What can you do in the continuous movement against systemic racism? How can you move through painful realizations about yourself and still keep on fighting? Are there things you can do and remember that will allow you to become a better ally?
In this podcast episode takeover, LaToya Smith speaks with Colleen Paul about taking the necessary steps.
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Meet Colleen Paul
My name is Colleen Paul, and I live in Chicago, Illinois. I am a pre-licensed mental health counselor working at a private practice called Accepting Therapy, and I have been there since May 2019.
I recently graduated from Northwestern University on the child and adolescent track, which is my ideal client population.
In This Podcast
- Now what?
With anti-racist work, it is about becoming informed and educating yourself, and becoming aware of how you have been involved in racist systems. Examine the ways in which your privilege has protected you or times you have benefited simply from having white skin.
This is a difficult and painful stage, no one likes to think about how they have benefited from unequal privileges, but all this work starts here and starts from becoming aware of your role.
A lot of white people are not used to being uncomfortable and being confronted and therefore immediately jump to being defensive. However, do not let the discomfort stop you entirely from doing the work – however uncomfortable you are, want to be corrected, want to be taught, want to be expanded, and want to learn how you can be better.
This is more of the action stage; you are now more aware of your actions and your place in the system. You’re feeling something, that is good, but now you need to utilize that energy. Pick up a book and read more about what is going on, challenge people around you when they say things that should not be said.
Normalize that it is okay to fumble, and think about what is next after this.
There are so many resources available to white folks who are curious to expand their understanding. Seriously consider donating, it is the best way to put money where your mouth is and place money directly into the hands of people who know exactly where and how to use it.
Keep yourself moving, keep yourself a part of the action stage and use your voice for something good and constructive, not just for you but for those around you too.
- LaToya Smith Podcast Takeover “We Have To Make Change” with Choya Wise | PoP 508
- White Fragility and What It Means as a Counselor
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Meet LaToya Smith
LaToya is a consultant with Practice of the Practice and the owner of LCS Counseling and Consulting Agency in Fortworth Texas. She firmly believes that people don’t have to remain stuck in their pain or the place they became wounded. She encourages her clients to be active in their treatment and work towards their desired outcome.
She has also launched Strong Witness which is a platform designed to connect, transform, and heal communities through the power of storytelling.
Visit LaToya’s website.
Thanks For Listening!
Feel free to leave a comment below or share this podcast on social media by clicking on one of the social media links below! Alternatively, leave a review on iTunes and subscribe!
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This is the Practice of the Practice podcast takeover episode with LaToya Smith, session number 509.
Welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast. This is LaToya Smith still doing the podcast takeover on the topic of pushing the conversation forward. Today I have Colleen Paul. She just graduated actually from her Master’s program in counseling in September 2020. So Colleen, welcome.[COLLEEN]:
Thank you. Thank you for having me. [LATOYA]:
Yeah, and I’ll say for the listeners too, in case they hear it, you know, Colleen is located in Chicago, and they may hear the L train running in the back. And just in case you wonder what that rumbling is, it’s a train coming through. So that’s pretty cool, actually. [COLLEEN]:
Right in my backyard. [LATOYA]:
Yeah. So Colleen, I’m excited to have you on. I’m going to ask you just to speak a little bit about yourself in a second. Actually, why don’t you do that right now, before I jump into the article? [COLLEEN]:
Yeah, as you said, my name is Colleen. I live in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. And I just graduated from Northwestern University in mental health counseling, and I was on the child and adolescent track. [LATOYA]:
Awesome. Awesome. And so that’s what, your niche is gonna be working with young people? [COLLEEN]:
Yeah, ideally. I’m currently at a private practice called Accepting Therapy. And we’re actually trying to work on a division that is exclusively geared towards, you know, adolescence, teens, kids. [LATOYA]:
Yeah. Okay, that sounds good. You know, I like, I think when I first started in the work, too, I was working with young people. So it’s definitely, they’ll keep you on your toes. And it’s fun. You laugh a lot. [COLLEEN]:
Oh, yeah, for sure. [LATOYA]:
So Colleen, and for listeners again, the reason why I reached out to you especially is because I read your article, White Fragility, and what it means as a counselor, and I was just taken back. And I think what really struck me, first of all, it’s a really, really good article, but really struck me was that one, you’re a white therapist writing this way. And then two, you were still in school when you wrote this. And I was like, man, that’s powerful. And I was like, I just really felt like, wow, she really gets it. So tell me what’s behind it for you. Like, you know, why did you even write the article? [COLLEEN]:
Yeah. So at my site that I work at, we started a social justice inclusivity diversity workshop. And I, as you named, was still in school, and I was in cultural diversity. I was in a trauma class where a lot of the topic of what was going on at that time, which was the civil uprising, was coming up a lot. And I just felt at that time, it was important for me, being a white counselor, to sort of talk about why it’s so difficult to broach the topic of race with our clients, like, there has to be a specific reason about it. I felt it. I know a lot of my other white friends in counseling experience the same sort of feeling. And that was just a big motivation to add it to our blog, to talk about that discussion and that conversation because I just think it’s really, it’s important. It’s significant at this time, and always will be. [LATOYA]:
Yeah, definitely. And then after, like, you know, doing that work, and this reflecting back for yourself, you know, why do you think for you, it was hard to, you know, approach the issue of race or to work with black or brown clients? [COLLEEN]:
You know, I think just that white fragility is very real. There’s a fear of saying the wrong things, of offending someone. But then there’s also that fear on the other side of things of sounding complacent. Like it’s, it’s important to have that discussion. It’s a terrifying discussion to have but at the same time, I don’t want to make it seem like that is not an important attribute of our conversations like that will come up in our conversations, especially if we’re talking about mental health, and that is affecting their mental health in any way. [LATOYA]:
Yeah. Do you think that again, like you know, because you have allowed yourself to enter into these spaces, have conversations, like really confronted your stuff, and that’s something I’ve been talking about too like as therapists in general, but especially when we look at the issues of race, and if we’re trying to push the conversation forward and do harder work, like we got to look at our own stuff, like what’s in our own heart and what we’re working with or dealing with. And, you know, for you as you’ve done that, do you think that’s the issue why some therapists, white therapists have a hard time connecting with people of color? Because they don’t want to deal with their own selves? [COLLEEN]:
Yeah, definitely. I’ve read it in the blog. And part of the process, you know, is sort of that awareness of seeing how you might have been complicit in institutionalized racism. And that’s not the most fun thing to do. I don’t think a lot of white people sit down and look forward to seeing how they have been a participant in that. And I think that’s really difficult for a lot of people. And I also write too that there has to be this acceptance stage. So you know, you can become informed, you can become educated on what’s going on, how you have been a participant in this. And then what next, right? You have to start doing certain steps, you have to go transition into that action stage. And so, you know, there’s two steps, but I always tell my clients, you know, there’s a reason why there’s only two because both of those are very difficult. [LATOYA]:
Yeah, yeah. And I want to get into that a little bit in a moment. But I do want to just take a step back, and even when it comes to you, like, just tell us a little bit about how you grew up, was race always an issue? Did you not even, was it something that was never addressed? Was it a concern of yours, like when you were younger? Even on, you know, undergrad? Like everything? [COLLEEN]:
Oh, yeah. I mean, growing up, I grew up in a suburb outside of Chicago – Libertyville, Illinois – and we call it Pleasantville. You can get some images from that. And yeah, I mean, truthfully, I didn’t even really consider my privilege, you know, my white privilege, or anything surrounding that like class privilege until I did enter undergrad. That was when I actually started making friends with people of color and learning more about diversity, racism, topics revolving around that. Because in high school, you sort of just, the lecture that you get is basically like, hey, Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. That was all good. And after the 60s, after everything was figured out, after the Civil Rights Movement, there was no more racism. Hooray. And I mean, you really don’t hear much about that in high school. And even an undergrad, I would say I was still learning. I mean, I think it really took some years after I graduated, and definitely transitioning into grad school where I felt myself learning a lot more about it and started to question my role in it. [LATOYA]:
Yeah, I would definitely say, for anybody of any race, this is definitely an intentional work. If you want to know more about the other person, or different population or whatever, like you have to be intentional in it. And what I hear you saying is like, you know, okay, growing up, it was kind of like, hey, it is what it is. We learn a little bit of the textbooks, undergrad, I may have had classes and friends, but I didn’t learn the most until I was, like you said, I became aware and intentional about moving forward. Yeah. [COLLEEN]:
Yeah, definitely. [LATOYA]:
Yeah. Um, so tell us a bit more like, let’s dive into the article. And I’ll make sure like, we can get that posted in the show notes too. So people can have access to it. But what made you even want to write this? What made you say, let me put pen to paper, let me start tapping on these keys. And like, make this article happen. What was it that you were like, listen, I gotta do this? [COLLEEN]:
Yeah, I truthfully, did not have the greatest cultural diversity class experience. It was my most excited class, I was so excited to get into that and just get into difficult conversations. I loved a lot of the readings, like even going into intersectionality. And sort of the concept of white universalism. And once we got to class discussions, it sort of just fell flat. There was so much fear into getting into those topics of conversation. And, you know, the majority of us were white. And so I, you know, I would leave that class and just say, what would this look like, if you know, there were more people of color in the class, if our professor was a person of color? And it caused me a lot of stress because I felt like me and a few other classmates try to go and try to have these really difficult conversations. Sort of question, you know, our involvement and everything that was going on, even just questioning the field of counseling, you know, slightly, how a lot of those ideals are geared towards white middle class men. And it just did not go well. I’ll just say that.
Um, so you know, I gained a lot of, not gained, I actually felt really angry and tired after those classes. And then, when everything started happening with George Floyd and the protests, I really wanted to understand more, why it was so difficult for white people to have these conversations. And, you know, it took just looking and reading a lot of this stuff that I, you know, unfortunately had to sort of educate myself on in cultural diversity. But I, I really felt like that was going to at least be something, right, if I, you know, if I can’t go out there and change the system, you know, with a lift of a finger then this, this is a step. And I think it was important to start, you know, as a lot of my friends say, to understand whiteness as a racialized identity. And to sort of deconstruct that more.[LATOYA]:
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Do you think that, because you said a lot of great things, because even in the class you had, because I’m right there with you. We can call it cultural competence, or whatever it’s called. But there’s still a fear of diving deeper. It’s almost like we’re checking this off the box. It’s a requirement for graduation or accreditation for the school. Okay, but we’re not really deep-diving into the stuff. Is that what you’re saying like happening even in your class? [COLLEEN]:
Oh, yeah, for sure. And there was just, you know, there was a lot of tokenizing, which I found to be, you know, for lack of a better word, just pretty disgusting. And I, you know, I just didn’t really know why it was so difficult for us to talk about that. You know, it was just so tiring to go in and say there’s more here and we’re just skimming the surface. We’re not talking about the difficult things that we’re reading, even in our textbooks that are required for this class. We’re sort of just there. [LATOYA]:
Yeah, yeah. And not dealing with this stuff. Yeah, I got you. Do you think, and, you know, just your thoughts too, do you think that most white therapists, they, they want to talk about the issues and just don’t know how, or white people in general, you know, or just don’t know how, or it’s just like a complete, like ignorance, and they don’t understand their privilege? [COLLEEN]:
Yeah, I think, sadly, it could be both, depending on the person. I would like to think that anybody that is going into counseling, it’s more of the former, sort of going into that fear of saying the wrong thing, of offending anyone, of coming across as racist when they’re talking about this topic. But then I think, you know, for the latter, that is also true, I think some people just aren’t even willing to go into that awareness. Thinking, like I was taught in high school that you know, it’s over, or trying to use the argument I have black friends, like, I’m not racist, or you know, that cop was just one bad cop. It’s whatever. But yeah, sadly, I think it is a little bit of both. [LATOYA]:
Yeah. And I think, you know, your article touched on this like, individualization, like the idea that, well, not me, so it doesn’t exist. You know what I mean? And I think you even hit on in the article, it’s a great article, and I’m hoping all the listeners, you know, will read it, and share it with others. But um, you know, I have had hard conversations with people to say that, listen, just because you may not say the N word to people, or you’re not a member, you’re not an active member of a hate group doesn’t mean that your views can’t be racist, you know what I mean, or your views, or you don’t, you know, discriminate in some type of way like that. Those aren’t the only two qualifiers, right. So when we bring up issues of race a lot of times a lot of the pushback that I’ve received, even from my peers, even from counselors, you’re right, a lot of the pushback I received well, I’m not. Okay, I’m not talking. Okay. Maybe it’s not you, but it does exist. Do you feel like that’s been a lot of the pushback you’ve received? [COLLEEN]:
Okay. Tell us about that. [COLLEEN]:
Yeah. I don’t even know if I’ve really witnessed that so much, just more of like, heard that. And especially, you know, in that class that I mentioned, I think that was a lot of the conversation that was coming up and again, sort of using tokenizing. Well, if we’re talking about the 1%, you know, there are certain people of color there that fit in, it’s like, all right, well, that’s not what we’re talking about, like how is that relevant right now? So yeah, I do think that is just a common response to be heard from a lot of people, and to also just convince themselves that, well, I have been educated on it, I am informed of it. It’s like, okay, well, there’s more there. And I think it would benefit a lot of people, instead of just starting off the gate, like, or coming right out of the gate saying, I’m not racist, to actually just question and go in and say, okay, how am I racist, though? How have I been involved in this institutionalized racism? I think that would benefit a lot of people if they were just able to reframe that. [LATOYA]:
Yeah, that’s actually really good. So instead of automatically with the defense, I’m not, maybe look at the ways where you have been? [COLLEEN]:
Yes. 100%. I think that would change a lot of people as white counselors, white people in general, just to say right out the gate, yeah, how am I racist? [LATOYA]:
Yeah. Got it. That’s really good. I like that approach to it. And now, let’s dive into, I know, you already touched on it a little bit but when it comes to use a quote in the article, the first step is awareness. Second step, acceptance. So let’s walk us through that, like even, maybe you’re dealing with a peer, maybe you come in contact, you know, with another, you know, a colleague, and you’re like, hey, they don’t understand racism, but they’re coming to you and say, listen, I’m trying to get it, like, help me out. What, what, let’s talk about the awareness and the acceptance piece. [COLLEEN]:
Yeah. And you know, I can’t take full credit of that quote, it’s written on the chalkboard at Accepting LLC. And I’ve always, I’ve always seen it, and I’ve always, you know, spewed it to my clients. I think it’s just, it’s such a beautiful quote. And I think it fits into a lot of different elements of change. And so with that, right, with the awareness, you know, I think with anti-racist work that is more of becoming informed, and educating yourself, and becoming aware of how you have been involved in this institutionalized racism. And so with that, sort of looking back in your past, and reflecting, you know, in what ways has your privilege benefited you? And what ways has your white skin, you know, saved you or protected you? And how have you maybe been involved in any sort of racist acts, or, again, just within institutions or societies? And that’s difficult, right. I think that stage is probably going to be the hardest for people. I know, for me, that it’s painful, right? But again, no one really likes to sit down and think, yeah, how has my white culture, how has my whiteness, you know, perpetuated this, perpetuated racism, has made it a fundamental concept of society? And I think it starts there, and it’ll probably continue with the changing tides, it’s going to be a lifelong process. [LATOYA]:
And let me pause right there, because I know you’re gonna get back to it. But if you said it’s painful, do you think it’s painful because people have a hard time, like, you know, it happens with clients we deal with, right, have a hard time seeing themselves? Or, or is it also just the fear of the unknown on the other side of it? Like, who will I be if I’m not this? [COLLEEN]:
Oh, yeah, again, I think it’s a bit of both. I think it’s just… At least for me, you know, because I don’t want to speak for everybody, I’ve been sort of sitting and reflecting a lot on what benefits there are to white culture. And it just the more and more you reflect it, just so it seems like it’s way more on the negative side in a lot of ways, and that’s never again, it’s not a pleasurable thing to experience. And you know, I kind of I’ve kind of forgot the second half of your question, or the second part. [LATOYA]:
I know that we were talking about the fear. Is that what you’re talking about? [COLLEEN]:
Yeah, yeah. And I guess the fear of just, yeah, yeah, I’m sorry, I sort of spaced out. [LATOYA]:
It’s okay. It’s okay. Because I was just mentioning that, I was wondering if it’s more so just the painful part like I don’t want to, I don’t want to see myself or the fear of the unknown on the other side once I expose these things. [COLLEEN]:
Oh, that’s right. That is what you said. Yeah. Yeah. Again, so I think you know, fear of seeing yourself in that light. Nobody likes to see themselves as racist. And then the latter half, because it has benefited us, right, like this, this system, this institution is geared towards us in every sense of the word. And so I’m sure that is a big thing. Like okay, well if I start to dismantle it, to deconstruct it, what’s that going to look like for me? Will I still have the same privileges? Yeah, that is something as you were saying, and I guess I, you know, have considered that, but haven’t thought about that in a second. [LATOYA]:
Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting, because it almost seems like the fear of becoming, well, the fear of losing what you benefited from, and actually the fear of becoming the other that has to deal with all the, you know, that has to deal with the, you know, the negative effects or the oppression or the stereotypes or the systematic oppression, you know, I mean, all that stuff is, yeah, it’s, uh, yeah, I know there’s a lot there. It’s really, it’s deeper. [COLLEEN]:
Yeah, I think, no, I think just, people haven’t had to feel uncomfortable. I think a lot of white people have never had to experience this level of discomfort and being called out and being confronted. And so of course, anyone’s natural defense is like, whoa, what’s going on? No, no, no, I’m fine. This is how I’m not racist. And there’s nothing, you know, there’s no encouragement beyond that. If you already have that wall up, that wall is up for protection. You’re never, you know, I think the whole point of this is it’s okay to fumble. It’s okay to be scared to have these conversations, you know, truthfully, even going into this discussion, I was a little nervous. And that’s my, you know, that shows my white fragility, because it’s scary to challenge that core, you know, white, patriarchal way of thinking, and I think that is a very troublesome thing for a lot of white people. [LATOYA]:
Yeah, you know what, I’m even glad that you said that. And hopefully the listeners, when they hear it, they realize that, like you just said, you normalize it, it’s okay to be a little bit nervous or be a little bit scared about going into it. But the point is, just go into it, though. Like, we don’t need you to wait until you’re absolutely confident and, like with [unclear] counseling, [unclear] well, sometimes, you know, maybe [unclear] I think it’s more like the church. Don’t wait till you’re absolutely ready. It’s, you know, just come, you know what I mean, because the healing happens in the process. [COLLEEN]:
Yeah. And I, you know, and I always urge my clients, if I’m saying something that’s not helpful or benefiting you in any way, what I really love about a therapeutic relationship is that it breaks social norms, right? You don’t normally go to a friend and be like, what you just said is not helping my mental health, like, I mean, certain friends you might be able to do that, but it’s different with therapists. And so I think with these conversations, too, I want to have these conversations, I want to be corrected, you know, if I am saying something that is offensive, or incorrect, or doesn’t sound educated, you know, I hope that somebody would correct me on that. You know, and that’s combined with still a fear of, of being offensive or sounding stupid, or what have you. But if you’re not willing to have those conversations, then what are you actually going to learn? [LATOYA]:
Yeah, yeah, that’s good. Tell me about now, let’s move on to step two, when it comes to acceptance. Tell us about that. [COLLEEN]:
Yeah. I’ve been talking with some of my friends about this one. And I think like I said, before, the awareness is more the becoming informed, the educational side of things, side of things. And I think the acceptance is more the action stage, okay, like, now you’re aware. Now, you know of your privileges. Now, you know how you’ve been complicit institutionalized racism. Now, what, like, what can you do to help with that? And I remember, I especially felt that a couple weeks after George Floyd had been murdered, I rewatched 13th. And I think I was just I was stressed, I was, I mean, pandemic going on, everything going on, school. And I was just sobbing throughout it. I was just like, crying my eyes out. I went to my roommate afterwards and just cried to her some more. And then in that moment, I sort of became hyper-aware of what was going on. I was like, okay, yeah, this is good. I’m feeling something. But now I need to do something with these tears, with these white girl tears. Like, this isn’t helping anyone. Like it might be somewhat of a cathartic experience for me. But now I’m upset. I’m sad. What can I do with this energy now? And you know, whether that’s donating to causes, whether that’s calling officials, educating, I mean, you know, not meaning to go back to education, but picking up a book, like reading something that’s going to keep you informed of what’s going on. Challenging people that say troubling things to you, even if they are very close friends or family. [LATOYA]:
Yeah, that’s really good. I like that. I like these two steps. I know you said, I know you’re not gonna take credit for the quote. But I love the idea of awareness and being able to push through and basically enter into the process whether it be painful, and embrace the fear and the emotions and normalize that it’s okay to fumble. And I like the idea of the acceptance. Okay, now it’s time to, let’s let’s do some work, now what? What’s next after this? Okay. And what would you say is the now what for people when they ask, well, what, you know, when they reach that stage? What am I going to do now? Like, you know, I mean, like, what would be your, your advice? Or what would you tell folks? [COLLEEN]:
Yeah, I mean, I think there’s so many resources out right now that are fantastic, I think especially geared towards, you know, white people like anti-racist resources, whether that’s books like White Fragility, Me and White Supremacy, I think that helps more, again, more with the awareness and the educational side of things. But donations, you know, I know Black Lives Matter has their own website where you can donate to, when I was listening to your episode of the podcast and Campaign Zero, that’s one that I’ve donated to which, you know, helps with police reform. And just, you know, looking into the names that we’re hearing on the news, looking into ways that we can help, then donating to causes that are geared towards Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Jonathan Price. Any of that, you know, just ways to keep yourself moving, and keep yourself a part of that action stage. [LATOYA]:
Yeah, I think that’s, I think you really hit on it. That’s important. That’s why I tell people all the time, maybe your thing is not protesting in the streets. Maybe that’s not you. But you can also be effective, whether it be writing blog posts, especially, you know, challenging, talking to friends, bringing awareness at like, dinner parties, coffee dates, stuff like that, you can always be active in your way and use your voice as you feel most comfortable. I think that’s the important part. And that’s the work that I’m hoping that we all can be committed to. [COLLEEN]:
Right. And I definitely think that one is difficult. I know I’ve experienced some difficulty around having those conversations. Because you never again, if it’s uncomfortable just for you to think about it, and to become aware of it, it’s a whole nother branch of discomfort having to convince or have a conversation with somebody else that is struggling with it. But that’s part of the work, you know, you really do have to call people out if you want to consider yourself a part of this action and part of this change. Yeah. [LATOYA]:
Yeah. But it’s great. You know what, I’m glad that you’re doing the work. And I’m glad that, I’m definitely excited about the article. Glad I read it. I’m glad I found you. And I’m really glad you’re doing the work in your practice. But tell the people, tell the listeners how to find you if they ever want to get in touch or where to find the blog. [COLLEEN]:
Yeah, so the blog is on acceptingtherapy.com, which is the name of my site that I work with, the private practice that I’m at. So you should find me there under clinicians. I’m also on the website TherapyDone, which is also a marketable website for counselors as well. The blogs on there, Psychology Today as well. And yeah. [LATOYA]:
Okay, great. Thank you so much, Colleen, for you know, being a guest, allowing me to interview you and just sharing your voice with us. I appreciate it. [COLLEEN]:
Yeah, no, thank you so much for having me.
Thank you so much for listening to this episode. I know that running a private practice is really hard work. Fortunately, Gusto makes the payroll part easy. On top of that, Gusto offers flexible benefits, simple onboarding and so much more. And right now, our listeners get three months free. Gusto is what I personally use with Practice of the Practice. So go on over to gusto.com/joe to get those three free months. Again, that’s gusto.com/joe.
Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music; we really like it. This podcast is designed to provide accurate, authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.