“At what age did you begin to think about yourself racially?”

It’s a question therapist Ken Hardy asks many of his clients. For Black people, it’s usually around age three or four. For white people, it can be at age 20, 30, or much older.

It points to how we’ve been racially socialized, Hardy says. In part, it also explains the trauma that many people of color carry, having to constantly evaluate whether their behavior conforms to the dominant white culture.

Here, he explains the toll that years of micro and macro assaults on dignity can take and issues a call to action.

Hardy underscores a key problem in race relations today: Too many people of color have learned voicelessness. They feel like they’re trapped in a wall-less prison with no exits, he says, where their suffering doesn’t matter unless it interferes with the white mainstream.

“It’s difficult for many whites to acknowledge that racism, racial oppression, and whiteness have anything to do with the suffering that black people endure,” he writes in this Networker article. “At times, bridging the racial gulf that divides us seems insurmountable, yet our mutual survival depends on it.”

Hardy says, make talking about race part of your work.

Kenneth V. Hardy

Kenneth V. Hardy, PhD, is director of the Eikenberg Institute for Relationships and professor of marriage and family therapy at Drexel University.