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On activism, race, and privilege

June 01, 2020 | General, Social Justice, Society

I am an immigrant woman; I have an accent.

I’ve been told my skin is too light and I’m white passing. I’ve actually been told, “to me you’re white!” which hurt because, guess what, I am Latina. My experiences and background align with my identity of Latina, too. On the other hand, I’ve also heard others say my skin is “darker than that of the average white person”. At the end of the day, my experiences of being othered, of racism, have indeed happened and have impacted me as a person and as a professional. So yes, I’m a BIPOC immigrant woman (of size, to add another intersectional layer) who has an accent. I’ve been questioned about my degree, I’ve been interrogated by a group of colleagues on why reverse racism isn’t a thing, I’ve been left crying in frustration. But I don’t know what it’s like for my skin tone to make me feel afraid for my life.

On privilege

At the same time as all of the above, I have lots of privilege. I came to this country already knowing the language. Some people classify me as white-passing, which holds privilege in a world where colorism is a thing. Also I had access to university education in my country of origin. I came to Canada with a profession that facilitated my acceptance into a Masters program. Additionally, I had access to loans and my partner’s support to pursue my career as a psychologist again. Now I am a psychologist, which means I hold a degree of power when I speak that people without that bunch of letters behind their names may not. On top of that, I’m abled-bodied, I’m still young-enough, I’m a cis-woman, I’m straight-passing, I’m healthy overall, and much more.

As I observe the just calls to action, the marches, protests, etc., going on, I’ve had to take a deep breath and pause to reflect. How do I situate myself in BIPOC’s activism? My intersectional identities make my positioning always fluid. There are many times when I’m the only BIPOC person around, but there are others where I am not. At those times, I want to make sure to use my privilege to amplify the voices of those with less privilege than I have. I have made mistakes and I will continue to make mistakes, but I aim to continue learning to pendulate between using my voice and amplifying someone else’s voice.

On activism

There are many ways of disrupting systems of oppression. We can call out casual racism, colorism, sizeism, prejudice, discrimination, etc. when it happens in our relationships. We can do art, we can write, we can analyze pieces of fiction and problematize it. We can reach out and support those who are doing the work differently from us. We can march, we can protest, we can dismantle the messages of patriarchy and colonialism in the therapy room. We can find where we have power to heal and take care of ourselves, so we can continue the work of changing the world.

It’s not our job to rescue those who are uncomfortable or reactive to our activism. It isn’t our job to educate them, either! There is plenty of content out there that is authored by BIPOC creators. So if you’re tired or feel unsafe to engage with harmful people or content, don’t.

Sometimes, our rebellion is in existing as we are in a world that isn’t welcoming to us.

All ways of activism are needed. Yours is, too.

Call to action

Moving forward, my invitation to you is to:

  • Educate yourself
  • Find your activism, and engage in the spaces where you can, as you can
  • Remain mindful of the space you’re in: will you do more by using your voice, or by amplifying someone else’s?

Let’s hold each other as we change the world.

I grew up speaking Spanish. English is my second language. When I communicate in English, I make mistakes. I've chosen to let my writing reflect the kind of mistakes I make when speaking, so that you have an idea of what it might feel like to talk to me. I trust the message is still clear but, if it's not, please don't hesitate to ask me for clarification.

The information provided on my blog is a mix of my personal thoughts, professional approach, and articles related to mental health. The purpose of sharing all of this is to communicate the models at the core of my practice, as well as to provide education. I hope this will help to minimize some of the power imbalances related to my profession. The articles on this blog should not be considered as professional advice for any one person or group of people. If you have any questions about the appropriateness of this content for you, please contact a qualified mental health professional.

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