I was happy to hear from a long term client yesterday, who I had been seeing for about 29 sessions so far, that she had written a blog post for Bell Let's Talk Day. The topic of the post was things she has learned from our time together. I thought it was very thoughtful and well-written, and full of insights that make a huge difference in the way one would approach life.
It's important to remember that sharing our struggles and authentic self with someone takes a lot of inner strength and courage, and is something that should be commended rather than thought of as a weakness. Mental health issues can not be seen, and consequently are given much less tolerance, acceptance and empathy when compared to physical health issues. We wouldn't expect someone in a wheelchair to walk but we may get angry or resentful when someone suffering from depression has to take an extended leave of absence.
People who suffer from depression, anxiety, trauma, PTSD, bipolar disorder and several other mental health conditions usually don't look or act differently than anyone else. It's time to change the way we view mental illness as secondary in importance to physical illness. OHIP will allow you to see a medical doctor when you are feeling physically ill, but not a psychotherapist when you are suffering mentally. Not all private insurance companies cover psychotherapists, even though almost all of them cover professionals who work on the body.
We become what we think about all day long. Our thoughts shape our destiny, if the mind is not healthy, you will not be healthy. The more we advocate for mental health, the more likely that those who genuinely need help will get help at critical points in their lives.
I hope that the first day of 2021 has been off to an auspicious start for you. There is a saying that what you do on the first day of the year reflects the theme for the year ahead, so I took the entire day for self-care, to harmonize my mind, body and spirit.
I'm not sure how 2020 was for you but there are always things that went well and that you finally accomplished, regardless of how difficult the year was in general. It's helpful to intentionally focus on all the things you accomplished and felt good about, rather than think about what you still haven't done yet. This way your cup will feel full. You will feel abundant and optimistic about all the good things that will be coming your way this year, and also encourage others to feel the same.
Growth is a process; and transformation is a gradual, sometimes subtle, process that we have to cultivate faith and patience towards. It can be frustrating to see that we are working hard in pursuit of a certain goal; we have been at it for months and even years, and the outcome remains uncertain. We don't know if or when we will see the fruits of our labour and it seems tempting to change course or put it on hold. Other people may not see or understand our talent and passion, and may not validate our dream. Yet, the dream remains in our heart and we can imagine vividly how it will feel when the time comes for it to be actualized.
I've observed that how we would like the timing of our life to look like isn't always what the universe has in store for us. The universe operates on divine timing and has infinite intelligence. Be open and receptive to what the universe is trying to tell you, and use pencil to plan your life instead of pen. That way you will be able to surrender all expectations which keep you from living joyfully. Happiness may not always come in the package we would expect it to. God's blessings don't come in a linear way; all of a sudden, you find yourself with more than you ever dreamed possible, or you suddenly find yourself thinking from a much higher, deeper and wiser level of awareness.
Sadvi Bhagawati Saraswati writes in her book 'Come Home to Yourself':
"The universe has a plan for you. Yes, of course, we have to choose a path and walk it, but we only do that until we get a sign that says, 'Turn right now'. Look at the caterpillar. It spends most of its life crawling on the ground, and then one day, it hears a voice or it gets a sign that says, 'Climb the tree.' Now, it's never seen anyone go up that tree and come back. Mom's gone up, dad's gone up, but no one has come back. That tree is the Bermuda Triangle for caterpillars. But when it receives the instruction to climb, it does. It gets a signal to go out on the branch, weave itself into a cocoon and sometime later, burst forth, jump and fly away. It has no idea how to fly! It's never flown before, but when it is time to jump, it does.
A caterpillar never misses the chance to become a butterfly because it's too scared to climb a tree, or because it doesn't know how to weave a cocoon, or because it jumps out of the cocoon too soon and plummets to the ground. It never becomes a butterfly that climbs back down the tree instead of flying because it doesn't believe it can really fly.
There is an intelligence in the universe that pervades all of creation, including us. But we have to trust it, and we have to be quiet and still enough to hear it. If the caterpillar spent its entire life bemoaning the fact that the millipede got a thousand legs while we only got twelve, it might miss the call to climb the tree."
From this passage, I take away that it is important to find ways to honour yourself just as you are now, even though you might be in the caterpillar stage. Bloom where you are planted. While it is important to be aware of our constant state of evolution, it is also important to be content with the way our journey has unfolded up to this point, with the realization that everything that happened is meant as preparation for our ultimate destiny. We have everything we need to fulfill our unique destiny, and do not need to compare our talent to anyone else or feel inadequate or inexperienced in any way. Take risks that will add vitality to your life when your heart tells you it is right. Don't miss your chance to become a butterfly due to fear and worry, the false belief that you aren't ready yet, or listen to the voice of naysayers. If you are given the opportunity, you can be sure that you are well equipped to handle what comes your way. There is no need to have the process completely planned out, for it will happen just at the time and in the way that it is meant to.
To varying intensity and duration, we've all struggled with our mental health at some point in our lives. Experiencing these issues are part of the human condition, part of our life cycle just like birth, aging, and death. Yet, mental illness does not garner the same level of empathy and societal acceptance as physical illness. While we take time off when we are physically ill, it is unheard of in nearly all workplaces for employees to take a "mental health day" off work, to just stay at home, when they are on the brink of burnout and desperately need to re-charge. It would make a huge difference if companies provided even one paid holiday for employees to take care of their mental health without having to lie in order to do so. Feeling forced into lying is part of what perpetuates the stigma around mental health.
As Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living". Self-analysis is necessary for all of us to understand our blind spots, and to be equipped with the right tools to initiate meaningful change. It takes strength and trust to be vulnerable in session. Vulnerability and honesty are necessary for growth. If you are in therapy, this is a great time to honour yourself for all of the work that you have done thus far, and to celebrate the fact that your enhanced self-awareness impacts the lives of the most important people in your life. Relationships are on the path to restoration and revitalization because of you.
Habitual self-care and going to therapy are acts of generosity towards yourself and others. I hope one day mental illness will be recognized as a normal, inevitable response to life's accumulated daily stresses and unexpected curveballs at certain stages in life, and people validated by loved ones for the courage it takes to seek therapy as part of their healing.
The title of this post is taken from a nice article posted by Chatelaine magazine. There were good points to consider when thinking about the impact of intersectionality on the therapeutic alliance between therapist and client. Intersectionality commonly considers factors such as age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, native tongue, citizenship, religion, and social class in studying how a person's lived experiences, view of the world, and expectations for the future are created and shaped with time.
When I was in graduate school at the University of Toronto, about 80% of my classmates were White, heterosexual, middle class women. This is a reasonably accurate representation of psychotherapists practicing in the GTA. This statistic can be problematic when you consider more than half the population is a visible minority, half the population is male, and social class differs widely. Most therapists I have come across don't have a disability, are native or fluent english speakers, are heterosexual, are Canadian citizens, and/or came to Canada by the time they were a young adult.
While factors such as age, race, sex, physical disabilities, and sexual orientation tend to be visible, disabilities (learning and mental health), social class, citizenship and religion tend to be more hidden. I've observed that clients tend to gravitate to a therapist who shares visible factors in common with them, with age and race being most commonly sought out. Sometimes therapists will discuss on their websites the non-visible factors they experience or have experienced in the past in an effort to convey that they have a particular lived experience in common with their potential clients. Or perhaps they will disclose this if you discuss it in session. I know therapists have differing opinions on this type of disclosure, but I will almost always disclose a shared experience if a client discusses it during session as I find it strengthens the therapeutic alliance.
The list of non visible shared experiences are endless but for example, being a first or second generation immigrant, having a parent who was a refugee or coming to the country as a refugee, having overcome an addiction, being a parent or single parent, miscarriage or issues with pregnancy, divorce or separation, marital difficulties, being in an interracial relationship, holding precarious jobs or other issues with career, being bullied, experiencing trauma, experiencing sexual assault, going back to school in mid-life, growing up in a particular country, parents divorced when young, learning english as a second language, experiencing challenges with mental health or having a learning disability, and experiencing difficulty with household income as a child.
When you are in a school, are a client at a community centre or are accessing a therapist through a EAP, there may be just a handful of therapists to select from and you feel they may not be a good fit for you. If the first few sessions are not helping, it's probably not best to hope things will improve with time because they usually don't. It is important to invest in your mental health and put a great deal of care in selecting the right therapist for you, even if you have to pay for it yourself. It is a crucial investment because your thoughts and feelings shape your destiny. The right therapist can be a huge catalyst for change in your life. Many therapists in private practice offer a sliding scale (even if it isn't advertised) and are willing to work with you to make therapy accessible.
When seeking therapy, it is natural for clients to want to seek out a psychotherapist who shares at least a few of these features of intersectionality in common as it suggests they may have had some similar experiences and therefore have a better understanding of what the client is going through. Lived experiences are powerful builders of empathy, because if I remember going through something, or am going through it myself, and you are now going through the same thing, my understanding comes from the heart and not just the mind. You may be able to convince me out of believing in a theory but not out of my lived experiences. When we share lived experiences, I can see and understand you in ways that other people may not. You are free to speak your personal truth. Taking the risk of being raw in session, and then feeling truly seen, heard and validated in a caring, genuine way is the power of a strong therapeutic alliance.
The therapeutic alliance is the single best predictor of meaningful client outccomes. The strength and quality of the therapeutic alliance has been shown to be associated with: positive changes in attachment style in clients (Messer & Gurman, 2011, p. 95), clients being able to access and express their emotions faster and more in-depth while in therapy (Greenberg, 2014) and more profound, long-term behavioural changes after termination (Ardito & Rabellino, 2011; Leszcz, Pain, Hunter, Maunder & Ravitz, 2015). Leszcz et al (2015) state that the therapist’s ability to: convey genuineness and empathy to a client, collaborate on goals, quickly and effectively repair ruptures, and understand the client’s beliefs and worldviews make for a stronger therapeutic alliance. In turn, this helps to create an atmosphere where clients can heal, regardless of the therapeutic style employed (Leszcz, 2018).
Every therapeutic model has research that demonstrates the effectiveness of its individual techniques on client progress. Examples would be the thought record and exposure therapy in CBT and empty chair and self-critical split techniques in EFT (Josefowitz & Myran, 2017; Elliott, Watson, Goldman & Greenberg, 2004). However, two therapists using the same technique on the same client may have significantly different results, depending on the therapist’s personal characteristics and the quality of the therapeutic alliance they have established with the client (Greenberg, 2018).
In emotion focused therapy, the therapist’s presence in creating a safe space for expression of emotions that may have never been made conscious or expressed to others is associated with a high-quality therapeutic alliance (Greenberg, 2014). While the technique used can make a difference, the therapeutic alliance is more important (Greenberg, 2014; Greenberg, 2018). In other words, technical mastery is not enough for meaningful change unless it is accompanied by a high-quality therapeutic relationship. Sensitivity to issues of diversity (Big 7 identities) and equalizing the power helps to cultivate the therapeutic alliance (Moodley, 2011).
Finding a therapist can be like dating; sometimes you have to try a session or two before you can gauge whether the outcome is likely to be fruitful if you continue to invest the time and effort. It could be a great match on paper but sometimes the right flow of energy just isn't there. Pay attention to how you feel after the session. It's not the style of therapy the therapist uses, the amount of courses they attended, or the years of experience they have so much as the therapeutic alliance between you that will really matter in the long run.
Ardito, R. B. & Rabellino, D. (2011). Therapeutic Alliance and Outcome of Psychotherapy: Historical Excursus, Measurements, and Prospects for Research. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198542/
Elliott, R., Watson, J. C., Goldman, R. & Greenberg, L.S. (2003). Learning emotionally focused therapy: The process experiential approach to change. Washington D.C.: APA Books.
Greenberg, R. (2018). Essential ingredients for successful psychotherapy. In M. J Dewan., B. N. Steenbarger & R.P. Greenberg (Eds.), The art and science of brief psychotherapies, 3rd edition. (pp. 17-28). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association Publishing
Greenberg, L. (2014). The therapeutic relationship in emotion-focused therapy. Retrieved from
Josefowitz, N. & Myran, D. (2017). CBT made simple: A clinician’s guide to practicing cognitive behavioral therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger
Leszcz, M., Pain, C., Hunter, J., Maunder, R., & Ravitz, P. (2015). Psychotherapy essentials to go: achieving psychotherapy effectiveness. New York, NY: W.W Norton & Company
Messer, S. B., & Gurman, A. S. (2011). Essential psychotherapies: Theory and practice (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Moodley, R. (2011). Outside the sentence. Toronto, ON: Centre for diversity in counselling and psychotherapy
Remember that the greatest gift you can give the world is your presence. Working on the energy you emit to other people and to the world elevates the consciousness of humanity. More helpful than doing good deeds, is being a genuinely good person. I've always been fascinated with Dr. David Hawkins map of consciousness levels and how just a handful of people at the higher levels (500 and up) counterbalance the energy so that the world as a whole stays above 200 which is the critical difference between power and force.
The next time you are doubting the impact you have on the world, or if your efforts make a difference, remember you have people in your life who you influence, those people have people in their life that they influence and the cycle continues, with your words, ideas, and behaviour influencing people you will never meet or know you have impacted. You don't need to be well-known or have tons of social media followers to be a change-maker. The biggest legacy you can leave is in increasing your own consciousness level. Create a sacred time to replenish yourself, to breathe deeply, to experience feelings of awe and to listen to inspiring stories and words of wisdom. Be aware of your words, knowing that it can take a second to say them but people may be thinking about them years later. What do you want your influence to be? Someone who uplifts or someone who denigrates? When people think of spending time with you, how do you want them to feel?
I love being a psychotherapist because my client's transformation leads to transformation in their families and close friends. Your changed behaviour will lead to different relationship dynamics which will improve the quality of life for everyone. A new empowering story gets created which draws different experiences to you and allows you to break out of the stagnant energy patterns that have been holding you back.
Do something today to uplift your energy, even if it's just a 5 minute practice. Trust that you do make a difference.
Jessica Mulroney was in the news yesterday as her actions demonstrated textbook White privilege in action. Influencer Sasha Exeter, who is Black called her out for her threats. Jessica got offended at a generic call to action regarding the Black Lives Matter movement that Sasha posted and spoke with people who Sasha had brand partnerships with to retaliate against her for the "way you have treated me unfairly". Not one to back down, Sasha posted their conversation on social media and while Jessica issued a public apology to create an appearance of being self-aware, her insincerity was revealed when she soon after sent Sasha a private DM insinuating that she would take legal action against her for libel. Sasha posted the DM showing the threat of libel and as a result Bell Media pulled Jessica's show "I Do, Redo" off the network and organizations such as Cityline and Hudson's Bay cancelled their partnerships with her.
"Bell Media and CTV encourages our entire team including our on-air talent to practice respect, inclusivity, and allyship as we pledge to work better and more openly to listen to and amplify Black voices, and not to minimize them. Because recent conduct by one of our shows hosts, Jessica Mulroney, conflicts with our commitment to diversity and equality, CTV has removed I Do, Redo from all Bell Media channels and platforms effective immediately."
It is encouraging to see that abuse of privilege finally results in tangible consequences for the perpetrator, despite her immense wealth and powerful social network. I am grateful to Sasha for her courage to take a stand despite the potential setbacks she may face down the road. I am also hopeful that this is the first of many occurrences to send a message to everyone who abuses their privilege that their time is up. Likewise, everyone who experiences discrimination and oppression should be encouraged that their voices can cause change, however small or big that may be. We don't all have the same size of platforms to call attention to injustice but it is important to be a catalyst for change in whatever circumstances you are in.
Sasha stated: "Listen, I am by no means calling Jess a racist but what I will say is this, she is very well aware of her wealth, her perceived power and privilege because of the color of her skin. And that, my friends, gave her the momentary confidence to come for my livelihood in writing". Sasha terms this White privilege and I agree this is what it truly is.
White privilege does not just manifest in openly racist comments and behaviour. It is the belief, whether conscious or unconscious, that one can easily get away with unfair behaviour, or otherwise that the consequences they face would be minimal enough not to affect them in any significant way. This belief has been reinforced by events and power structures in society for a very long time. To quote Vinay Menon from the Toronto Star,
"Jessica Mulroney made Sasha Exeter feel endangered because she felt safe doing so. In fact, she felt so safe, it’s possible she didn’t feel anything at all."
Recently, I was banned from seeing my 86 year-old dying uncle, who was like a second father to me, at a hospital in Ontario. The hospital had banned me because my Uncle's sons did not want my family to see him (even though they knew about our extremely close relationship). The hospital staff enforced the ban, having security kick us out each time we visited, despite hearing in person and via recording that my uncle wanted to see my family. They enforced the ban even though they did not have the legal right to do so solely under the family's wishes. They did not issue my family any written communication regarding the ban for nearly a month after they implemented it.
When the Patient Ombudsman intervened on my behalf, and inquired with the hospital, they said the ban was due to the family's wishes. When I filed an official complaint with the Patient Ombudsman, they informed the hospital that they could not ban my family based on the wishes of the sons and told them they needed to explain their reasons for the ban to my family. At that point the hospital started claiming that I was violating their respectful workplaces policy and my "aggressive behaviour" was the reason for the ban. For example, one of the reasons given to me via an official letter was that I "threatened" to file a court case because my uncle (who has a severe hearing disability) did not have his hearing aid in his ear on multiple occasions. One nurse told me it was making noises that could be heard in the hallway. I had calmly told the nurse to put it back in, and that it was a human rights violation that was upsetting the patient and that this could be taken to court. This was not a threat, it was a promise that I am working on fulfilling now. I had also informed patient relations of his disability and the lack of accommodation via email a few days later. They didn't seem to care stating that his son was power of attorney (he actually was not) and they would only discuss it with him. They did this even though they should have known it was causing my uncle severe emotional distress not being able to hear. Their duty was to the patient, not to the sons. It was easy for them to ignore his wishes, he was disadvantaged in many ways: he was old, disabled, a visible minority and powerless in his rapidly deteriorating condition to do anything. The portrayal of me as aggressive is racial discrimination as minorities are often portrayed as aggressive when they are asserting their rights.
The hospital's allegations tried to portray me as "aggressive" and "agitating" when I was speaking up for my rights and the rights of my uncle. They did not have allegations against my dad, mom and brother and still enforced the ban anyway. When the hospital found out I had recordings to expose their behaviour, they threatened me to delete them or they would take me to court and I may have to pay $100 000 as a fine and their legal fees. I did not delete the recordings because they were my lifeline against defamation and I knew I had the right to keep them. I never heard any follow-up about deleting the recordings because they probably realized they couldn't force me to do it. Why would I further disadvantage myself in what was already a David and Goliath scenario? The hospital knowingly inflicted trauma upon my uncle and my family at not allowing us to say our final goodbyes. I believe they did this because of White privilege. They believed they could make it a he said- she said scenario where they would have the upper hand and I wouldn't be believed even if I took it to court. They relied on their staff saying things about me, so they probably thought they had more credibility than me. When they realized I had the recordings to back up my narrative, they started threatening me. At the very end, they offered a supervised, time limited visit with patient relations present but this was set for the same evening on which they demanded I delete the recordings. I interpreted this as delete the recordings or you will not see him at all.
Their actions felt very emotionally abusive at a time when my family was already under great emotional turmoil thinking about the death of our loved one. He died one day before my family was set to see him under these humiliating conditions. We were held back like animals. All the decision makers at the hospital were White.
They should have known better and done better. And when they realized they made a mistake in erroneously enforcing the ban according to the sons wishes, should have had the integrity to apologize and rectify the situation as soon as possible. Instead, when they found out they lacked grounds to enforce the ban based on family wishes, they started concocting inconsistent, weak and baseless accusations to uphold the ban, thereby inflicting unspeakable grief onto their patient and my family.
Even after he died, I was issued a letter from the hospital "apologizing" for not communicating the reasons for the ban sooner. They did not address the fact that they had no real evidence to justify the ban. It was sickening to see this letter from a psychiatrist who was a senior hospital official. She should have known about the impact an event like this could have on a family. Because of white privilege and the deep pockets of the hospital, they thought they would get away with it. Unfortunately for them, I have every intention of holding them accountable through the proper legal avenues.
While people are more likely to acknowledge White privilege, to make themselves look more self-aware and broad-minded, there are few concrete systems in place to reduce the effects of it. The process has been extremely slow because the people in charge have no lived experience of the damage that is being done. The lack of urgency is due to the fact that it doesn't affect their lives in a direct way.
Most people don't think they are abusing their privilege as it doesn't fit in with their self-concept as being a nice or socially progressive person. Despite what she says, it is unlikely Jessica feels remorse for what she did, her only regret was that her lucrative partnerships were cancelled. I bet that she (like most people in high status positions) is thinking she has always gotten away with it before and this time would be no different. Well, it is different because one day you will run into a confident person who isn't afraid to expose the harsh treatment you inflicted upon them. It's no accident that Jessica's intention was to inflict pain on Sasha by influencing her brand partnerships and instead she lost her brand partnerships instead under very humiliating circumstances. Karma comes around faster than one thinks.
It's interesting that Jessica used her friendship with Meghan Markle to try to give credibility to her being aware of White privilege and racial issues. She writes, "As I told you privately, I have lived a very public and personal experience with my closest friend where race was front and centre. It was deeply educational. I learned a lot from that." This perfectly illustrates the point that just because you have close relationships with racialized people, or people from other oppressed groups, it does not mean you can not discriminate on an unconscious level towards those groups. This is not a valid argument to be making to avoid having to do active work to change your unconscious biases.
What does White privilege look and feel like to you if you are a racialized person? If you are White, what are some of the concrete things you have done in order to equalize the power imbalances stemming from your privilege? What are some of the ways in which you acknowledge you have abused your power in the past?
Update: June 17th 2021
I was asked to link the following site to help support black owned businesses. Hope you have a chance to browse some of the great offerings there.
I think that when you work with people from disadvantaged groups and offer them a reduced rate (or are aware they were offered a reduced rate through your organization), you do have a moral obligation to honestly examine whether you are interacting with them in the same way you would if they were able to pay the full rate. This does not just apply to those with White privilege, it is true even when you are a member of a disadvantaged group. Don't assume that because you have the same group membership that you automatically understand what someone went through or is experiencing now. Don't undervalue their experience because you haven't had the experience. Be mindful of the words you are using and how they may shape other people's opinions, especially if you are publishing your opinions publicly. For instance, I've heard multiple racialized people say that racism doesn't exist and proceed to blame and shame the victim.
Lately, Black conservative U. S. political activist, Candace Owens, has come under fire for being critical of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. I am sure she honestly believes what she is saying is true (and she does have the right to her personal opinions) but she doesn't understand that voicing her opinions on a platform as large as she has access to, causes great disturbances and feelings of betrayal from not just the majority of Black people but all people who support Black Lives Matter. She lacks self-awareness of her impact on others and is not interested in learning more about her unconscious biases. Candace raises money for a conservative business who has openly made disrespectful comments about George Floyd and then chooses to view the behaviour of GoFundMe as discriminatory rather than trying to learn about the larger social reasons as to why they may have suspended her account. In my view, she fails to realize the crucial point: George Floyd may not have been a hero or a martyr and yes he had a criminal history but he did not deserve to die the way he did. His past does not make him less human or have less of a right to life. That is why he is a symbol for BLM and worthy of all the anti-racism protests that have been happening in his name. This is just like blaming a woman who had too much to drink for her rape; her choice to drink does not give a man the right to touch her body without her permission. I am not sure why this is still used as a defense because if she was drunk, then she could not have given consent.
Keep in mind the role of intersectionality and how that ensures that no two people from the same group have the same experiences. Your clients are already vulnerable due to factors beyond their control. They are dealing with systemic forms of discrimination in society. You do not want to inflict more harm. Solicit feedback and create a safe space for people to respond honestly to you.
Ask yourself the following:
Do you have sympathy or empathy for this client? If it is sympathy, what can you do to become more empathetic? Sympathy usually results in a patronizing attitude while empathy creates trust and a feeling of being heard.
"Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection"
– Dr. Brené Brown
Are you putting the same level of time and effort in?
Do you try to evade their phone calls, emails or reduce the number of times meeting with them?
Do you answer their lengthy queries with brief or vague responses? Short responses give an impression of not wanting to spend the time to look into any given point, question or concern. They convey that you are not worthy of my time.
Do you respond to all of their concerns or ignore some of them?
How do you feel when interacting with them? How may it come across in your tone and nonverbal body language? While people can not read your thoughts, your thoughts and feelings do influence your energy (which can be felt by others).
Is boosting your professional reputation a bigger motivation for offering the reduced rate than helping people? If you are a vocal advocate for the rights of a disadvantaged group, this can make you more of a target for criticism as people can feel when actions are taken due to self-serving motives.
Are you as considerate of their feelings and speak to them with the same level of respect as you do others? This is a tougher one to look at because most people will act in a way that they believe is respectful. However, to the other person it does not come across that way.
Are you trying to find other ways to get more money from them because you feel the rate you originally offered was not reflective of the work you put in or will have to put in the future? This is especially true if you are in a high-paying profession and don't need the money as much as the client, if not having it would result in you not having a luxury in comparison to them not being able to afford a necessity. It is also most ethical to stand by the original agreement even if you miscalculated the time involved (which would have been your fault and not the fault of the client).
If they don't agree to pay you more, are you still as motivated to do the work or do you try to finish as quickly as possible and/or end the client relationship as soon as you can? Don't penalize the client for your miscalculation. If you are truly interested in social justice, try to obtain the best results for them instead of encouraging them to settle for less than you know they can get.
Do you follow through on promises you made even if the client can not hold you accountable if you don't? Or do you follow through with what you said you would do even if they have already made the last payment? It is better to not promise anything rather than state you can help with something that you don't really intend to help with later. This puts the client in a position of waiting for you to help them rather than looking into other avenues to help with the issue. And then feeling hurt when you don't help them in the way you said you would.
Have you done the IAT (implicit association test) to assess the extent of your unconscious biases?
Have you done inner work to reduce your own unconscious biases about oppressed groups? I have detailed some ways we can do this in my last blog post about implicit bias.
Having a desire to help disadvantaged groups isn't enough. If you aren't able to offer a reduced rate without being able to treat these clients the same way as others who can pay your regular rate, you should not offer the reduced rate at all because it harms more than it helps. People know when they are not being treated equally and it is very hurtful and negatively impacts self-esteem.
From my experiences both personally and professionally, I know that people can remember these experiences for a very long time. As a service provider, people rely on you to help them and it is a serious responsibility. Your words and actions can be just as damaging as the incident they hired you to help with in the first place. Be mindful and do the inner work necessary to help rather than harm.
Racial injustice has been a personal hot button issue for me for a very long time. My parents were born and raised in India, immigrating to the GTA in the early 80s and I was born in Canada. I've experienced racial discrimination many times before, even though I have several "protective factors" such as being educated, articulate and upper-middle class. Protective factors are in quotes because as a visible minority, nothing can protect you from racial discrimination. At the same time, intersectionality does play a role in increasing or decreasing the level and frequency of discrimination one faces.
Meghan Markle and her family were forced to leave the royal family because despite being beautiful, successful, independently wealthy, eloquent and charitable, the U. K. was not ready to accept a biracial or Black person into such a powerful position. She did not fit the image they had in their minds of who would be a suitable match for Prince Harry. She would never be good enough. The royal family refused to defend her from the constant abuse, although they defend Kate Middleton even when the level of abuse she receives is of much less frequency and intensity. Meghan was seen as 'the other' from the beginning and treated in ways that dehumanized her. She wasn't seen as worthy of protection. People refused to consider that race may be even one factor in the discrimination she was facing. The lack of empathy and compassion was probably also because she was now in one of the richest and most powerful families in the world, being partially funded by the tax payer. The expectation was that the abuse and increased scrutiny was the price she was expected to pay. All sorts of things were said to portray her as a villain in the media, when her only crime was being half Black. The U. K. as a whole will probably take a long time to admit that as they continue to vilify her for stealing Prince Harry (when it was really him who decided to move out of the U. K.). However, what happened to her did cause important conversations to come to the forefront all over the world. I hope that her lawsuit against the British media, regardless of whether it is successful in court, will be a force for change.
When I first saw the video circulating of the police officer kneeling on George Floyd's neck on facebook, my first thought was how is this still able to occur in 2020? After so many incidents like it in the past on recording, you would think that systems would have changed so that this could not happen again. Nevertheless, it happened with 3 other officers present in broad daylight on a busy street in front of numerous witnesses in a first world country. Why? People generally don't do things like this so brazenly unless they think the consequences they will face will be insignificant, or perhaps they think they will get away with it entirely. We have seen this happen before, particularly with White officers and Black civilians. The police have power because of their position in society. Power with an absence of proper checks and accountability lead to the abuse of that power. Targets are typically oppressed groups, particularly minorities, and especially Black people.
With the rise of cell phones, these incidents are being recorded and the truth being exposed so that perpetrators can be held accountable. Convenient excuses used in the past of officers taking innocent people's lives on the premise of defending themselves against aggressive Black men resisting arrest will no longer hold as the public outcry becomes louder, as society demands change. Change will not happen overnight but little victories add up and change on a micro level leads to change on a macro level. Every generation becomes better than the one that came before it.
Overtly racist comments are rarely made in public discussion but the belief that minorities are more aggressive, particularly when standing up for their rights or bringing up systemic discrimination persist. Mistakes are blown out of proportion. Punishments are harsher. Expectations for achievement are lower. The benefit of the doubt is not given as much and there are fewer second chances. There is not as much room for error because judgements of behaviour are immediate and attributed to inherent flaws rather than external changeable factors. Assumptions are made about profession, class and/or social status.
It is frustrating to observe that most people in upper management within organizations or in significant political or judicial decision making roles are White, men, middle or upper middle class, straight, and with no disability. In my view, attempts to increase diversity have been for appearances only. They are tokens to convince people that change is being made by listening to different voices. In contrast, there have been no real changes in who holds the power to make decisions that affect us at the top of organizations, public and private institutions, or at the provincial and federal level. When representatives from stigmatized groups speak up for the interests of that group, they often face consequences internally, their reputations suffer and/or they may lose their positions.
Sadly, people with White privilege often make decisions about people whose lived reality they know (or care to know) very little about, though they may pay lip service to it. Or they may say they "don't see colour", or one is "playing the race card". Race is not a card to be played, it's a non-changeable factor that causes real disadvantages in many areas of life, as evidenced by research in many social contexts. For example, the fact that there is a significant wage gap between Canadian born and educated minorities, and Canadian born and educated Caucasians despite the children of visible minority immigrant parents going to university at much higher rates than the rest of the population. Refusing to acknowledge race is a way for those with white privilege to ignore systemic inequalities, maintain their power and diffuse their responsibility in considering what factors contribute to discrimination and exclusion from the highest decision making positions. By pretending the issue does not exist, it is easier to maintain the status quo that is already in their favour and avoid any change that could upset the power balance. It is easier to silence dissenting voices by inflicting punishment, to teach others vicariously not to speak up.
This lack of empathy for 'the other' dehumanizes the victim, inhibits one's ability to feel their pain, and as a result causes injustices to be swept under the rug or minimized to as great extent as possible. It greatly angers me that when someone complains about racial discrimination, that the judge or person in charge of hearing the complaint is often a White, upper middle class man or woman. Although I have seen a few notable exceptions, people from this privileged group usually lack the awareness and humility to truly understand (or to take the time to learn) the subtle nuances of racism and all the ways in which it has historically (through intergenerational trauma) affected and continues to affect racialized people. These people don't take the time to learn because there are no consequences for them for their ignorance. If you make an appeal, the higher and higher you go up the chain of command, almost all the decision makers are people with white privilege. They have the power and they abuse it because whether consciously or unconsciously, they believe they will get away with it.
As one of my favourite authors Najwa Zebian notes, they often would like to believe something is wrong with you then something wrong happened to you. You are written off as an aggressive or threatening troublemaker when you have the courage to advocate for your rights. This placing of people with White privilege in positions where they have to decide on whether racial discrimination happened, for example in regulatory bodies, organizations, courts and tribunals, shows zero sensitivity towards the complainant and most of the time risks re-traumatizing them in the process. There is usually no way for the complainant to bring up white privilege as a bias or demand that another person of colour investigate the case because it's up to the judge to decide whether they exhibit a bias and take themselves off the case. Bringing up potential bias could risk angering the judge before you start the case and puts you at a further disadvantage. Very few people will recuse themselves if asked on this ground, and there are no consequences if they don't adequately consider the evidence as to why they should.
As a racialized person, I believe the only way to fight back against this is to keep speaking up, keep recording through audios and in journals the microaggressions and keep having the courage to bring up these issues publicly despite attempts that those with power and privilege will make to ruin your reputation. Know in your heart that you are not the labels they place on you. The more people who complain about this treatment, the harder it is for the same person or organization to keep treating people badly. At some point the karma will come back to them. Success is not to be judged just through the outcome, because these justice processes are flawed and the complainant usually has less resources than the defendant. On the other hand, success comes from knowing you used your voice to fight the good fight and you can be proud of yourself for raising awareness and making it easier for the next person who finds themself in the same situation that you did. Behind the scenes the perpetrators do face consequences. This is true even if you are not aware of what the consequences are. Remember that it costs the organization in time and money to respond to the complaint, even if they ultimately settle or win the case. There are tribunals and courts in Ontario that cost very little or nothing to file a complaint, and where the defendant can't get back their legal costs even if you don't win. Organizations do not want more complaints and cases and they do talk to the perpetrators about the impact it has had (or could have in the future) on their reputation. When you put yourself out there, you take a stand for social change.
"We don't change the world when we whisper, we change it when we roar"
- Cleo Wade
In my experience, systemic racism in Canada operates at a much more subtle level, with microaggressions being the norm. As Shakil Choudhury notes in Deep Diversity, minorities do generally have implicit racial bias towards other minorities. Racism is not just from white people towards minorities. There is an automatic preference for white people from most other people regardless of race because there are more automatic positive associations for white people.
For instance, studies show that with identical resumes, those with ethnic names receive far less calls for interviews than names that sound white. This is true even if the person hiring is a minority. The result is that some minorities feel compelled to engage in a process known as whitening the resume, which could include changing one's name, leaving out job experience or achievements which relate to ethnic organizations, and adding in interests that reflect those of western culture. I realize that with a name like Samantha Samuels, I probably got a lot more interviews for desirable roles than with a name that sounds more Indian, like Shivani Kaur. As well, I do not have an accent, so my ethnicity is not revealed over the phone. However, in quite a few instances, once I got to the interview, the change in tone and attitude from phone/email was palpable from the first hello. Sometimes the interviewer would ask general questions and wouldn't write anything down, or they would spend most of the time talking about their organization instead of asking me questions, or they would end the interview in 20 minutes or less. There was an obvious lack of interest in getting to know me and assess my suitability for that specific role. Sometimes they would focus on a factor such as the city that I live in to assume the commute would be too long, or imply that I didn't have enough experience for the role (the city I live in and my experience would have been evident from my resume, so why did you call me for an interview?)
I recall one incident where I emailed a resume to which the clinic director responded that we would meet at a mindfulness conference we both were attending in the next month. He was a White male psychologist who was probably at least 70 years old. As soon as he saw me, I had the intuitive feeling he would not hire me because he was not expecting to see a brown face. Regardless, I wasn't expecting him to evade interviewing me at all. It was the start of the lunch break, I smiled and introduced myself at the time and place we agreed to meet. Without smiling, he said hello and then said "we should find a place to sit down". There were several empty rooms that he made a show of peering into but for some unknown reason claimed those wouldn't work. We could have gotten a coffee at a nearby starbucks but he never suggested that and I knew there was no point in me suggesting it. Instead he said we would meet tomorrow and he would let me know the time later. The next morning, he sent me a text message saying that he couldn't meet and he would phone me during the week. There was no apology for the late notice or reason given for not being able to meet. He never phoned but sent a brief email mid-week stating that since we first had contact that he has had several applicants for the job with more experience than me. It was clear from my resume how much experience I had, and from his website I observed that he did have people working at that clinic with approximately the same level of experience I had. The reason he didn't want to hire me was due to systemic racism, though that probably never crossed his mind consciously. He did after all have a token few minorities on his staff which was otherwise largely composed of white women. There was nothing else to judge me on because we never spoke. After decades of practicing mindfulness, his attitude did not reflect any kindness or humility. I share this story to convey that when microaggressions like this happen, the best way to deal with them is to understand the problem is not within you or with something you said or did, it's with close-minded people like this psychologist, who don't care to do the work in reducing their unconscious bias and the larger systems that enable them to do things like this with no consequences. He knew that there was no one for me to complain about his behaviour to.
This was not the first time I had experiences like this with highly educated people with white privilege and it won't be the last. I've tried to educate people on how their unconscious racial bias has reduced opportunity for visible minorities, and have had them vindictively try to ruin my professional reputation, using their status as leverage. Level of education does not reduce bias, though it often results in people displaying it in a more subtle way. When you persistently follow your goals, the right opportunity will present itself, with people who see your value and treat you accordingly.
There is also an anti-Black bias, which worsens the level of discrimination faced by Black people on top of the level of discrimination that other minorities face. In Canada, Indigenous people probably face the same level of discrimination as Black people. If interested, you may assess your level of implicit bias towards stigmatized groups at Project Implicit.
It's inaccurate to assume you don't have unconscious bias towards stigmatized groups because you have friends from those groups, are married or in a relationship with a person from those groups, that you have been nice to them or that you haven't done anything wrong towards them. The fact is that good people often hold unconscious racial and other types of bias. Holding these biases does not make you a bad person, you just need to recognize that you need to learn more about the nature of these biases and how to reduce them in order to grow as a socially responsible citizen.
One way to do this could be at work. My suggestions are based on what I wish my supervisors and professors (most of whom had White privilege) would have done instead of what they did. To start, if you supervise a visible minority, ask yourself if you are giving appropriate feedback relative to that person's education and experience. The supervisee often can't give you completely honest feedback on your supervisory style because of the imbalance of power. However, if they do, listen with an open heart instead of immediately defending yourself. For example, if you give them a performance review and some of your scores indicate that they were below the expected level of performance in certain areas, be prepared to explain why and give concrete examples to explain your rationale. This is important because there is an unconscious expectation for people to have lower expectations of minorities and be harsher when assessing their performance. If you can't come up with concrete examples, change the score because your assessment is not correct. Check yourself before you suggest that someone should get tested for a learning disability based on their performance on a test or two, or make comments to imply that the program or job they are in may be too complex for them. If they are in that job or degree program, it is because they earned their way in. Ask yourself if your beliefs about someone may be related to a stereotype of their race. For example, I had one professor (with white privilege) suggest to me the first time that I saw her individually that graduate school may not be for me because I couldn't memorize my way through it! She continued that graduate studies require critical thinking and analysis and some people were not capable of this. Although I was angry that she had the audacity to say this to me, as calmly as I could, I asked her what evidence did she have that I memorized my way through my undergraduate studies, where I maintained an A average? She did not even know me. She responded that degrees in psychology just require memorization. She had a doctorate in another subject and I don't think she was ignorant enough to genuinely believe people can do well in any undergraduate degree through memorization. What is more likely was that her belief was actually shaped by the stereotype that Indian students tend to rely on rote memorization instead of critical thinking.
Don't use your years of experience as a sole justification for your scoring. Consider the following questions: What specific actions could the supervisee have done to be better in that area? Were these expectations clearly communicated to them in the beginning? How would you have resolved the problem if you were in their position? If they ask you to explain your scoring in further depth or voice that they feel it is unfair and they explain why they feel that way, don't immediately interpret it as a challenge to your authority. Be willing to hear perspectives of people who are different from you and understand that their experiences are just as valid as yours. Convey that you are hearing them and then work together to find mutually satisfying resolutions. This is where real change happens.
Growth comes from learning about different perspectives and experiences; for example watching films, reading stories or listening to audios/ videos from: women, minorities, immigrants, poor and working class, persons with disabilities, LGTBQ, or people with different religious and cultural backgrounds than your own. These stories are being told and it is up to you to seek them out and listen with an open heart and mind. This process of reducing unconscious bias takes time, effort and a sincere willingness to change.
After realizing to what extent the dominant narrative about these groups is shaped by people who are not a member of those groups, you will start to change your beliefs because your assumptions will be challenged.
I watched the entire series of Little Fires Everywhere in just 3 days and highly recommend it for a thought-provoking look into race and class in America and how it shapes the choices available to us. Elena, an upper-middle class White woman, (who was born into wealth and is married to a lawyer, who is also White) tells Mia, a working-class, lesbian, Black woman who is a single mother, estranged from her parents and was recently homeless, "A good mother makes good choices" to which Mia responds, "You didn't make good choices, you had good choices".
While people can be quick to judge the choices of others, very seldom do they adequately consider what factors led to them having to make that choice, or question if it was actually a choice at all? It is easy to blame others and assume you would do better if you were in their situation but since you lack that lived experience, there is no way to know for sure what you would have done. It does cause discomfort to realize that you may have done the exact same thing if you were them and had the same "choices" to make as they did.
When you have a history of micro-aggressions directed towards you from a variety of places, would you still have the same level of trust in authority figures? For instance, I believe that without recordings, most minorities know that they would not be believed over people with White privilege, particularly those in positions of authority, in court proceedings. That is a prime example of systemic discrimination and is partly due to the decision makers being White almost all of the time. Are White people disadvantaged by not having recordings when they are stopped by police officers? The answer is probably to some degree yes, but they are typically not given as harsh punishments and when in court are often given the benefit of the doubt, even without evidence. However, for minorities, and particularly Black men, recordings are for survival because the understanding is that one is not given second chances without the evidence to back you up.
The power starts to re-balance when we have a collective shift in attitudes and expectations about different groups in society. Choosing to say something is better than saying nothing at all when it comes to speaking about injustice. We need people with privilege to advocate on the behalf of those who don't have it.
When you change your beliefs towards and expectations of people, the way you unconsciously act towards them will change because you will develop more empathy and be less likely to view them as 'the other'. This is making the unconscious conscious so that longstanding behavioural patterns change and we as a society progress in the right direction. I think that's something you can find peace in.
I hope the family of George Floyd finds peace in the fact that his death has sparked a movement worldwide, unlike anything we have seen in the past. He will be used as a catalyst for change. RIP.
Black Mental Health Resources
1. The Most Nurtured https://www.themostnurtured.com/
2. Women’s Health in Women’s Hands http://www.whiwh.com/
3. Black Health Alliance http://blackhealthalliance.ca/
4. Black Youth Helpline https://blackyouth.ca/
Organizations to support Anti-Racism, Equity, and Legal Action
1. Black Lives Matter https://blacklivesmatter.ca/
2. Black Legal Action Centre https://www.blacklegalactioncentre.ca/
3. Federation of Black Canadians https://fbcfcn.ca/
4. The Urban Alliance on Race Relations https://urbanalliance.ca/about-us/
A list of anti-racism resources – including articles, books, and podcasts
Chapters has a list of anti-racism reading resources