My husband, Howard, posts a weekly Op Ed in the ChicagoNow Blog. Perhaps, being married to a therapist, his sub-conscious took over when he wrote this stylistic piece about our country’s response to the George Floyd tragedy. I’m sure he didn’t have me in mind when he posted it, but I’m comfortable with the role of “Therapist” in the dialogue. I take Medicare, so “America” is welcome as a client!
With Love and Light
Arlene Englander, LCSW
Therapist: America, you’ve made appointments before, and left after a session or two. Are you ready now to dig in and do the work that is necessary to heal?
America: The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis was literally an eight minutes and forty-six seconds movie that all of America saw. There no longer is a dispute about the existence, and consequences of racism.
Therapist: Are you willing – as you were not previously – to take an honest look at your troubled childhood? The early years are formative, as you know, but history books have whitewashed cruel and violent racist acts in the guise of frontier grit and cowboy heroism. Then gone further by justifying the brutality and suffering built-in to the denial of full humanness to tens of thousands shackled unfortunates.
America: I’ve resisted for four centuries, denying the truth, and literally burying the massacres of millions of indigenous peoples. If I don’t make amends now, and take responsibility for the sins of the past, we’ll be replaying the past few weeks for years to come, only more deadly and divisive each time a new slogan gets scrawled on a sign.
Therapist: You say you are ready for change. Are you being coerced, or do you want to change? The task is formidable. From border to border you’ll have to reshape the current systems in place for policing the country, educating the populace, providing affordable housing and medical care? It will mean less of the pie for those who most often sing your praises.
America: To be frank, there is no other option, other than devastating violence. Stereotypes must be confronted. A level playing field must become more than a catch phrase.
Therapist: Sounds good. But how do you intend to implement the current rhetoric? For the long run, I’m assuming you recognize that it is more complicated than simply moving money around from swat team funding to community services.
America: Again, it’s back to the origin of racism and understanding how the very concept of ‘policing’ was put in place. When the connection is made between slave masters controlling property to police controlling people, then the shift to Serve and Protect becomes a eureka moment. So called “systemic racism” is a description of people wielding power in their own interests. The people behind the controls must have their attitudes reconfigured; stereotypes must be exposed.
Therapist: All well and good, but let me ask again, what is the plan for measurable progress going forward?
America: That is a good question, because marching around with a BLM sign and shaking your fist in the air means little when the dust settles. You can’t go home afterward and be smug about a couple of hours in the street. There is sludge decades old to be dredged.
Therapist: Yes, well said… and?
America: And… here are some specific actions that companies can put in place forthwith. Commit to recruiting more diverse representation on staff, the board, and advisory councils to increase representation by at least 25% by 2022. Amend by-laws to recommit as an organization to practice anti-racism. Implement mandatory courses on implicit biases for all staff. Evaluate programs with a diversity and inclusion lens and make improvements.
Therapist: Sounds very much like ‘corporate-speak.’ If this is your message to the African-American populace I doubt very much it will be sufficient, or even heard.
America: The intention is to single out the people who comprise the institutions. A ‘system’ consists of people who populate and run it. By opening dialogues, the goal is to dismantle stereotypes about race, change attitudes and ultimately, behavior. There would not have been a knee on the neck of George Floyd if the cop pressing down saw him as a fellow human being rather than a black guy whose life did not matter.
Therapist: All good so far. Same time next week… and every week for years to come? Let’s see if you show up and do the work.