Caucus to Explore and Discuss Whiteness – at APA 2017

Disclaimer: This article is a member submission to SCP Connect and its content may not necessarily represent those of SCP. 

Amy L. Reynolds, University at Buffalo
Rebecca Toporek, San Francisco State University


Racism is everywhere. It is in the air we breathe acting as a toxic agent interfering with our ability to be whole. It is also in every relationship, every organization, and every nation. Like everything in our environment that is toxic, it will not go away on its own. We must all make the commitment to fight racism every day. That reality is not a decision that people of color have to make every day because they wake up in a racist world. However, for many of us who are white, it is a daily choice that we are faced with whether we realize it or not. We can make that decision in our personal life and our professional life. While many of us have chosen to be counseling psychologists partially because of the field’s commitment to multiculturalism and social justice, too often we do not find enough opportunities and spaces within our professional lives to fully process how racism affects us and what we need to do to dismantle it.

Within SCP, the commitment to multiculturalism and social justice must be visible and acted upon. The increasing presence of convention sessions, task groups and STGs, initiatives and other formal gatherings has provided important space and purpose for addressing challenges and facilitating the multicultural development of SCP and its members. This is not purely an academic exercise, processing the emotional content of witnessing and experiencing racism and other forms of oppression has been an essential part of authentic commitment. Coming together from different lived experiences has been important in learning and supporting each other in this process. Yet, we have noticed that in these spaces, sometimes there is a tendency for white perspectives to dominate or white participants to fear dominating so they participate in silence. As white psychologists, we believe that there is a need for white people to focus on whiteness, process their experiences, struggle with their feelings that come from being a member of an oppressive group, and work toward antiracism. It is critical to participate in mixed group processes focused on racism, it is also useful to have spaces where white antiracism work can be the focus.

Historically, the program, More Pie, (which occurs every year at APA and the National Multicultural Conference and Summit) has provided a space focused on diversity, inclusion, and social justice dialogues and has actively engaged SCP members in that endeavor. For the past several years, it has served as a unique opportunity for attendees to process very difficult sociopolitical events and celebrate important social movements such as Black Lives Matter, Dreamers, and others. At the 2017 National Multicultural Conference and Summit, as we were processing the outcome of the national election, the rise in hate crimes, and a national narrative that increasingly supports white supremacy, we were reminded of how these circumstances require white psychologists and psychologists in training to reflect on their participation and responsibility. We volunteered to convene such a space at the 2017 APA Convention in Washington DC and offered the first “Caucus to Explore and Discuss Whiteness” in the Hospitality Suite at that convention. Everyone was welcome regardless of how they identify racially or culturally. The purpose of the gathering was to engage in dialogue regarding the role of white people in antiracism work and the role of whiteness in counseling psychology.

The gathering in the Hospitality Suite provided a great first step in engaging this dialogue. The group was small and consisted of individuals who only identified as being white, yet the dialogue seemed to reflect many of the themes we have heard in a range of other types of spaces. We provided the following guiding questions:

  1. What does it mean to be white in white dialogues around race?
  2. For those who have participated in all white dialogues around race, what are some of the challenges?
  3. What do I (as a white person) need from myself and other white people to continue developing as a white anti-racist activist? [If not white, what have you observed?]
  4. What typically do we (as white people) come to expect or need from people of color to help us advance? [If not white, what have you observed?]

As we talked, important themes arose that seem to reflect shared barriers including challenges of balancing participating in multiracial discussions on racism with not dominating; alienation from friends and family who do not share anti-racist values; processing pain and discouragement about racism, political and national events; challenges with witnessing racism and taking action; intersectional identities and how that relates to white antiracism; resources for antiracism; and more. A central theme reflected the dilemma that these conversations are essential yet recognizing that it can be tiring for people of color to listen to these reactions and feelings coming from a person from a privileged (not targeted) racial identity. The consensus was that these conversations are important and need continued attention, both in SCP as well as in our own communities.

As next steps, we have committed to arranging similar dialogues at the 2018 APA Convention and the 2019 National Multicultural Conference and Summit. In addition, we have provided some resources here in hopes that white counseling psychologists and others will continue to invest in their own education and personal work to ensure that they are fully engaged in anti-racism work. Without a focused commitment to fighting racism in all its forms, within us, our profession, our communities, and our nation, progress will not be made. It is easy for white people to get distracted, overwhelmed, and focused on our own reactions and feelings. It is also not enough to speak out against police violence against black and brown individuals and communities, support the Standing Rock movement, or protest against efforts to deport countless individuals, primarily of Latinx background (though we should all do that and more). We must also find spaces where we can actively participate in dialogues and personal work to deepen our understanding of our privilege, our white identity, and how we can do antiracism work with other whites. There is so much work to be done. Join us to further our efforts to fight racism and engage in dialogues that have not often occurred in these professional settings.

Anti-Racism Resources Exploring Whiteness:

Within SCP

Websites, videos, articles and organizations


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