The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent increased awareness of systemic racism have left me, a white psychologist, at a loss for words. I wanted to write a post for other anti-racist allies who are also struggling to voice and act in increasingly anti-racist ways both personally and professionally. Here are some things that I have been working on, and I thought that it would be a useful list for other white psychologists who aim to promote anti-racism in their practices.
1. GET INFORMED
Most white psychologists had at least a class or two on race and identity. Some, like myself, even specialized in multicultural issues related to social justice. I don’t mention this to say that my education is done or is a replacement for ongoing learning. Psychologists are required to complete continuing education, including specific learning activities with a focus on diversity. This training was a really great review and helped me to dig deeper into racial issues as they play out today.
2. STAY INFORMED
Know the COVID-19 numbers for your area and for the areas where your clients live and work. Because I live and work in Austin, Texas, I follow this tracker. Understand how the pandemic’s health-related and economic impact is affecting communities and people of color disproportionately. Know where the Black Lives Matter protests are and work to stay informed about the many past and previous cases of police brutality. Follow organizations such as the NAACP and Black Lives Matter on social media.
Read books about race and racism. I recently read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, which was a wonderful commentary on racism in the United States from the perspective of a non-American Black main character. I also felt compelled to read White Fragility by Dr. Robin DiAngelo; though the author is white, her academic exploration of the subject matter is incredibly useful for discussions on race with other white folks (see below).
Watch movies and TV shows depicting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) stories and experiences. Ava DuVernay’s work, including “When They See Us” and “Selma” is a great start. For a lighter vibe that still speaks to deeper themes of racism, try “Dear White People” on Netflix.
Talk with clients, friends, and family about their thoughts and actions related to COVID-19 and recent race-related events. Bring up the tough topics even when it feels uncomfortable. I have had some wonderful conversations with my clients (mostly children and teens), their parents, as well as my own friends, neighbors, and family members.
Use your money to support small, local, and Black-owned businesses in your community and online. Etsy has a great listing of Black-owned shops. While you’re at it, pay attention to whether the businesses you frequent have Black owners and employees and how they have responded to both the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests.
Stay home and wear a mask in public to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 if you have the privilege to. Attend a Black Lives Matter protest with proper social distancing and a mask. Post on social media to spread awareness. Call officials to demand justice for the lives who have been lost to police brutality is another critical action.
Make changes to your practice and your personal life. Hire BIPOC therapists and office staff (and pay them well). Create an environment and take methods of payment that make your services accessible for BIPOC clients. Offer groups to discuss the recent stressors related to COVID-19 and racial violence. Collaborate with BIPOC friends and colleagues and ask how you can be a better ally.
This to-do list is by no means exhaustive or appropriate for everyone. Anti-racism is a journey. However, white psychologists like myself are particularly poised to use their privilege and position to take steps toward improving ourselves and our communities every day.
Erika J. Vivyan, PhD (she/her/hers) is a bilingual (Spanish-English) Licensed Psychologist based in Austin, Texas. She specializes in providing therapy for kids, teens, and young adults with anxiety and behavioral disorders. Dr. Vivyan also provides in-depth psychological and psychoeducational assessments for school-aged students.