Letter to My Fellow Black, Brown, and Indigenous Therapists: We Gonna Be Alright
As I sit in my Brooklyn apartment writing this letter to you, my fellow Black, Indigenous, and other psychotherapists of color, the Noble Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar persistently raps to me that “everything’s gonna be alright.” I need to believe him. As a Black psychotherapist who knows her U. S. history all too well and whose ancestors have been in this country since 1834, I am hella skeptical right now.
Part of my brain screams, “This is genocide!” as I read about how COVID-19 is decimating generations of Black and Brown people not only across the country, but around the world. “I scream genocide!” I hear again when yet more Black people in the U.S. are murdered for banal things like sitting in their homes with their loved ones, running for our health, and trying to buy something.
“I scream genocide!” is what I heard when I read that yet another liberal While woman consciously decided to weaponize a Black man’s Blackness against him because he dared to ask her to put her dog on a leash. At that point, I calmly laid down the newspaper, turned to my spouse and said, “They’re trying to kill us.”
For many of us who are Black, Indigenous, and therapists of color, the U.S. government’s negligence about COVID-19 and violent reaction to the nationwide rebellion looks like a continuation of the deliberate, systematic destruction of Black people.
I don’t want to believe this, but when I meet with my Black and Latinx clients who are stunned, aching, tearful, grieving, angry, and overwhelmed, it’s hard not to. It’s hard not to take these events personally. When my client, a non-Black psychotherapist, began our session this week with, “I want to acknowledge that this might be a difficult time for you, as a Black woman,” I was first stunned, then moved. Before COVID-19, most of my clients didn’t check in with me when other race-related things happened. I was fine with that because we’re not friends. I’m their therapist and I see my role in their life as a support person who has the honor of accompanying them on their journey.
Since New York began sheltering-in-place, however, many of my Black, Latina, Middle Eastern, and Asian clients now begin our sessions with, “How are you?” as they peer into the screen looking for signs that I am telling the truth. And while I am weary like you, my fellow Black, Indigenous, and other therapists of color, I am “essentially well” because I have the advantages of being housed and able to work from home. It’s after a long day of five to six individual and relationship therapy sessions that I’m shattered.
My dear fellow Black, Indigenous, and other therapists of color, I want to let you know that even though we’re each working in our silos, I see and feel you. I too, wonder how much longer Black people will have to fight just to be seen and treated as human.
How long will we have to witness the suffering of Black people, especially when it’s rooted in stigma, discrimination, and systemic oppression? How long until we have a fair, just, and equitable society? Many psychotherapists chose this career path because they want to fix something either in themselves or in their loved ones. I became a therapist because I wanted to be the kind of adult that children could talk to when they had no one to talk to. That’s because I was emotionally neglected as a child. Now, I am a therapist for the most marginalized and oppressed so that they aren’t alone as they figure who they are going to be and sort out what they want from life.
Before seeing clients each day, I thank Olodumare, Olorun, and Olofi for giving me another day to live and do my ‘work’. I then go for a run, do yoga, and ask my ancestors and orishas for support, guidance, and patience during the day. I try to consciously breathe, drink herbal tea and water, stretch, sit upright, walk around my office in between sessions, and I always take hour-long lunch and dinner breaks. It’s a bit more challenging to engage in self-care, though, at the end of the day.
Like many of you, I feel like a used washcloth by then — damp and wrung out. Nonetheless, lately I’ve been dragging myself outside for a slow and easy walk. Even if it’s around the block, I make an effort to move my body after sitting and taking in pain, anguish, rage, fear, confusion and sadness all day. I push myself to do this because I, too, feel the same as my Black and Brown clients. Seeing what one of my clients refers to as “Black death and despair on display” in the news and in the streets every day does that to me.
It’s during these walks, when I stare up at the strong and sturdy oak and birch trees around me, that I remind myself that my ancestors, our ancestors have been through worse and survived. Whether our people are from indigenous nations here in the U.S., Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, or the Pacific Islands, our ancestors have suffered plagues, U.S. imperialism, genocide, rape, colonization and settler colonialism, lynching, governmental testing, involuntary sterilization, and many other horrific things. I’m not minimizing what we’re witnessing and experiencing today, but rather encouraging us to remember that we’ve got a toolbox from which to fortify ourselves, our beloveds, our clients, and our people. Besides the many therapeutic tools that we acquired in graduate school and in our post-graduate studies, like Kendrick says, we’ve got “power, poison, pain, and joy in [our] DNA.” We need to remember that we stand on the shoulders of powerful, mighty peoples.
Our peoples have lived, loved, and laughed for us to get to this moment as Indigenous, Black and people of color and as psychotherapists. Our familial ancestors, our collective ancestors, and our psychotherapy ancestors live in us and in our work. As long as we remember this — in the midst of the world mourning, rotting, dying, and burning down around us — we’re gonna be alright.
 Olodumare, Olorun, and Olofi are Yoruba names for the three manifestations of God.