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Conversations about race

Conversations about race

Niki Cooper

Dr Niki Cooper

Clinical Director - Niki is a trained counsellor who joined Place2Be in 2002 as a School Project Manager before moving into the Learning Team. As Head of Learning, she developed Place2Be’s professional qualifications pathway. She was appointed Clinical Director in 2019.

The Black Lives Matter movement has shone a spotlight on the continuing racial inequalities around the world, and here in the UK – and the need for real change. As an employer, Place2Be is fully committed to creating an equal, diverse and inclusive culture, but acknowledges that there is more to be done. Our Clinical Director, Dr Niki Cooper, shares her thoughts and reflects on the importance of having difficult conversations about race.

Talking about race is always difficult. In fact, if you have a conversation about race and it isn’t uncomfortable then you probably haven’t had a meaningful conversation about race. The voices that have come from our colleagues in Place2Be are sending a clear message. We really need to be having those proper conversations. And just because a movement is called ‘Black Lives Matter’ doesn’t mean that it is black people who should be doing something about it. The real doing needs to be done by my people, the dominant white majority.

The brutal murder of George Floyd has laid bare an uncomfortable truth. As a white, educated, middle class person I don’t have to live that truth every single day and because of that I can easily forget that my perspective and experience is not ‘normal’ or ‘neutral’ but is shaped and hard wired by my privilege.

There are friends, colleagues and strangers around me who experience the world very differently. I really try to not forget but I do. I easily slip into a ‘too busy with my own affairs and worries’ to think beyond my immediate culturally shaped experience. The thing is, by forgetting and by not paying attention I am maintaining a status quo that is decidedly not ok.

In 2013 I met Eugene Ellis, founder of the Black African and Asian Therapists’ network (BAATN). He had written a ’day in the life of’ piece for the BACP magazine Therapy Today about founding BAATN, the goal of which is to give a voice to a ‘black empathic approach’ in therapy and therapy education’.

At the time, I was hungry for help. I was running a counselling course and struggling to make sense of the anger and pain expressed by my Caribbean, African and Asian students, which I seemed to be making worse, no matter how I approached it. This period totally changed the way I saw my own history and culture and radically transformed my relationships with black friends, colleagues and strangers. Eugene interviewed me for Therapy Today for an article called Silenced: the black student's experience which was about the journey.

However, here we are in 2020 and there is so much that was the case then that is still the case now. I am painfully aware that not enough has changed.

Place2Be hosts quarterly mixed forums run by BAATN which remind everyone who attends that changing things means every individual taking responsibility for and being curious about their part of the problem. But doing that is a daily practice. Jay Smooth would tell us it needs to be like flossing our teeth or having a shower.

I am uncomfortably aware that those in the minority are too often called upon to educate the dominant majority and that in doing so they are often exposed to more hurtful experiences.

The dominant majority needs to be aware of that and willing to find out stuff for themselves. I have read some brilliant books and articles and listened to inspirational podcasts. I have been supported and challenged by black colleagues in Place2Be and the BAATN forums have offered me some of the most difficult but transformative conversations I have ever had.

I don’t have any quick fixes but I think that changing the hearts and minds of the dominant group is the way forward and we can only do that by honestly examining ourselves and making spaces where truthful and difficult conversations can happen. Change will come naturally once we have achieved that as a daily practice.

These are some of the brilliant people who have changed my thinking:

Reni Eddo-Lodge About Race (podcast) 

Reni Eddo-Lodge Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race

Colson Whitehead  The underground railroad

Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Oginbiyi Taking up space: the black girls manifesto for change

Akala Natives:  race and class in the ruins of empire

Isha Mackenzie Mavinga Black Issues in the Therapeutic Process

Joy de Gruy Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome 

Robin Di Angelo “White Fragility” author talks about systemic racism, white humility at Family Action Network Q&A 

Janet Helms Helm’s White Racial Identity Development Model


Learn more about Place2Be's commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion.

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