I am always baffled by the lack of true cultural awareness within our field, especially in relation to working with the African-American community. Understanding the struggles of this population, and how to provide clinical support to black clients, is often a topic of discussion when talking with colleagues. Culture is also very present in my sessions with black clients, it is a source of the anxiety, depression, and trauma they experience. The struggles that African-Americans experience, just for being African-American are real, prevalent, and disheartening. Trying to find helpful information and interventions geared towards working with black clients, and the issues they face, is very difficult. As an African-American therapist, I can easily tailor interventions for my clients of color because I have experienced many of the same struggles. For those of you who are not African-American, or who haven’t experienced the same disparities, educating yourself on these issues are key. To effectively work with your clients of color, you have to begin learning about the experiences of your client.
When we can briefly feel the uncomfortable experiences of other cultures, it is easier to become empathetic towards that culture. Once we have empathy, we can truly acknowledge the cultural struggles our clients go through. With acknowledgement comes validation of a client’s experience, and with validation we are able to empower our clients. We are able to empower our clients when we learn about their experiences, and understand what is happening within society to cause these specific issues in the black community.
To begin understanding and learning about these issues, you have to be open to hear, see, and read about the true cultural experiences of people of color – not the watered down versions. You have to begin to truly ask yourself what you are doing to contribute to cultural awareness. Are your cultural antennas up as high as they can go? Have they drooped down a bit? This may seem like a time consuming task in which you have to invest chunks of your day to begin tackling such a big issue, but that’s not the case at all. Take a look at one of the videos and small excerpts I have included below. In just 5 minutes, you will be on your journey to becoming more culturally aware regarding issues that affect the black community.
ISSUES IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY
From systemic oppression, gentrification, and “comforting the bystander,” these things affect the African-American community on a daily basis. This video is something that needs to be watched by everyone who wants to enhance their cultural awareness regarding the black community. Jessie Williams talks bluntly and boldly about the disparities in our culture. He sheds light on many issues that people are afraid to talk about and acknowledge. This video is raw, unapologetic, and needed!
LANGUAGE AND SPEECH
The way African-Americans speak is often scrutinized. When speaking with “proper grammar” we are viewed as highly articulate by other cultures, but “white washed” by our own. If we speak with a bit of slang, or misplacement of our words, we can easily be viewed as uneducated by other cultures, yet accepted by our own. This is a difficult balance in the African-American community. The poet in this video does a wonderful job of explaining the roots of the “dialect” that we speak in. He discusses the culture in the way we speak, and how there is history in our language.
Trying to secure a better life for yourself and your family is a real struggle many immigrants face. Put aside all the debate between political parties and views, instead put on a heart. The next time you encounter someone who “isn’t from here” think about this video. Keep in mind the living conditions many immigrants are in, and the dangers they often face when leaving their country hoping for a better life. When watching this video consider that we all are from somewhere else and may have differences. We need to acknowledge the cultural journey and struggle that everyone else has traveled.
This video takes a deeper look at how gentrification is not just about white people coming into black and low income neighborhoods, but about the differences gentrification creates between African-Americans. You will see a brief glimpse of how there are many different layers within the black community, which are important to look at, especially when working with your African-American clients.
Although others may view our hair as “styles,” we view our hair as a form of expression and identity. As a black woman, who has natural hair, I can directly speak to this issue. Combing our hair every day is not simply a habit of routine, it is a form of processing how we will “present to the world” – every day. This video does a great job of touching on the things we as black women experience with our hair. You will see the many issues that we can internalize through our hair, and you will also see the beauty that takes place when we embrace our true natural selves.
I want you to remember one thing from reading this blog post. Culture is everywhere, so your opportunity for learning and becoming more aware is readily available at your fingertips – all the time. Although 5 minutes cannot sum up the struggles of the African-American community, it is a great starting point for incorporating awareness into your day. Before you know it 5 minutes will become 10 minutes, 10 minutes will become 15, and 15 will become a passion. Embrace your cultural antennas, let them stand as high as they can, and intentionally be vigilant about the experiences of your African-American clients. Remember, it starts with just 5 minutes.
Narissa L. Harris, LMFT
Narissa specializes in training others on ways to increase their cultural awareness when working with the African-American population. She has a private practice in Richmond, where she uses her direct approach to assist her clients of color in reaching their goals. Narissa finds joy in open discussions, consultations, and trainings that are culturally centered. Fun fact: She is a proud, self-taught nail artist, who owns 199 bottles of coping skills (nail polish). To see more about the work she is doing (particularly her monthly newsletters) visit her website at www.bloomintoyourbestself.com