Jeff Guenther on Apr 18, 2018
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on how therapists can and should check their privilege. At the start of the article, I talked about how I have a bunch of privilege being a white, heterosexual, male living in a society that often caters to people like me. I mentioned that my goal with the article and the accompanying “Examine Your Privilege” tool was to help therapists become more aware of their privilege and how it might affect their counseling skills and relationships with clients.
I’d say the article was low on the scale of controversy. It seemed pretty obvious and safe to point out white privilege and that some therapists may have some blindspots. However, I wasn’t too surprised with some of the push back I got from white therapists. I get that the term white privilege can be very triggering for white people. Feelings of guilt, shame, unfairness and confusion can swirl inside a white person when this topic is brought up. But I think it’s important, especially for white people, and doubly important for white therapists, to really dive into how white privilege has impacted your life and how it has negatively affected people of color. To not try and understand how our clients of color have been affected by a white privilege society seems incredibly unethical and a major blindspot.
As therapists, it is important to know what messages our clients received from their parents growing up. Did their parents protect them, make them feel safe, give them love, boost their self-esteem, support them emotionally? We need this information so that we have a good understanding of how their personality developed and how their belief systems were formed. Isn’t it just as important to know what kind of messages they received from society about their skin color and status in the world? Wouldn’t it make sense for us therapists to understand, at a very basic level, that walking through this world with white skin is vastly different then walking through it without white skin?
If you’re a white therapist that hasn’t made this connection yet, then all I’d like to do is bring it to your consciousness while you’re in session with a client that is a person of color. And like I mentioned, I have created a tool to help you, the therapist, understand how your white privilege could be affecting what’s happening in session. View and download it for free.
Updates made to the Examine Your Privilege tool
I posted the tool across all my social media platforms and received some wonderful feedback that I’ve used to make a few updates, including:
Along with positive feedback, productive discussion and respectful suggestions for tweaks or improvements to the tool and the article, I got a depressing amount of negative comments. And for some reason, they all came from LinkedIn. Not sure what that says about LinkedIn. But all facebook comments were respectful. I can’t say that about LinkedIn. If you’d like to check out the public comments on LinkedIn, you can click here to read them. There are over 100 comments, many of them inspiring. Feel free to add to them if you’d like. Below, I’m sharing a few of the negative comments that are representative of many others. These are typical counter arguments to the idea of white privilege and I thought it might be useful to others to see how I respond to the points raised.
It’s not uncommon that I hear this type of response. I think people like Simon feel like they have gone through some hardships in life and they have figured out how to “toughen up” and get through it. Checking white privilege doesn’t mean that white people have had it easy all along or that individual experiences don’t vary widely. It just means that they have had it easier. I think he truly thinks that if he can get through something hard then people of color should just be able to do the same thing. But people of color have the added burden of racial oppression that creates barriers and invisible stumbling blocks that can make their journey more arduous. And that’s what I am trying to call out. And having white privilege means that you don’t have those barriers and that you probably don’t even know it. Simon is a perfect example of someone who has white privilege and has an ego that won’t allow him to be curious about it.
Daniel is responding to my article and a comment made by another therapist who is defending my article.
He makes the argument that white people are not the ones that have all the privilege. Black, female, gay, disabled, elderly and young people also have privilege. Ummmm…yeah, I guess every type of person has some sort of special privilege. Such as young people have stronger and more resilient bodies compared to older people. And people hold doors open more often for people in wheelchairs? I guess that’s what he’s trying to get at? But what he’s willfully and ignorantly not acknowledging is that white people, especially white, heterosexual, men, have an incredible amount of privilege. So much more than any other group of people. So maybe if we ever got to a point where white privilege was accounted for, we could finally take up the honorable fight of making sure disabled people opened their own fucking doors. I mean seriously, right??
The sad thing about this comment is that it actually got 5 likes. Unfortunately for us, Graham never explained why exactly I am a racist. But I decided to include it here because it’s not an uncommon response from white people when you bring up white privilege, using the idea of “reverse racism” to argue about it. But the simple truth is that since white people have all the power and privilege in a system they have created to serve themselves, it’s just not possible for white people to be victims of racism. Here’s an article that explains why better than I ever could.
There is a more recent focus on white privilege because Donald Trump became president and one of the side-effects of that is white, racist people feeling more empowered to speak out.
While money and age do dictate privilege in this world, skin color is still a huge factor when it comes to privilege. While it may be difficult, as a poor white person, to move up the socioeconomic ladder, it’s harder as a poor, black person to do the same thing. According to the research cited by Emily Badger in the Washington Post, one of the many reasons it’s harder for poor, black people to break into a higher class is because poverty is, “more isolating and concentrated. It extends out the door of a family's home and occupies the entire neighborhood around it, touching the streets, the schools, the grocery stores.” It’s simply not the same for a white person. You can read more about this issue here.
The thing is Carolee, you can cherry pick tons of little bits of anecdotal proof on how this is not the case for specific individuals of color. And thank god you can or there would be no hope at all! But I’m not talking about random individual cases. This is a systemic issue.
Whew! After all that negative energy, we need a reminder that there is good in the world.
If you visit the comment thread, you’ll see that Gera has been an amazing voice and advocate. She is trying to wake people up and has been thoughtfully responding to many of the negative comments. Gera, you are my hero. I love everything she calls attention to.
She also posted a video from Martin Luther King Jr. that I think addresses this issue quite beautifully so I am sharing it here:
Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.