On Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s national holiday a couple of days ago I came across many posts on social media including images and quotes honoring and acknowledging him, his work and his legacy. I often post something as well. But this year, I chose to sit back and read the messages; watch some footage from his many speeches and reflect on how his message and work resonate today.
Admiring Dr. King
It seems that people from all walks of life and varying sets of values admire Dr. King. In some cases I imagine that people want to identify themselves with Dr. King because it is now considered a very positive affiliation. But during his time many people considered him to be a “trouble maker” and a person who thought he was better than others or even “full of himself;” what at the time was considered to be an “uppity negro.” He was disliked by some black people who, while they respected him, felt his message of non-violence was too limiting and not strong enough. He was disliked or even hated by many whites who either simply did not want to deal with the “negro problem” or were very consciously invested in the advantages of unequal treatment of black people. It raised social and financial status for many white people to hold a belief system that supported a sense of entitlement and superiority. A problem that still plagues us today.
A Nuanced Understanding is Necessary
Now Dr. King is often presented as having a very simplistic and watered down multicultural message. His statement in the “I Have a Dream” speech about being judged by the “content of one’s character; instead of the color of their skin,” is adopted by people for arguments related to “reverse racism,” and other concepts that reveal a lack of nuanced understanding of race in America. It concerns me very much that a number of therapists are included in that lack of nuanced understanding. Multicultural competency is a part of our ethical imperative. Yet many therapists are comfortable staying on the surface of the role of their race and the race of the client in therapy.
Exploring More Messages from Dr. King
This year I came across a Dr. King quote that I don’t see very often. I want to share it because I think it has value for therapists, coaches, business owners and really anyone who wants to truly eradicate racism and its effects on black people and on society.
“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
When I read this quote I thought, “Now this is what we should be talking about” — the growing concept of anti-racism work. While I consider myself equipped to support the therapists I supervise with multicultural competency and I like to provide that as part of my service; I have no personal interest in providing anti-racism work. Not because it isn’t necessary, but simply because the various stresses of my life don’t permit me to take on something as labor intensive as trying to help white people exam their own shadow and their own history individually and collectively. I don’t want to have those arguments and confrontations with white people I know and call colleagues or even friends. I know the cost energetically, socially, emotionally, physically, spiritually and economically.
Fortunately, I know someone who has been facilitating anti-racism work with therapists. She is a fearless and passionate Social Worker. She does this work at a distance so anyone can access it and participate. From my interactions with her it is clear that her process is not something to be entered into lightly. Her work is urgent and important. I am grateful that April Harter is doing the work she is doing. She has a book and offers webinars, as well as individual and group coaching packages. Her work is not limited to serving therapists. If you are interested in learning more go to aprilharter.com.
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