist about my apprehensions and my suspicions. We both chalked it up to my lack of trust because of a traumatic past.
But it was still eating away at me. I wanted to believe that his gestures were altruistic but because I felt unsure, I wouldn’t allow myself to make a real connection with him. It made me feel like a horrible person. He would text me bible scriptures and words of encouragement every single day. How could I think so little of his actions or his character? But after some real soul searching, I realized that it wasn’t him I didn’t trust. I wasn’t worried about what he wanted from me. I was actually scared of a totally different dilemma.
What did I have to offer him?
I was a broken woman. I was burnt out. I was in therapy. I was a sub-par Christian. I felt mentally drained and physically exhausted. What could I possibly offer him?
That’s been my whole life really though. Wondering what I really have to offer decent people. Then surrounding myself with people who don’t value me because even they can see that I don’t value myself. And I accept their disrespectful behavior or condescending ways because I don’t actually believe I have anything to offer either. I don’t like the relationship but I’m also sure I can’t do any better.
I started thinking about this as I approach another Valentine’s Day as a single woman. What would my dating life look like? What would a relationship look like for me? What would a marriage look like for me? Do I know that I have so much to offer someone or am I still stuck in the place of hoping that they will love/respect me in spite of?
It forced me to look at the relationships I have now. My current relationships with friends, old and new, and realize that I still don’t value what I bring to the table. I still undervalue myself and so do some of my “friends”.
As much as I love the idea of dating right now, I’m not ready. It is a harsh reality. I had to accept that I would settle, just as I have in all of my past relationships. All of them. ALL OF THEM!
I still have some work to do.
Clearly, I still struggle with my self-worth and self-perception. I don’t see the intelligent woman that can add wisdom and insight to even basic conversation. I still believe that my life experiences, my journey of healing, and even my college education don’t qualify me to share what’s on my mind. I’ve convinced myself that it is insignificant. If my life and its lessons are insignificant, then I probably am too. I need to respect that I may not be as versed in the bible as my cousin, but my testimony can still be a blessing to him. I need to understand that I may be a single woman, but it does not mean that my experience in relationships, good and bad, disqualifies me from knowing how to love someone else. And more importantly, it does not disqualify me from deserving the love of someone else. I need to be the first one to show respect to myself and my place in life. I set the tone for what I receive and what I accept. Until I am comfortable and at peace with who and what I am, I need hold off on anymore new relationships.
I need to work on trusting my discernment. I need to use the wisdom I’ve gained and appreciate my struggles. I’ve grown. I’ve learned so much from what I’ve been through. I’ve even done the work to heal from the most traumatic events in my life. There is nothing for me to be ashamed of. My poor judgment in the past does not mean I am weak. It means that I was given the insight to become stronger. I can trust myself. I need to accept that I know. I know what genuine looks like now. I know what fake looks like now. I know what deception looks like now. I know what insecurity looks like now. I know what it looks like in myself and in others. I know how to check myself when necessary and I need to respect my right to check others when needed as well. Now I need to respect the process and use my training.
I need to understand the difference between accepting someone’s flaws and settling for someone’s faults. It’s all about setting boundaries. What are the things that are unacceptable to me? No one is perfect. That I know, but if I don’t like it, and I don’t want it, then I don’t have to accept it. I don’t need to settle for something I know will keep me unhappy later. I can accept a short coming that I can complement with my own strengths, but to settle for a fault that will ultimately be the downfall of us both should be unacceptable. I can have standards and boundaries without feeling guilty about it. It’s hard to break down a wall that’s been built to last, but it’s also hard to tear down a wall and become vulnerable to the pain you know exist. My therapist told me I needed a gate, something to keep out the wrong people but still give access to the right people. A simple, but effective boundary. What can I live with? Me. Not society. Not most people, but me. Accept, not acquiesce.
I need to understand my worth, respect it, trust it, and never compromise it. Then I’ll finally be ready for the love that isn’t broken, the love I truly deserve.
After spending a year in grief counseling, I started to see that my life needed a major overhaul. Yes, my boyfriend died making me the single mom of our infant twins, but I was still grieving my loss of innocence from decades of abuse. I decided to turn my pain into a new purpose and to share this journey with others that may need some motivation.