Does Race Matter?

Race Relations, Social Media, Mental Health Services 

I am interested to know how you perceive the world.  Polling shows a majority of Americans think racial tensions have gotten worse under President Obama’s tenure. CLC blogWhen asked if racial tensions in this country are worse now than when he took office, President Obama says Americans feel worse about race relations not because relations are worse, but because we’re talking about them more. What do you think? How would you answer that question?

Polling data from Gallup show the perception of America’s problems with race relations and opinions on potential solutions vary between blacks and whites.

CLC chart

Answer this question: Why is there such a huge difference in attitudes about the state of race relations in the US? Any number of responses can answer the question, some of which share common characteristics with the tension that we’ve seen over the last 10 months. After months of protests and outcry over the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, even independent observers might wonder if something unique to our nation first black President tenure is inspiring all this unrest. Simply the answer is yes — but it doesn’t have anything to do with President Obama.

Think back to the ways America received its news and information prior to 2008. Take into account the first quarter in which Apple sold more than 2.5 million iPhones was the last quarter of 2008 — when Obama was elected president. It hasn’t sold below 3 million since. Likewise, the popular Android smartphone didn’t go on sale until that same quarter. These are innovations that happened largely while Barack Obama has been president. And that, far more than President Obama’s politics or his racial identity, has been why during his second term we witness so many public displays of conflict between the races. We see now what has always been there.

President Obama’s America might not be post-racial, but it’s definitely post-social and without social media these conversations may have continued to happen in isolation indefinitely.The world of media and information sharing has changed dramatically; however, longstanding racial tensions have not. In the news today we’re frequently seeing videos of black men being shot by or struggling with white police officers. The videos are sometimes from bystanders’ cell phones, sometimes from police dashboard cameras, and sometimes from public and private surveillance systems. Once they’re online, they often go viral. In 2010 an average of 13.1 million Americans access Twitter at least once a month compared to 34.7 million in 2014.

Clearly social media has contributed to the increase dialogue, these conversations have been popping up and people from different communities are now conversing through the use of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram etc. With the perception of anonymity maybe people feel more comfortable sharing their true feelings on race relations. Social media is instantaneous. Twitter can be and has been used to inform, organize and inflame. Stories, photographs and videos created by people on the scene can be uploaded in seconds to the Internet and spread instantaneously.

Now that Americans have been brought into the conversation, with such a clear divide on race relations how does this affect the experience of people of color with mental health care?

  • Does it matter whether the therapist shares the same cultural identity as you or your family?
  • Can a therapist understand you if he/she is from a different culture?
  • Can you be honest and open with this therapist?
  • Do you feel that you don’t have to pretend you’re someone who you’re not

Now from a provider perspective, how do you choose which clients you work with?

  • Does it matter whether your clients share the same culture identify as you?
  • What do you do if it’s not a good fit?
  • Do you talk about the impact of your different cultural identities in your therapeutic work?

The stigma of therapy has decreased over the past decade for everyone, regardless of race. The softening of the stigma among blacks has been the most pronounced. Still a growing number of Hispanics and Asian Americans are overcoming cultural barriers and seeking help. Unlike blacks and whites, Hispanics and Asian Americans find a shortage of bilingual counselors to meet their needs. And experts say that a counselor who does not understand a client’s cultural nuances can cause more harm than good. There’s something about relating, having the same experience, and empathizing.

Experts say blacks’ struggles are made worse by the undercurrent of race, such as the feeling one must be the standard bearer for an entire group of people. Professional disappointments run deeper when skin color appears to be the only thing holding you back. Most are really frustrated they can’t make it, given their education and skills. There is still that glass ceiling, that racist ceiling that keeps them from rising. So many black people are in rage and in anger that it’s still not a level playing field. Race still is a burden in black life; you always feel you’re being judged on a different level, you know that if you’re surrounded by two or three other black people where you work, you’re all there representing the race, and it’s an enormous burden. I think it’s something most of us take on willingly, but it does weigh on your daily existence.


Cultural and Linguistic Competence Online Discussion Opportunity

Addressing Barriers to Authentic Change

The goal of this cultural and linguistic competence (CLC) blog series through Georgetown University National Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health is to serve as a place for readers to reflect and engage in a discussion on some of the issues that have served as barriers to authentic change.  We invite you, the readers, to participate in a process to find the way to meaningful, authentic helping or collegial relationships in the midst of cultural diversity.

Concepts such as racism, unconscious bias, privilege, heterosexism, institutional oppression, internalized oppression will be examined. You will be challenged to consider how they personally relate to these concepts, how your colleagues relate to these concepts, and how your organizations relate to these concepts.  You will be invited to describe your strategies to address these issues for yourself, with your colleagues and in your organizations.

This collective journey is designed to convert the notion of CLC from a once a year training event, to an authentic relationship with a family or colleague, which affirms that we are all cultural beings interacting in a universe constructed of multiple cultures and fraught with institutionalized social injustice.

Check this blog the third Thursday of each month for a post on a selected topic, and share your thoughts and experiences to add to the discussion in the comments section below each post.

If you have suggestions for issues to explore please contact Dr. Vivian Jackson or Teresa King.

For questions, please contact:
Vivian H. Jackson, Ph.D., LICSW
Assistant Professor, Senior Policy Associate
Georgetown University National Technical Assistance Center for
Children’s Mental Health
(202) 687-5450

Teresa King
Georgetown University National Technical Assistance Center for
Children’s Mental Health
(202) 687-5016