As mental health providers with advanced degrees, we are privileged.
Every day we work to build alliances, start hard conversations, and sit with others’ suffering. We do this as individuals without “skin in the game.” Oftentimes the perspectives we offer our clients are valuable because our judgment is not clouded by emotion the way it might be if we were hurting with our clients. We can usually help people find their way through their pain without being blinded by our own.
This time it’s different.
For the first time in our lives, we are facing unprecedented global crises. We have been forced to adapt. Consequently, where we work, how we work, and the privilege of being able to work, while others cannot have shifted our perspectives. We have been forced to retreat, to shelter wherever we are, and to hope that whatever we do will be enough.
In the midst of this, we enjoy luxuries as mental health practitioners in both the public and private sectors. We walk freely between locked inpatient units, sit on the “other side of the table,” and have metal doors and prison gates waived open so we can pass. These are tremendous privileges and honors many of us stop seeing as we become acclimated to the rights and responsibilities conferred by our degrees and titles.
Hope without action is complacency.
Now is not the time to sit quietly and wait for someone, ready to change, to come to us. We are not blank slates. Nor are we mirrors that simply reflect. We have breath and voices. We have tremendous privileges that we enjoy most days without batting an eye or even identifying them as such.
I had the privilege of deciding whether to watch a man die. For several days I did not watch the video of George Floyd’s killing. I struggled to determine whether it represented “trauma porn” or something I should force myself to watch, knowing that if someone else lived it, I should not turn a blind eye because I might feel uncomfortable.
I watched that video and listened to every word I could hear. George Floyd, with his face pressed against the asphalt, pled to draw air into his lungs. “I can’t breathe, man. Please…I’m about to die… I can’t move…Mama. Mama…I can’t breathe.” Other voices can be heard speaking to George Floyd. “Relax… You can’t win. You can’t win, man.” Floyd pleaded for breath one last time before his body went limp.
I have the privilege of typing these words from behind a screen in the comforts of my home. I have the privilege of running to my child when she cries out for me, scared or alone in the dark. Every day I am grateful for these privileges and write to you now, knowing that I have a greater responsibility because of them. I do not have all the answers. Like my clients and colleagues, I am uncertain, afraid, and treading lightly. I am cautious and hopeful that I will not cause others to feel more pain.
Silence is a privilege I can no longer afford.
As mental health professionals we can use our tremendous privileges, leverage our skills, start hard conversations, and work through the suffering before healing can begin.
As individuals who continue to draw breath, all day, every day, we have a responsibility to speak up. Our arms are not cuffed behind our backs. We have the opportunity and the obligation to get up off the floor. We no longer have the option to keep our hands idly in our pockets while others suffer under the weight of racism and oppression.
When onlookers pleaded for police officers to put George Floyd in the police car an officer commented, “We tried that for ten minutes.” At another point a police officer impotently commented to the crowd, “Don’t do drugs, guys.” When asked directly about the treatment of George Floyd, an officer asserted, “I’m not going to have this conversation.”
I challenge us all to do something different.
Do more than acknowledge another Black man needlessly died. Start an uncomfortable conversation. Commit to an anti-racist cause for more than ten minutes. For those who aren’t sure where to start, read a book. Ask a question.
George Floyd was pinned to the ground and murdered over a twenty-dollar bill. Donate $20 to any or all organizations working to end social injustice or to support peaceful protestors. Let’s move beyond platitudes and well wishes. I welcome dialogue, questions, comments, or concerns. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.