I went to work for a small nonprofit at the age of 24. The staff was more diverse than any place I had ever been; the clients were much more diverse than anyplace that I had ever worked. All of a sudden race and ethnicity were in the forefront of my everyday life. It was stressful and I didn’t know why. Remember, I came from the 1980s where I was part of a rainbow coalition. Even though we looked different on the outside, deep down we were all the same. If we would all just believe this, we were going to be fine! History be damned, we were all people helpers with the goal of making this world a better place and things were on the way up. These were the days of “diversity training” where we learned that the bad names that some people called each other were “just the tip of the iceberg.” I went to the trainings and was bombarded with stories of hatred and cruelty both in the past and in the present day. I felt white guilt, lots of it. Then I felt guilty but somewhat justified with my thoughts of how people of color had it bad but their start was not that much different than other white immigrant communities. I struggled, denied, and struggled some more.
Why were the people of color talking about needing supportive services for their communities? I would help anyone; I didn’t care what color they were. My privilege was truly blinding. My supervisor suggested that maybe I didn’t care what color my clients were, but my clients cared what color I was. It rocked my world. I am nice, caring, smart, respectful, helpful and hard-working. I am true to my word and give my best to anyone I work with. Why would it matter to them if I was white? If my heart was in the right place, why did color matter?
Race seemed to work its way into everything. I could feel my whiteness and I also realized that so could those around me. It felt that discussions about anything—services, programs, organizations, fundraising, volunteers, board members—always came around to race. I struggled, I resisted and then I started reading. I read stories about people’s histories written by the people who had lived them. I learned about what it was like and what others had endured to get to where they were. I opened myself up, no longer questioning “why” but understanding it as a given. I was blessed and privileged to be taken into the company of women who trusted and shared with me their stories and perceptions. I realized that what I had been experiencing was transference/countertransference. Carl Jung states that within the transference dyad both participants typically experience a variety of opposites; that in love and in psychological growth, the key to success is the ability to endure the tension of the opposites without abandoning the process, and that this tension allows one to grow and to transform. I went back to what I know. I believe that the essence of a good relationship is built on mutual respect and trust. In order to build mutual respect and trust, I needed to acknowledge and honor our differences.
Kathi Fanning, MS, LPC
Director of Training, DCCV