Two Scoops of Vanilla

Two Scoops of Vanilla

From Storytelling 2020

By Shadeen Francis

May/June 2020

In the predominantly white suburb where I spent most of my childhood, I never felt I fit in. Both my parents were Caribbean immigrants, and I was the only person of color in my class until the eighth grade. Also, I skipped a grade, so in addition to not wearing cool clothes and wanting to be a mutant in the X-Men when all my peers wanted to be princesses, I was younger than everyone else. A feeling of otherness nagged me wherever I went.

Once the bullying started, I learned to avoid trouble by becoming adaptable and hyper-agreeable. If I could’ve chosen one mutant power at the time, it would’ve been shapeshifting. I became an expert at changing my demeanor so I could always belong. My ambition in life was to be the human version of my favorite dessert: vanilla ice cream—sweet, likeable, and inoffensive. Two scoops of vanilla goes with almost everything.

When I became a therapist, I made shapeshifting the hallmark of my approach. I even discovered there was a professional term for it: therapeutic neutrality. Using objectivity and impartiality as clinical tools made perfect sense to me; I was already using them as social strategies.

A classic overachiever, I worked therapeutic neutrality into every nook and cranny of my practice. I wore all black, or gray, or navy blue. My office had lots of plants…

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