I’ve been avoiding writing recently, I admit, because when I sit down to write something about mental health (that will speak to my ideal client and bring them in for therapy), something happens in the world that rocks me. It angers me. Muslim bans, Neo-Nazi’s and “free speech,” kneeling as protest, useless and greedy government officials, election tampering, the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, the attempt at healthcare repeal every three months, hunger, disaster responding, violence, mass murder, assault weapons. I could go on and on, and that is just in the United States. These things are not subjects for typical mental health blogs. Writing on those topics, anxiety, depression, parenting, feels pretty superficial these days because the problems are so much bigger than the individual’s reaction to the above current events. How can I help someone be less anxious or depressed aka feel safe and happy in such a world?
So I am going to begin with what I hear a lot in sessions. I hear a lot of what we are calling Privilege.
Privilege priv·i·lege [ˈpriv(ə)lij]
a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people: education is a right, not a privilege
synonyms: advantage, benefit, prerogative, entitlement, right, concession, freedom, liberty
grant a privilege or privileges to: English inheritance law privileged the eldest son
I am speaking to the concept of having an advantage. Being white gives you an advantage, as does being a male. It does not mean you have grown up with money. Obviously there are fewer and fewer people in that category so let’s not try to argue that point right now. Money is of course a concrete privilege, it doesn’t make you happy but it can solve a lot of problems. When I was a girl at PS 75, I was in a mixed community of white, Hispanic, African American, Jewish people. I was not wealthy, so when one of my African American friends asked if my barrettes was “real” as in “real gold,” I was confused. Why would I have real gold barrettes when I basically wore the same two pairs of jeans every other day? When I think about that now, I realize that they saw me as having an advantage, as having access to something that they did not. Why? You guessed it, I am white. And yes, I am privileged. My parents have advanced degrees, we had complicated books on the shelves, art on the walls, I traveled to visit my grandparents over the summers. The list goes on.
Now it is clear that while men have been feeling quite attacked on this subject as so many don’t feel like they’ve been privileged at all. Many are poor, undereducated, unable to make ends meet to support their families. Where they don’t realize they have been privileged: They can go for a 6AM run without being stopped by police because they’re “acting suspicious.” They aren’t racially profiled when they go for a drive. They aren’t sexually assaulted and told they shouldn’t have been jogging – in shorts – at 6AM. This list also goes on.
Laws have not been enacted to keep white people out of home ownership, or moving into certain neighborhoods or joining private clubs. Or drinking from a public water fountain, or using a public bathroom. It is not so long ago that these things were a reality in this country. We know where some of the most outspoken civil rights leaders are today – if they are not already dead/murdered. But where are the people who so passionately protested integration? They didn’t just disappear into obscurity. They became police officers, lawyers, members of government, the Attorney General. They used their privilege to undermine every layer of society. Slavery has not ended, it only looks different now (an entirely different subject but Google Industrial Prison Complex if you want more information).
The concept of being “woke” is about being educated about how all of these factors have led to the current situation and working to stop it. Working toward a real model of equality. However, it is hard to be Woke when every part of this culture is trying to convince you that it’s all okay exactly the way it is. They want white people to say, “it’s all too much, I can’t anymore…” and it is your Privilege to say that, because for the most part, you can. You don’t have to worry about being shot by police for reaching for your license and registration. No one asks you where you are from or tells you to back to where you are from. You don’t have to worry about being the victim of a hate crime. You feel safe. Putting yourself on the line is scary and has absolutely had consequences for some, but you, white person, are what is going to make the difference in the long run.
As a therapist, I am going to challenge you on these issues. I will correct you when you repeat myths of how immigrants are coming to the US and signing up for welfare. Therapeutically, it’s not my place to do this, but I feel I have some obligation to challenge you. If you’re not ready for this challenge, we aren’t going to be a good match to work together. I’m okay with that.