How has discrimination, privilege and racism touched your life?

Recent events in North America have exposed a no longer tolerable systemic discrimination. This moment in history calls us to weave the personal with the political, the social with the psychological, the individual with the collective. By sharing our stories, the ones we feel proud of, and the ones that bring us a sense of regret, we take part in discovering ourselves and exposing our culture. We uncover stereotypes and attitudes that impact our understanding, actions, and decisions — a vital step in the process of transforming our society and ourselves.

Have you ever...

  • Experienced some type of discrimination? (i.e. race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, religious etc.)?
  • Felt like, or made someone feel like, an unwanted guest? Witnessed or participated in an act of racism?
  • Stood silent or conversely, took action in the face of an unjust act?
  • Thought of yourself as a privileged person, enjoying some right or advantage that certain groups of people don't? (i.e. race, color, gender, age, education, class, sexuality, geography and locality?)
  • Imagined a future without discrimination, inequality, and racism?

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Gone, but never forgotten

There were six of us cousins who ran around my grandmother's yard with baby dolls and toy airplanes, enjoying the warmth of the summer sun. We saw each other over holidays and at birthday parties. We played baseball together and spend evenings catching lightening bugs and laughing.

Yet on one horrible day, I found my younger cousins crying, saying goodbye to me and pleading that I should not leave my grandmother's house. I was confused. Why were my cousins saying goodbye?

Because of a fight between our families we were separated. I was told to move on with my life and realize that my cousins were gone. If I had only done more to achieve peace between our families, my cousins would have still been in my life, I thought.

Years later, through social media, all the cousins found each other. We now communicate, see each others' families through photo sharing and are all on great terms. Though time passed, the bond that had been broken between us through a feud that we had not been a part of, but still suffered from, was reestablished through love and great care.

— MLP  

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On Being a Woman Working in a Man's World

Most of us have experienced discrimination and/or racism in some way during our lifetime. I am no exception. I will describe one small snippet of time during my previous work career.

I worked as a substance use counselor and prevention specialist for a dual diagnosis treatment agency for a number of years. During these years I successfully created and ran a one-person program for this agency in a public middle school setting in a cooperative arrangement, with very little help. During these years I must have interacted with well over 1,500 young students going through a very difficult age -12-14 years old - and I was well liked by the students.

I am also a good student and test-taker. For a while, my supervisor asked me to help other agency employees who were struggling to pass the needed credentialing exams. I happily agreed to do this on my own time. I remember one gentleman who had taken and failed the written exam at least seven times before studying with me. I observed him taking practice test questions, and was able to pinpoint why he was failing the exam. After a few weeks of practice, he took the test and passed!

I came to find out that he was working in a position at about my level (or even lower), but he was getting paid considerably more money than I was.

Did I feel discriminated against? You betcha

Lesson learned: Change the things you can, don't worry about the rest, and don't compromise your integrity and self-love just because others demean you.

— D. Poppendieck, PhD

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The Blacks in my White Life

Age 6: I watched a black soldier standing on line at the black's movie theatre at Eglin Air force Base looking at me, on line, at the white’s only theatre. The fear and anger I saw in his soul burned a lifelong impression in my consciousness. I saw racism at its core.

Age 16: The President of my graduating class at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, was a black friend, Cuthbert Courtney Callendar. Later that year, as a freshman at the, University of Illinois,I was thrown out of a barber shop because my buddy, football great, Abe Woodson, was black. "Get that Nigger out of here!"

Age 18: Arrested, and thrown jail, by Urbana, Illinois police because my college coed girlfriend, the college's marvelous actress, Marguerite Davis, who was in my car, was black. "You can't drive in this town with a nigger girl."

Age 19: Assaulted by NYC police because my girlfriend, Linda Jackson, was black. They traumatized two teenagers by beating on the top of my Dad's car with their clubs yelling "nigger lover".

In the modern era, my marathon running training buddy, Wayne Greene, was stared down repeatedly because he was running with a white man.

Age 53: My black friend, Russ Ellis, Olympic athlete and vice chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley refrained from asking my neighbors directions to my new home in Tiburon "to avoid seeing the expressions on the people’s faces when they opened their door and saw a black man standing there


— Dr Richard Louis Miller

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Proud Counselor

Being Hispanic and having had the opportunity to study in the United States fills me with great pride. I experienced racism for the 1990s as a student and I made it as an opportunity for growing learning as a counselor. To this day I still experience racism. I became an independent, confident and optimistic person.

Sometimes we think that racism only occurs in people of different races when it also occurs in the same ethnic group. I remember visiting an office to request a service and the person ignored me despite being from my country or on another occasion going to a bank and the person was Hispanic but refused to speak the language. Sometimes people are unaware that Puerto Ricans are born with American citizenship and our country is part of the US. I have heard people who still think that here on this island riding horses and on foot when it is a developed country.

Whenever I travel I love to share with people from different places such as the Dominican Republic, Grand Caymans, Mexico, Grenada, Jamaica, Colombia, Aruba, Costa Rica, Panama, Barbados, Dominica, St Marteen, Antigua, Honduras and they have shared with me how they have felt discriminated. Learn about their culture, customs, traditions and eating their food. Acquiring crafts and sitting down to dialogue with them makes me see how we share the same feeling of pride to our countries. It is clear the desire that in the eyes of the world we should all be equal regardless of our skin tone and nationality.


— Prof. Maribel Pagan, MA, LPC  

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Been a Victim of Systematic Racism All my Life

A black male here age 59, I was born 1960 during a time of the civil right's era when there was a lot of hope in this country for black people to be integrated into this society and left alone to exist as normal and regular people trying to survive and make it in this world.

I grew up during the 70's on the west side of a city. I have witnessed all types of racism and discrimination and have been a victim of it.

I have seen and experienced all types of unjustified discrimination based on my skin color and other negative images promoted on a regular basis in the media. It has denied me all type of real opportunity to be successful in this short life. Even after being in the military and getting a college degree and right up to this day. I am still being denied opportunity. Overall, the so-called dream of MLK Jr. has become a full blown nightmare for all the so-called black people of today.

— PDS  

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Judging Based on a Client's Presenting Issue

I am a mental health provider. I went with a friend to an appointment at a methadone clinic. He had told me how poorly he was being treated. I couldn't believe that it was as bad as he was saying. I went mainly to offer support, but also to see whether it was really as bad as he was saying.

When we walked into his appointment, my friend introduced me to the provider assigned to his case. The first thing his provider said to me was "Why would a person like you want to be around a person like him?" I was stunned. There was no veneer at all. I told his provider that he was the funniest person I had ever met, and that he needed support because he was going through a difficult time. The provider scrunched up his face in apparent disgust, and then proceeded to ask the questions needed to be asked of him. My friend was then allowed to get his methadone for the day.

My friend had voluntarily signed up to go onto methadone to deal with his addiction to opiates. He wasn't court ordered into treatment. (not that being court ordered would be an excuse to treat him poorly). He had become tired of everything associated with his addiction. He warned me before this meeting to not to be too assertive with this provider because they had a reputation for retaliating against people. So I didn't.

That was 10 years ago. I will never forget how poorly he was treated. And I vowed that I would be mindful of this in my own work as a therapist.

— DK  

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Racism among mental health providers

I'm an LCSW in an inter-racial relationship. My husband of 20 years is black and I'm white.

Once during a peer supervision group with psychoanalysts, a colleague was presenting a case of her white 14-year-old client, who was dating the black valedictorian of her high school. My colleague made the comment, "Imagine what low self-esteem she must have to be dating a black boy." My jaw nearly dropped to the floor with empathy for the client being in absolutely the wrong hands.

On another occasion, while out to dinner with a group of colleagues, the 80-something white analyst sitting to my left, who had met my husband, turned to me and said, "Well you have an interesting marriage, now don't you. How exactly did that come about?", as if I needed to explain my aberrant choice.

My wish for everyone in our profession is that all mental health providers reckon with their racial biases and begin to mingle more with people from different races and cultures. I believe it is only through widening our social circles, until our dinner tables look like the United Nations, that these dangerous biases will disappear.


— Roberta Rinaldi, LCSW  

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A Time for Burning
Here’s why I make documentaries
I don’t script anything I just throw people in with their antagonists
Here it involved the conflict with church members and Race in Omaha ,Neb.
It was aired on PBS and won an Oscar nomination

— Bill Jersey

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I’m meandering down a rural road on the Caribbean island of Grenada, and a Black man on crutches is slowly heading toward me. He’s thin, rheumy and raggedy, like the increasing numbers of homeless people in Chicago.

I decide to do what I do back home: make minimal eye contact so I don’t seem like a jerk and slip past before he can ask for money. It’s Grenada, a poor country, so I’ll give him something when he asks, though I wish one of us were invisible.

Maimonides wrote that the second highest level of generosity is to give anonymously, without seeing the effects of your giving. His highest level is to anonymously give before someone needs it, before they have to ask for it. With the homeless when I give at all, I’m usually at Maimonides’s lowest level--giving, when asked, while feeling guilty, resentful or condescending.

When we’re within yards of each other, he smiles broadly, so now I can’t just slip past him with a quick eye contact. Then he holds his hand up in a friendly hi, compelling me to do the same. I’m trapped.

“Good morning!” he says.

I tell him hi, thinking here comes the gimme.

Then he sticks out his hand, so I have to shake, the physical contact setting me up for the money touch.

“My name’s Tony,” he says.

“I’m Garry.”

“Glad to meet you,” he says, “Beautiful morning beautiful morning.”

He swings past me on his crutches, leaving me feeling bad about myself.


— Garry Cooper, MSW  

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A Lesson for Grandma from a 5-Year-Old

My daughter had just started kindergarten when my mother-in-law came up for a visit.

Mariah came home from school and excitedly told her grandma that she had made a new friend that day. Pointing to her arm, my mother-in-law asked my daughter, "So, Mariah, does your new friend have white skin like you, or does she have dark skin?"

So innocently and so perfectly, Mariah responded with, "I don't know, Grandma. I forgot to check!"


— Kathryn Lichty, MSW, Minnesota  

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It could be a wonderful world

Let me tell you about my anger towards my parents. They taught me that we were all equal.

With similar-thinking parents, they created a special Sunday school to teach us children moral values. We sang songs like:
- Close your eyes and point your finger, On the map just let it linger, any place you point your finger to, there’s someone with the same type blood as you it’s true…
- If we all said a prayer for each other, a friend or a neighbour or brother, it could be a wonderful wonderful world, it could be a wonderful world.

My parents sent me to a very mixed school, and I befriended people, independent of their backgrounds, color, culture or religion.

But my parents neglected to prepare me for the reality of what I was to encounter:
- When my friend across the street refused to be my friend anymore for some unexplained reason, which turned out to be that she was Catholic and I was Jewish.
- When my parents took me and my sister to Indian reservations and we applauded their tribal gear and dances.
- When people complimented me, as they saw it, telling me I didn’t look Jewish.
- When my parents condemned all Germans.
- When relatives jokingly called some people ‘schvartzes’ (black, in Yiddish).
- And, as time passed, when the horrors emerged of segregation in the south; of Emmett Till, the 14 year old boy murdered in 1955, accused of offending a white woman; the Ku Klux Klan, murders, wars against specific populations.

My parents espoused one reality, but they didn’t really help me understand the world as it was. What did they have to say for themselves when I knew what they knew?

Get out there and march for what you believe in! March? I marched. Perhaps if you pixellate a picture of some of the famous marches in the 50s and 60s, you’ll recognize me.

Screen Shot 2020-06-21 at 9.19.19 AM

— Jean Straus, London  

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What Color is a Heart of Flesh?

When is it time to own responsibility for a problem that began before the age of reason?

I’m sure my racist mentality began in front of coloring books. I’m not saying it was Crayola’s fault. But that’s when I learned to think in black and white. I know this from my first racial conflict.

It was 1962 or ’63. I can still remember the smell of coffee poured over vanilla ice cream, something I loved eating at the counter in the truck stop diner next to my father’s animal hospital. This time I sat on one of those plastic-padded stools next to a grown-up man. I couldn’t have been more than three—years later my mother filled in the detail that the man was black. Our arms nearly touched. Maybe he was left-handed or maybe he just liked to rest both arms on the table. But being right-handed, my spoon-wielding arm was next to his and the color difference didn’t make sense. I didn’t have crayons that matched both arms. I had “flesh,” which my parents had taught me was “skin color.” So I asked him, “what color is your arm?”

“Skin color,” he said, smooth and easy and without hesitation, then asked, “What color is YOUR arm?” “No, MY arm is skin color,” I argued. After all, wasn’t it?

My mother told me the argument went on for a while. I never remembered that part. But what I remember is it's taken six decades to unravel the racist fabric of my upbringing. I don’t like to talk about it because I don’t know how to talk about it.

But I do know that it’s time to own it.


— Lee Ann Haney  

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They Never Even Acknowledged Her Presence

I am a white woman who lives and works in a white community. I took a Black client to a store so she could cash a check and get a few items. She thought the customer service rep was rude and racist. I had her observe that this woman actually treated all of the customers in the same manner, so in that moment, my client learned that just because someone is unpleasant doesn't necessarily mean they are racist or are singling her out.

She felt very good about that until we came across several people we both were acquainted with. It was me who they made eye contact with and greeted. They didn't even acknowledge her presence. I could just "feel" her saying, "See? I told you so."

That single moment validated everything she had ever said about the racism she and her family have experienced. I have never said anything to the people we met up with at the store, but I've always felt I should.

I now have the courage to speak up!

— KL  

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You White People

“Man, you white people don’t know a thing about my life.” The words seemed to echo and hang in the air. I wondered if I had made a bad decision.

It was my first day running mental health groups for an addiction treatment center that housed many of the state’s Prop 36 residents that had been given the choice between treatment and incarceration. Many had already done time.

I took a deep breath and said, “You are right.” She walked out of the room.

Gathering my thoughts, I asked the group to express their expectations of me. It wasn’t what I had planned, but I hadn’t had a plan for this either.

Many shared that they didn’t expect anything. The system hadn’t offered them anything. It had only told them they weren't good enough.

I just listened.

The next week, Mary the Latino woman who had stormed out the first week, returned. I asked her to lead the group. She spoke about her need to be tough, and to never accept help. I asked her where she had learned these things.

“It’s been my whole life,” she answered.

Mary later became an individual client. One night she called me, and left a message, “Claire, I just watched this thing on TV…I sure hope that isn’t you.”

I knew what she had seen. When she came in the next day, she stared at me in disbelief for what seemed like an eternity. Then she said, “Man, your life is just as messed up as mine."

"Do you think we can make it?' I asked.

She grinned, "We already have."


— Claire Nana, M.A.  

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White Fragility

"White Fragility is the tendency among members of the dominant white cultural group to have a defensive, wounded, angry, or dismissive response to evidence of racism." Source:

I’m a pretty brave person in a lot of ways, but I remember my earlier days when I was easily wounded if someone would claim that I was racist. Now, I must regretfully acknowledge it’s true. Racism is planted in my bones . . . unconscious and evasive . . . you might call it a genetic disorder of sorts. You would never notice It on the surface of my life. I have black friends and colleagues, beloved black children in my own family. They laugh in celebration when they see the “high yella” in my skin and say, hey girl!! You one of us!!! I blush and smile in gratitude.even though my DNA Test claims I’m mostly Scandinavian.

The truth is, I don’t know how it feels to see a rope on a lynch tree with a beautiful young body hanging from it as the songs says, “strange fruit”. I only know my mostly Scandinavian way of feeling the story about it twice removed. I don’t know what it is like to be an accomplished legislator and to
see my beautiful, honorable grandmother listen to me testify about a pubic hair on my soft drink. What is it like to look into the angel eyes my newborn black boy and think of the day I will coach him in ways to avoid being killed by Police or used as fodder by the military.

I don’t know shit!! I’m white and fragile. I have eons of discrimination to unlearn. I will Echo the black voice that says, “we don’t seek apology, we seek justice,”

I pledge to study up, to learn and take teach my own. I won’t whine if you call me fragility.


— Nola Nordmarken, MA, MFT  

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