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Just Keep Swimming

Updated: May 26, 2020

It seems that every day brings a new troubling narrative to our screens in 2019. It’s enough to make many individuals decide that they want to opt-out of watching the news, and on many days, who can blame them? Hate, polarized commentary, and fear-mongering all dominate headlines and the morning news. The way these things impact the counseling profession cannot be ignored.  We are responsible for supporting, guiding, and easing the experiences of vulnerability in all stages of life. Finding homeostasis. Not to mention, the many of us who are counselor educators, who have to guide students in facilitating these nuanced practices that are more of a practiced art than anything else.

How do we help our students to understand that ‘opting out’ of watching the news is a function of a privileged identity, or to teach them to understand the ways that their biases play out in subtle yet problematic ways when they are not checked? There is a rhetoric of hate all around us, and if we identify with the majority (i.e., White, cis-gender, heterosexual, without disability), it can be easy to sidestep these necessary lessons that no one prepared us to teach. Not to mention, it can be easy to sidestep these necessary lessons when we do not take it upon ourselves to challenge the ways that we, the educators, are implicated in this society. Ozlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo eloquently provide the analogy of biases as being a result of the water we are all swimming in; to pretend that we are not affected by hegemonic discourses, norms, and narratives is only doing a disservice to those we seek to provide allyship to, and especially those of whom we seek to provide ethical and competent services.

It is common, if not almost natural, to avoid that which makes us most uncomfortable. What I have come to find the hardest thing to reckon with is realizing that I have had an upbringing and education, that through a master’s degree and most of a doctoral degree, did not include any tools for confronting or problematizing any of the narratives that I had been presented with (i.e, the water I have been swimming in). Much to the often surprise (see also: dismay) of my students, I push their thinking to ensure that at least one course has afforded them this opportunity, which keeps me accountable and engaged in my own personal evolution. Social justice is just a catchphrase if those who preach or practice in its name do not do anything to actively confront and name social injustices within their own lives and experiences.

At this point, I find a lot of blogs and articles turn towards a list of things you can do to achieve the goals I have laid out up to this point. Spoiler alert: this is not that kind of blog. Challenging bias is messy, personal, and difficult. Heck, most people I talk to about what I do involves some level of being told “I’m not biased, I treat everyone the same”, or “I don’t see color/age/ability status”, or the very common, “I just hate everyone [haha]”. Many of these responses I see as being a version of what Robin DiAngelo (2011) termed White Fragility. We resist the notion that we may have somehow offended someone, or in the case of individuals with disabilities, that we’ve ignored their existence entirely. If you didn’t mean it, it’s not your fault, right? (yes and no—to be discussed in a later blog post).

I have included this link to resources from those more adequate than myself at verbalizing these concepts. These are not issues that can be addressed in one, or even one hundred, blog posts. If you are privileged enough to not have hate negatively impact your daily life, I implore you to keep swimming into educating yourself about the experiences of others, and the ways you can lend yourself as an ally in a way that promotes unity. At the end of the day, I hope to encourage you to wrestle with your resistance, not give into it.

Challenge narratives, and most importantly, just keep swimming.

Originally posted 8/5/19

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