A South Asian-American Therapist's Thoughts on Being an Ally
The past month has brought forward many mixed emotions. Hopelessness. Anger. Frustration. Sorrow. My heart aches and my eyes well up as I imagine many others are feeling the same way. Racism and racial inequality are so deeply rooted in this country. The Black Lives Matter movement has made me think back to many of the times I’ve dealt with some level of prejudice. Anxiety going through airport security as a tan-skinned woman with an “ethnic” name, being fearful for my grandparents’ lives when they went out because they didn’t speak English, and so much more. I can recall and reflect on what it’s like to be South Asian and Muslim in America, but this is not about that. This is not about immigration. This is not about religion. This current movement is about being Black in America and I cannot tell you a single thing about what that is like. I can imagine, I can assume. It is terrifying. It is traumatizing. It is cruel. It is heartbreaking. It is infuriating. It is constant pain. Within the past few weeks, we have seen protests and an outpouring on social media about Black Lives Matter. We have seen the names, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor over and over again. We know that this movement did not start with them and it definitely will not end with them. We’ve also seen solidarity - those joining in protests, kneeling, donating, and signing petitions.
Then, I saw the post that struck a chord within me: South Asians for Black Lives. What does that mean? It’s not enough to say it, to put it on a square on Instagram, or to hashtag it. Those five words have made me think repeatedly what it means to be South Asian, to be Bangladeshi and be present for Black individuals. To know that I would not be in this country if it wasn’t for those who fought in the Civil Rights Movement. As a mental health counselor, I entered this field, knowing that it would be laborious, but an even bigger challenge to provide quality mental health to communities of color. I entered this work after hearing my parents say “psychology is for White people,” knowing that psychology and psychotherapy were not always on the side of marginalized groups of people. I entered this work knowing that even the most qualified around me may not be multiculturally aware. And so, now is the time to truly reflect on my role as a South Asian, woman therapist.
Doing this work for the past several years has taught me to always acknowledge my privileges and biases. What does my community say about Black men and women, how do my parents talk about Black people? How can I change the negative conversations and perceptions revolving around the Black community? It is a battle to talk with parents, sometimes at the expense of emotional well-being, as there are many cultural and generational differences. I can easily recall the last argument I had with my father about how Eric Garner was treated by police; it made me irritated and I lost courage. If it’s difficult as a South Asian to start a conversation about Black lives, I imagine it is ten times harder to live the reality of a Black person who tirelessly tries to reframe the negative perceptions our society places on them. Another question that comes to mind, what do people in my place of work think about the Black community? I remember beginning to train students a couple of years ago and asking them to be mindful about using words like “aggressive” when describing in a clinical note a Black child who became dysregulated in our playroom. I felt protective of my little clients at the time, but also felt I had a responsibility to be a role model in reframing how we perceive trauma in young Black boys and girls.
Doing this work also means being present and understanding. No therapist (of color or not) should be telling Black individuals how they should be feeling right now or how they should be responding. There are Black individuals who agree with the protests, those who do not, those who can donate and those who cannot. We have to believe that every person is hurting and also coping in their best way possible. It is not a time to shame and blame, even when it feels as though someone is not doing enough. When speaking about Black Lives, we often forget Black LGBTQIA+ identified individuals. Those who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community are often targeted with hate crimes, we may not always hear their stories. Being present means listening to the stories of ALL Black clients, including those who identify as queer, those who identify as transgender. Being present means reflecting on the difficult emotions, not minimizing trauma, even though it can be excruciating and uncomfortable to talk about. Being understanding means not expecting everyone to recover from trauma at the same pace. The therapeutic space should always be safe for vulnerable moments, however especially now for Black individuals to process their experiences, to move towards healing.
I am listening and walking alongside many clients right now, as they lead. I apologize, knowing that my apology won’t change the police systems in America. That feels like the least I can do as a therapist; to put my stories aside as a South Asian woman and recognize that this is not about me. I recognize that there are many systems at play here, a long history of injustices, and very little being done to create change. And whenever I find myself feeling tired - tired of social media, tired of another news story, tired of repeating Black Lives Matter, I get yet another glimpse of what it must be like to be Black in America. It is exhausting.
Farzana is Licensed Mental Health Counselor at AisleTalk where she works to support the emotional well-being of individuals and couples who are in or transitioning from their pre-marital life. Farzana's work primarily focuses on issues of parent-child relationship strain, depression, anxiety, trauma, and stressors related to one’s identity/cultural background. To learn more about Farzana's work, head to her bio or book a consult here. Farzana will be cohosting an upcoming workshop for couples this Thursday, 6/25. Register here.