|When "Them" Become "Us" - Page 4|
When I got my doctorate in family therapy, I went to work in community-based organizations in New York and Pennsylvania, believing that I'd change the world, one black, inner-city neighborhood at a time. To my disappointment, the black youths I tried to help didn't seem willing or able to understand the complexities of racism and how it affected their lives: they seemed strangely complacent, without urgency. At the same time, the whites I worked with didn't seem anxious to change the status quo either. I found the lack of fervor by blacks and whites, and certainly my own lack of impact, deeply discouraging.
So I tried another tack. I began using the experiences from my community-based work to formulate ideas about what therapists needed to know to work with disaffected populations. I began conducting workshops for therapists focused on increasing their clinical effectiveness with African Americans and other clients of color. Much to my surprise, these workshops were a hit. People got it! And, within a few months, I'd begun to receive a steady stream of requests from diverse organizations. It was work I loved, not least because I finally felt that I was making a genuine difference.
After several years of doing workshops, mainly to help white clinicians do therapy with black clients, I wanted to shift my focus to the bigger issue of racism and its effects on white people, as well as blacks: I wanted to move the conversation from "understanding African American clients" to grappling with the wider impact of racism in society. The workshops I offered with that concept in mind weren't so much about a clinical approach as they were personal and experiential explorations of what racism meant for people in their own lives and the way they'd learned to understand the world.