My name Is Paul Parker, I’m a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy therapist with Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service, Touchstone.
This is the first occasion that I have contributed towards Black History month.
In previous years, I have dipped in and out of events as an observer but I haven’t known much about where the movement came from. I remember one year, as a family we enjoyed an African heritage based fashion show at the town hall. it was fun. A celebration of culture with some amazing clobber and moves on show.
It has also been a period of sober learning. I have watched documentaries on TV which celebrated the lives of trail blazing black footballers and individuals who had to endure terrible racism during their careers. I have seen programmes on racist murders in the states of young boys like Emmet Till or closer to home, in Liverpool where a black sailor, Abell, was hounded into the water by a racist mob.
This year, the murder of George Floyd has been a catalyst for a lot of reflection at home and at work. This has made Black History Month feel pertinent to myself in a way in which it had not previously.
I have been prompted by recent events and courageous colleagues to reflect on the issues of racism and privilege. This journey of reflection began a couple of years ago, when as a team we began to work on being more ok with areas of our own vulnerability.
I have known that I am privileged for some time. My privilege, in no small part, meant that I was afforded an opportunity to work in Peru for a year (when I was quite a bit younger!) I have enduring friendships from that period with Individuals who are smarter, more gifted and more resourceful than I am and yet who have struggled in a way that will always be unfamiliar to me – due to my allocated place in the world.
I know this to be true, and yet, recognising my privileged position remains work in progress. It is nuanced. I can, and have, acknowledged my privileged position in one conversation whilst feeling prickly about it in a further conversation with the same person.
I now think of this partly in terms of white fragility, but in truth, it encompasses this and more. It can be broad and attached to multiple areas and so I have learnt that I need to continue to hold this in mind If I am to appreciate the scope of my privilege as compared with different groups and individuals.
During reflections within my team, what has really struck a chord with me has been thinking about what it means to be able to be anonymous – as a white man in a country with a large white majority – and the privilege that this represents. I have always valued this ability. It’s great to go to a place and be able to people watch whilst floating in and out of various happenings – whilst generally feeling accepted the whole time. The knowledge that not all of us have the same degree of optional invisibility and acceptance is thought provoking. It must be very tiring to enter into situations and to have to put the feelers out each time.
I have had the privilege of having worked with lots of different communities along the way and I had assumed that this level of cultural competence – as I thought of it – was enough. But I now know that it is not enough. I have been challenged to be a more active participant in the conversation and to reflect more on my role within it.
And so I am trying to educate myself and with the help of my team, I am trying to understand what it means to be anti-racist, to think about what this means for me as a person and what this looks like in the therapy room.
I benefit from and appreciate Black culture, friends and colleagues in many ways and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be involved as an ally. Though, I’m still trying to figure out how best to be an ally.
I have a tendency to look at problems practically, but I have learnt that that to respond with problem solving in lieu of listening is rarely helpful. I am starting to click that as a white male there will be times when it can be more helpful for me to cede the space in order to listen and learn but I also want to be less passive so this is a hard balance for me to strike.
In terms of appreciation and admiration, for me the go to area is music. I love music and was lucky enough to see Chuck Berry play live, the man that paved the way for so much of the music that I listen to. His lyrics and guitar style were on another level.
More recently, I have been into an early pioneer of the dance scene called William Onyeabor -, what a life he had. An award winning industrialist by day and a ground breaking early electronica artist by night – (no mean feat in the 70s – think Abba!)