I spend a whole lot of time talking about blackness. I talk about my blackness, my friends’ blackness, my family’s blackness, blackness in America, blackness as it relates to White America, blackness (or the lack thereof) in spiritual spaces—the list could go on for miles. Along with all this talk about blackness also comes the discussion and expectation of intersectionality (click here for my thoughts on white feminism).
The thing about talking the talk is that it means absolutely nothing if you’re not also walking the walk. That is, who am I to go on and on about racial justice, cultural accountability, and intersectionality if I am not also considering the needs of other people of color in my community?
Through my graduate clinical work this year, I’ve come face to face with some of the challenges facing various other communities of color, and one major challenge that comes up often is that of language.
This may seem obvious. You may be reading this and thinking, “Come on, Suzanne. Of course there are language barriers facing different communities of color.” But attempting to meet the psychological needs of clients when there is a language barrier has shown me the complexity of this barrier in a completely new light, particularly with Spanish-speaking communities, which happens to be the majority of my client population. The trouble with this is that I do not speak Spanish. Not only do I not speak Spanish, but I also vehemently refuse to force anyone to adopt a language that is foreign to them simply for my own comfort and convenience. This type of forced assimilation would be a form of white-washing, which only serves to perpetuate white supremacy. Participating in this type of erasure would be extremely harmful, not to mention it is pretty much the opposite of everything that I stand for.
But then what are we left with, if the U.S. is truly lacking in the bilingual therapist department? Are people for whom Spanish is a primary language meant to walk through life without adequate mental health services because they rightfully refuse to make English-speaking whiteness the norm for which to aspire? In the words of every late night infomercial, there’s got to be a better way.
I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know what that better way looks like. What I do know is that it doesn’t look like the erasure of Latinx culture. It doesn’t look like the elevation of Americanness at the expense of a culture and language that adds to the richness and depth of this country. What I also know is that intersectionality for me as a black Congolese woman has to mean doing the work to help promote true diversity by countering the false idea that white, English-speaking Americanness is the standard.
One way in which I am doing this is by seriously working on my Spanish language fluency, particularly when it comes to providing mental health services in Spanish. This summer, I will be embarking on a 9-week study abroad trip through a psychology-focused Spanish language immersion program in Argentina, Chile, and Peru. I will be shadowing therapists in each country as the clinical piece of the program, and I will return better equipped to work with some of these populations in the U.S.
While this may seem like a drop in the bucket when it comes to the demand for Spanish-speaking psychotherapists nationally, it is one actionable step that I can take to meet the direct needs of current and future clients. It also doesn’t hurt that I get to give white supremacy the middle finger in the process. (How do I say f*ck white supremacy in Spanish?)
The ways that you choose to do this work may look completely different from what I’m choosing to do. On the other hand, you may be struggling for actionable steps to take right this minute. One suggestion and request is to help fund my trip overseas. In the process, you will not only be helping me realize my dreams, but you will also be giving to the greater cause of decentering white Americanness. Meaning, you too will be able to say, “vete la mierda” to white supremacy right along with me!
Want to help? Click here to donate to my study abroad:We all belong here. Let us lift each other up.
*Header photo by Micah Bazant