Case Study

Case Study

The Black Shadow: Facing the Taboo Issue of Race in the Consulting Room

By Marlene Watson

November/December 2013

The black shadow is a mostly unconscious, deep-seated belief in the myth of black inferiority. A term I coined myself, the black shadow serves to encapsulate the dysfunctional racist belief, promulgated in America since times of slavery and internalized in African Americans, that blacks are less worthy than whites. While often unacknowledged, it’s a powerful force that shapes how African Americans think about themselves and perceive one another. While race is an issue most therapists—and most clients, for that matter—are hesitant to raise in therapy, doing so expands the perspective of African American clients and helps them reframe their personal narrative by connecting it to a larger story, one shared by a community of people grappling with the same destructive self-attitudes and negative cultural legacy. Helping clients face the black shadow can help them transform it from a force of shame and isolation into one of positive connection.

My work with Joe began with premarital, not individual, therapy. Joe was a 45-year-old, never-married African American man with no children. He’d received a doctorate degree from an Ivy League university and made more than $200,000 annually working as an executive at a Fortune 500 company. His fiancée, Valerie, also African American with a six-figure salary, had a master’s degree and was an administrator in a school system. She was the one who initiated premarital therapy because she thought Joe’s frequent visits to strip clubs…

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