As the owners and founders of Aspire Counseling Group, we believe that Black Lives Matter and that we have an imperative to help “[create] a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive.”1
We were called to social work because of a deep and abiding commitment to social justice. Most social workers share this worldview, and it has shaped large swaths of our lives. The social work Code of Ethics, by which all social workers must abide, mandates that we “promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients,” and are “sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice.”2
For several years, we have been trying harder to figure out how to be anti-racist therapists and humans. What is an antiracist? To use Ibram X. Kendi’s words here:
What’s the problem with being “not racist”? It is a claim that signifies neutrality … But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “antiracist.”… Racist is not—as Richard Spencer argues—a pejorative. It is not the worst word in the English language; it is not the equivalent of a slur. It is a descriptive, and the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it—and then dismantle it.3
Kendi also notes that “denial is the heartbeat of racism, beating across ideologies, races, and nations. It is beating within us.” Many who strongly call out racism in others will strongly deny our own. Until those of us in white bodies can begin to own our racism, which is in the air we breathe and was foundational to every institution constructed in the United States, we cannot move forward.
This does not mean we are bad people. It is simply the way our culture subtly (and not so subtly) socializes every citizen. Now, take that in. It doesn’t mean you or we are bad people. Think of racist as on a continuum:
As white people, we have a white frame of reference and a white worldview. We have not lived as a Black person or other Persons of Culture. We cannot know what it is like to live anyway except how we have lived. Like most white people, we were not raised to see ourselves in racial terms, “certainly not to draw attention to our race or behave as if it mattered in any way.”4 And yet, when we put down our denial, we know, absolutely and with certainty, race does matter. And we see it. How could we not?
These concepts make so much sense to therapists. We use them every day to help our clients move forward in their lives, just in different contexts. Day after day, we help our clients see:
- A perspective on their life they couldn’t see before. Many clients come to us believing one thing about their lives, but by the end of therapy, they believe something very different. One example might be a person who comes in believing “there is something wrong with me,” etc. By the end, we help them see their strengths and how their environment shaped them into exactly who they needed to be to survive and thrive in the environment they were in. Once they leave that environment, sometimes it takes a while to learn a different way of being in a new environment.
- That life has a lot of grey. Generally, things/people are not right or wrong, good or bad. Meaning we and others can have good aspects and things that aren’t so good, but they don’t make us bad people or “wrong” or “defective.” We and others can be both at the same time.
- That feeling discomfort is not bad—or something to get rid of. Allowing ourselves to feel discomfort is a huge step in helping us become more mature, well-rounded, grounded, healthy humans. Sitting with discomfort is something that white people have a very hard time with—because generally, we haven’t had to. If we can learn to sit with that discomfort, it can transform us.
At Aspire, we will continue our life-long journey of becoming more anti-racist. We hope you will join us. And if you’re interested in learning more about this journey, let us know.
—Tammy Blackard Cook & Christine Dicks, founders of Aspire
- Black Lives Matter
- National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics
- Ibram X Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist, p. 9
- Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, p. 7