The burden of internalised racial shame
Since Dr Young’s last workshop, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on how racial trauma triggers a sense of shame in the therapy room. DDP works heavily around shame within the context of trauma, yet when working with BIPOC communities, little thought seems to have been given to the impact of shame from racial trauma and mistrust for the systems and groups that may have caused it.
I remember at age five peering through our curtains as a group of racist National Front skinheads gathered outside the local corner shop. This is one of my earliest memories of being a first generation immigrant child growing up in 1980s England. I heard panic and fear in my mum’s voice as she ushered us away from the window, leaving me scared and confused. I heard the message loud and clear; my difference quite literally threatened my safety.
Over the following years, that message was repeated to me by the media, by teachers, friends and even family. In protecting their children from the evils of society, my parents held on closely to their cultural roots and taught us not to trust our new world. I did what I could to assimilate, yet continued to look at white people through a lens of suspicion and mistrust. I learnt to hide the ‘parts’ of my identity that made me different. Even as a child I recognised that coming from such a large Pakistani family was different from the nuclear family ideal I saw around me, so I pretended …
I pretended I only had half the siblings I had.
I pretended I ate toast and cereal for breakfast.
I pretended I preferred Hollywood movies and MTV to my beloved Bollywood.
I became the queen of code switching, becoming the person I needed to be in order to stay safe. Pretend pretend pretend. Assimilate assimilate assimilate. Hide hide hide. Shame was at the very core of my experience of being an immigrant child.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m more at ease with my sense of self and identity and proud of my heritage. But I haven’t forgotten the trauma of my past nor have I forgotten the individuals, groups and systems that created such fear and shame. There will always be an element of mistrust and suspicion when working with systems and models that weren’t created with BIPOC communities in mind. Statistically, the majority of psychological studies are undertaken by white staff using models centred on the experiences of white communities. This isn’t our world. This isn’t our truth. Time and time again I have seen BIPOC individuals squirm in discomfort when trying to engage in western psychology models because they can’t connect with what they’re being told. This isn’t how we were raised and this isn’t how we are raising our future generations. Once again, we are put in that place of shame and asked to hide parts of ourselves in order to stay safe.
Over the past few days I have revisited this article multiple times, worried that it’s not academic or intellectual enough for the DDP community. But I’ve held back and purposefully left it heart heavy and head light. I’ve noticed that in the west, academia is often used as a safety blanket. There is sometimes a tendency to hide behind research articles, studies and theories but to truly understand the lived experiences of BIPOC folk and any resistance in the therapeutic space, you should be prepared to connect with our trauma on an emotional level.
Publisher: ddpnetwork.org (Mar 2021)