How therapy can help us dismantle racism

Written by Rorri Geller-Mohamed, LCSW

November 8, 2019

 Over the past few weeks, I’ve been having conversations with white women about the challenges that they face in uprooting and dismantling racism. Not surprisingly, there were many common experiences and feelings that came up when they were around family, thinking about how to educate their kids on this issue, and/or what it looks like in their community.

Here are a few of the most common themes:

  • I freeze or struggle to find the right words in the moment
  • I want to teach my kids but I don’t know the best way to do it
  • I don’t know what to say to my white family members so that they will understand
  • I wish I felt more confident and prepared to address these issues

Maybe you can even relate to some of them. My takeaway from this is that we are often aware of issues of racism but we don’t have the skills, support, or emotional processing practice to help us take the next step to dismantle it.

But here is the good news: We can learn the skills that we need, find the support, and work on our emotional processing to be more prepared and confident.

A lot of that work is similar to what takes place when people come to therapy.

In family therapy, we are often working on how to resolve conflict, strengthen family relationships, and improve communication. These are the same ingredients that will help overcome the challenges that come up when talking to white family members. In individual therapy we are often working on issues such as self-esteem, impact of family issues from childhood, and anxiety. Understanding issues like these and the way they show up in our response or lack thereof when we are confronted with racism is key to us being able to develop the skills and processing that will help us to dismantle racism. In group therapy, participants benefit from the support of the group as well as the knowledge and insight from their fellow participants. Similarly, having support, community, and accountability is vital for white women that want to dismantle racism.

We need to be clear on what is stopping us from doing more and making a bigger impact in order for us to figure out how we can do better. Then once we recognize it, it is our responsibility to take the necessary steps to move forward.

Here’s an exercise that I want you to try:

Think of a situation that came up recently related to issues of race and/or racism where you wished you could have said more in the moment, did more at that time, or talked more to your kids about it. What got in the way of that happening? What emotions came up for you then and what emotions are coming up for you know as you think about it?

Think about how different the world could be if a lot more white people that already believe racism is bad could actually have the skills, knowledge, and emotional endurance to show up stronger and more prepared to challenge and dismantle racism. We could make progress so much faster together.

To understanding what we need.

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