Get Your Knee Off My Neck
Updated: Aug 3, 2020
A woman said this to me the other day when I told her she would need to reschedule her appointment because she came in an hour late. When I looked puzzled by her statement she repeated it with some clarifying expletives and I got the picture. She called me racist because I wouldn't break the rules for her. These weren't even my rules to bend nor was there even a way to give her what she wanted at the time of day she arrived.
Now please understand, I work in the mental health field and the patients who come through the door are not in the best state of mind, so I know this is not the norm and I know they are hurting.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time I've been called racist in the last few weeks when all I try to do all day is help people. I'm exhausted, beat down, and at a loss. The therapist in me continues to smile, have empathy and compassion, and provide the best quality of care.
The human in me is hurting.
In his book "The Science of Psychology" Abraham Maslow said, "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail".
It's time for us to all put down our hammers and find a more effective tool.
I am a 30 year old white woman and I am very aware that I have privileges that others do not and I am sure my white skin has benefited me in ways I'm conscious of and in many ways I haven't even realized. I was raised in a loving family with a father in the military and a mother who taught English. My parents are still married. They helped me pay for college. I always had food to eat and a safe place to sleep. As a military family we moved around often. In some places I was accepted and in others I was very much not. I have been to military schools where being different was celebrated and I've been to public schools where I was one of few people who looked like me. I've been spit on, kicked, hit, and stolen from because I had things other people thought they deserved. I've been rejected and berated because of the color of my skin and the house I lived in. Please understand, I am in no way comparing my experiences to others nor do I believe I have endured anything close to what some people have. This isn't a story to make you feel sorry for me. I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me. I want you to see that we cannot look at someone and assume we know what they have been through. I don't have all the answers, maybe I don't even have some of the answers, but I do know what isn't helping.
Parading your white guilt in public and thinking you are actively fighting for change is the very definition of privilege. Wearing your race as a scarlet letter does not demand justice. Bowing your head in shame does not end corruption. Apologizing for the color of your skin does not send the message to your children that they should see all humans as equal. Guilt and shame can only ever divide us and those who benefit from a nation divided will do anything to perpetuate these crippling feelings on anyone, regardless of their race. The way to win is to rise up, united, holding each other's heads up high, with arms of every color linked and reinforced by courage, knowledge, acceptance, and a common goal.
In 1858 Abraham Lincoln famously said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand". In this speech he was quoting the bible. "And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand" Matthew 12:25.
We are living proof of this today.
I work in a mental health hospital and treat patients of all races and backgrounds. Let me be the first to tell you; mental illness does not discriminate. I recently covered a group for one of my therapists and found myself dreading the task at first because of the many things on my to do list. Being on the administrative side of the hospital I don't always get the chance to actually be a therapist but I always end up learning just as much from the patients as they do from me. We started the group off trying to talk about the typical things that bring people to therapy but I very quickly realized there was something else on everyone’s mind. I looked around the group and noticed how diverse it was. Black, white, Hispanic, mixed race. I could feel the tension in the room and it made me nervous but I took a deep breath and said “let’s talk”. Let’s talk about anything you want. We talked about anger, hatred, sorrow, confusion, privilege, identity crisis, ancestral pain, protests, police brutality, love, forgiveness, unity, change, community... the list goes on. We all cried a little, we all smiled a little, but what amazed me was that we all agreed. We didn’t all have the same perspective but we shared our experiences and we all agreed about the major things and we learned about so many other things together. We shared book recommendations. We listened to each other then respectfully shared our views and we gracefully accepted each other’s experiences as unique and valid. Then we decided to make changes in ourselves. We agreed to work on anger first and we did an activity to take the large, deficit, goal of trying to just not be angry and we decided to work on forgiving. We listed all the things that forgiveness means to us and what we would have in our lives if we could forgive. We decided to not forgive for the benefit of those doing wrong but for our own benefit. We worked on building a bridge between anger and compassion and we struggled so we decided to use pity to bridge that gap. Pity for the corrupt cops, pity for the racists, pity for those who think it doesn’t impact their lives. Then we all agreed to take it one step at a time but to never stop moving. We all learned so much in those four hours of group in a room full of people of different colors and different backgrounds but the same goal; to love all humans, turn anger into compassion, and be the change we wish to see.
These are the conversations we need to have. These interactions are the kind that promote unity. I know you're angry. I know you're hurt. I know riots get a lot of attention and that feels like progress but look around you at who is truly benefiting from this chaos and who is suffering. The media spin their stories to benefit the political party they endorse. The politicians kneel for cameras or hold up bibles to benefit their political agenda. Radical activists cause chaos to distract you from discovering the truth. Social media gives you a platform for self-censored proclamations of solidarity without requiring any follow through. Do your research, be a free thinker, ask questions, but do me a favor and don't just blindly follow your political party's stance on this. Not this one. Don't let them tell you what to think about this.
This is too important.
Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor wrote, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."