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The Problem with Colorblindness in Pastoral Counseling

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

Dismissive reactions happen a lot when the helper may believe that the person seeking help is simply sharing a small experience, rather than realizing or recognizing how significant the experience relates to or defines life for that person. Any significant meaning about the experience becomes lost within colorblindness. The easiest example of this type of reaction that comes to my mind is the “All Lives Matter” movement, as I feel the movement has negated and dismissed all of the experiences of being a black man or woman living in America that fueled the Black Lives Matter movement, equating those experiences to general stressors of all races.

Pseudo-Apathetic Reaction

The pseudo-apathetic reaction initially sounds like it’s introducing empathy, but then falls short of acknowledgement and understanding, evolving into sympathy instead. If a person seeking help shares an experience with you, a pseudo-apathetic response may sound like, “Oh my gosh I’m so sorry, that sounds awful!” or “Well that does sound horrible but that kind of injustice or inequality happened a long time ago and things are better now.” The pseudo-apathetic reaction initially begins with a small genuine interest, and then concludes in a distancing within the helper/help-seeker relationship. There is no willingness to sit in the uncomfortable parts of processing the hurtful nature of an experience.

Imagine if you are venting to a friend or partner about your incredibly tough day and your friend or partner says, “I’m so sorry that happened!” and then continues to talk about his or her own day. Now imagine the same scenario, but instead your friend or partner says, “That sounds like a very frustrating day. Tell me more about it.” In the second scenario, there is the acknowledgment of the feeling behind the story, and the invitation to sit with you in that frustration.

Intrusive Reaction

The final type of colorblind reaction is the type of reaction that occurs when someone attempts to rename, re-label, or re-educate on the experience by emphasizing that life is hard for a person because that person is putting too much focus on race and ethnicity. The intrusive reaction occurs when someone unwelcomingly begins trying to fix or solve a problem, attempting to alter a person’s worldview. Within a helping profession context, this would look like the helper trying to point out to the help-seeker that if they did not see skin color, race, or ethnicity as a barrier, then the help-seeker would not be viewing the situation as a problem. It may sound like, “You know, if you didn’t focus so much on being Asian then maybe you wouldn’t be so stressed out about being Asian.” It may also sound like trying to intellectualize the person-of-color experience with sentiments such as, “I have Asian friends!” or “I’ve read books about …” and “I’ve seen documentaries on …”

July03, 2017 at 10:15 AM

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