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Black History Month Hits Different in 2021

I often enjoy writing blogs and they usually come quick and easy, full of different topics, puns, and ideas. I get all excited and giddy even. I find cute photos to use and strategically place them along with the other fun parts of blogging. It just . . . makes me smile. I feel all happy inside.

As Black History Month approached I knew without a doubt that I wanted to write a blog and that it is so, so desperately needed. But I was halted. Stopped right in midstride. Where do I even start? What topic could attempt to suffice a single blog that would pay any type of respect to a group of people and culture that has endured more than imaginable. What could this (White) girl from (South) Memphis say to even do justice? We’re living in a world and nation with racial tension at a high point, in the middle of an ongoing pandemic, while also changing major political leadership within our nation. It’s beyond a sensitive time to say the least; also knowing there is no “right time” to hold these discussions either. This is no longer the fun and exciting Black History Month like I enjoyed in elementary or even middle school. There are no cute projects or speeches about my favorite African American heroes and inventors. This is so, so much more (as it should be).

That’s when it hit me. Slapped me dead in my face. Hello there, White Privilege. The fact that I even get the choice on whether or not I want to discuss this- epitome of White Privilege, right?! That’s when I knew, even more than before, that it is my duty and obligation to not stand by and watch the month go on without a blog. I’ve sat with this blog written for over two weeks- reading, re-reading it. Making small tweaks, all to try and make it as close to perfect, delicate, and effective as possible.

It took a few moments but I quickly accepted that no blog would “truly” serve justice as I so desperately dream. That no single written document can erase the tears from my friends, the sense of fear from mothers about their (Black) sons, nor raise a remarkable awareness to Black mental health in a quick, overnight fashion. None of this is quick.

At the same time, this also does not give me (or you) permission to ignore it either. It quickly reminded me of one of my favorite quotes (see below).

I have always loved this quote as a therapist because it helps me set boundaries while also encouraging me to “do the work” in my field by helping others. My appreciation for this quote has grown tremendously lately. We’ve seen our nation finally acknowledge (although only partially at best) the issue of racism and discrimination within the last few years. Although spearheaded and encouraged by past political leader (I won’t say his name but you know who), the entire nation can no longer ignore the blatant prejudice and social injustice that is embedded in our entire infrastructure as a nation. More and more people are increasing their awareness on the variety of topics that People of Color (POC) live with daily, and for the sake of this blog we will be specific that I am referring to my Black friends, neighbors, and fellow people.

So the question is posed- now what?

Now what do we do with this new insight? How do we make change? Where do we even start? Keeping in mind that these issues go back for decades, even hundreds and thousands of years, historically. So, now what?

Sadly, I don’t have all the answers although I wish I did. Simply because the answer will be unique and individualized for each and every person on where to start and how to start. I do however have some suggestions that are no means all-inclusive but can serve as a launching-pad for some:

- Increase your own awareness.

Know your biases (we all have them). Sit with them, reflect on them, and most importantly- challenge them. Acknowledge your privilege, especially my White people- it is so real and sometimes we can be so oblivion to it (even unintentionally). Embrace differences as a unique quality rather than through eyes of judgement. Shatter stereotypes by changing your perspective on different assumptions. Sometimes it is helpful to just “stop and think” about the other perspective- how would we feel in the opposite shoes?

- Show kindness and grace.

At the core of it all, we are all human. We have the same basic need (and right) to be loved, accepted, and to feel safe. Show empathy instead of criticism. Be understanding of situations and if you cannot understand, seek to do so. Ask questions. Do a kind gesture. Hold powerful conversations with close friends about race, discrimination where the goal is to increase your support. Can you take the pain away? Nope. Can you sit beside someone during and be a good friend? Definitely. Also know that they (POC, Black, African-American) are not responsible for having all the answers either. It’s all unique. Grace is essential here. Most importantly, try to remember that we’re in this together.

- Educate and Celebrate.

Black History is rich in so many areas from African folklore, music, dance, cuisine, attire, all the way to famous inventors, world leaders/activists, and so much more. Learn and indulge in Black History. Go beyond what was learned in grade school (they left out a lot of information anyways- that’s a whole different conversation). If you’re in the Memphis area there are so many local establishments that can assist- check out the several museums around town. You can also celebrate by supporting a Black-owned business and/or products. Small businesses are hurting now more than ever and your support can make a big difference.

- Speak up.

When you notice discrimination, racism, or anything that is unsettling- SPEAK UP. Do not sit and be a bystander. Do not turn the other way or “let it slide”. Embrace the discomfort and be the change. Challenge other’s thoughts, comments, and behaviors if they are in anyway disrespectful, prejudice or racist. Advocate for equality within your roles of life, both at home and in the community. Be the voice of reason. Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Do I have all the answers? Nope. Far from it. However, I do hope the four simple steps above are a great starting point for you to embrace Black History Month a little differently this year. These are in no way a one-stop-shop. Instead, see this as a beginning to your journey of love, unity, and equality. By coming together with love at the center of our actions, we are able to help begin the healing for humanity. It all starts with YOU.

Written by Heather Thomasson, LPC/MHSP.

As always, we are here to help support your personal journey to promote self-exploration and healing. If you're interested in counseling services please do not hesitate to reach out at 901-232-1956. We have a team of therapists that are skilled, ready, and willing to help you do the work.

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