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Oct 28, 2014

WHITE PRIVILEGE, Pt. 2

In my last post, I tackled a very sensitive topic of White privilege and in this post I will continue to do so. I must admit that I received what I expected to receive in response - defensiveness, denial, and plenty of explanations for the favor of White privilege. Such reactions are predictable, as some individuals only see what they allow themselves to see, because if one is only open to a specific part of experience, other types of experiences are usually rejected, ignored, and often unnoticed altogether. As an advocate for people of color and LGBTQIA individuals, I am prepared for opposition and even personal attacks as I am attempting to raise awareness of counselors in order for us to better serve our clients.

From the community I have gathered many messages, one of which is prominent - those who created the system are in power to dismantle it. I just heard the same message from a Korean show I watched - the one who set the fire must extinguish it. In other words, White individuals, specifically White males, are in power to overthrow the system. In this case, defensiveness and denial make perfect sense, because hardly anyone would be eager to give away power. Humans strive for power and do whatever it takes to retain it. Therefore, it might be counterintuitive to do the opposite. However, it is certainly possible if one is sufficiently aware, strong in one's identity and mission in life, and has a larger picture on human existence and purpose.

I admit that this request may be too large to swallow for many White individuals; therefore, I encourage you to at least take the first step toward awareness. For some this is the best they can do - awareness of the system in which you live and to which you willingly or unwillingly contribute. I can't tell you that this is your responsibility as a human (unless you choose to take it on) but it is your responsibility as a counselor. For years our code of ethics has been emphasizing multicultural awareness - this certainly includes not only awareness of non-White, non-heterosexual, non-societally-acceptable categories to which our clients belong, but also awareness of the system that is in charge of human lives and the distribution of human resources. My personal opinion is that denial, rejection, and explanations of White privilege and White supremacy is borderline unethical, because it has various negative consequences for our POC, LGBTQIA, and other minority clients: It immediately invalidates their position in our society, it fails to promote understanding and acceptance of their past and current experiences, it perpetuates the invisible divide between you and your clients, it has a strong potential to retraumatize your clients, and more.

Initially, it has been difficult for me to hear and allow this information to settle. I felt unfairly attacked, which prompted defensiveness and anger. However, that was only because I misunderstood the message - it wasn't me who was attacked, it wasn't me with whom POC had an issue - it was the system. And the system isn't personal, it's collective. This certainly challenges our ego, mindfulness, and humility on constant basis, because we have to remind ourselves over and over again, "It's not me, it's the system; I didn't create it, but I may be contributing to it; I'm feeling defensive right now but that's my ego speaking." The fact that we may be perceived by POC as villains based on our Whiteness isn't fair, but the fact that historically POC has been going through even worse treatment is also unfair. I encourage all of us to keep that in mind whenever we struggle.
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Evelyn Pavlova is a counselor and an Ally, whose preferred population is LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, invisible minority, asexual, and ally) individuals. Her areas of interest are eating disorders, mood disorders, mindfulness, and spirituality. Read more about her new counseling journey at www.curvyroad.weebly.com

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4 Comments

  1. 4 Justin 29 Oct
    Thank you for continuing your exploration of this important topic; I know you had some heated push back in response to your last post, which must have made your follow up a bit more challenging. I am wondering how you might suggest a white male like myself might change the system. What are some concrete things that I can do, besides understanding where clients from other backgrounds are coming from? I also wanted to point out that as counselors (vs. clients) we are also afforded yet another position of power, something I'll have to remain aware of during sessions.
  2. 3 B H 31 Oct
    In Dubai, everyone was stopped and checked at gated communities.  I could drive right on through just giving my white woman wave (like you were Miss America).
    In South Jersey, if there is a black person anywhere near, they hold the door open for me. I am older but capable, I am sure it unthinkingly done because I am white.  I doubt if it is something they are aware they are doing.  It could be dismissed as polite, nice, but it happens too regularly to be just that.
  3. 2 Evelyn 19 Nov
    Justin,

    I appreciate your feedback! Your question was also great. To answer it comprehensively, I need much more information than I currently have. However, there are very general things that you can do as the first person in power. One of the main tasks is to challenge others - if you hear oppressive voice or see oppressive behaviors, say something. If you have people of color as your clients, explore the ways in which they are oppressed and advocate for them.
    Allow people of color to speak and make sure their voice is heard, because historically they have been silenced and devalued. Also, avoid "cis-splaining" and "White-splaining" (I mentioned that in
    my post), because that furthers oppression. If you can involve people of color to be in charge of something and lead, create space for them. I hope it was helpful. If you'd like to have a more elaborate conversation, feel free to e-mail me.
  4. 1 Evelyn 19 Nov
    B H

    It is very disheartening to hear such stories!

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