A Personal Reflection on Black History Month
By Sharon McCollum, BCBA
The most difficult part about writing is knowing where to start: the process of not only coming up with a topic, but also trying to convey a message that will hopefully make sense to the reader. Now, when it comes to picking a topic for Black History Month, the task for me then becomes personal and the level of importance skyrockets by a significant amount. Where would I begin?
Representation in the field of ABA
I could discuss the lack of Black representation across high-level positions in ABA. In 2020, the BACB released its demographic data, in which 3.6% of BCBA’s identified as Black. This is a stark contrast to the 79% of BCBA’s who identified as White. The simplicity of the pie graphs led to a multitude of questions, two being, “What are the barriers Black RBT’s face when moving up in our field?” and “Why do these barriers exist?”.
This leads to another crucial discussion on how many, if not all, of our treatment programs, policies, and workplace values are built on a Eurocentric viewpoint? As clinicians, how do we individualize a client’s treatment plan to reflect their culture? But first, what do we know about their culture?
How about the issue of professionalism within the field and how oftentimes Blackness is viewed as the opposite? Typically, this is seen through discrimination of Black hair, the tendency to tone police Black professionals by mislabeling communication as “aggressive” and/or “hostile”, and micro-managing Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). What about the use of African American Vernacular (AAV) by non-Black people in the workplace? I could go on.
From My Own Perspective
Essentially, there are a lot of different topics. All of which are equally important and deserve to be discussed to create and maintain safe places for Black team members and clients. In the process of brainstorming, I ultimately decided that sometimes the most powerful messages come from our own personal experiences. As someone who identifies as Black and Korean, the issue of identity has always been a reoccurring theme in my life. It has shaped the way I supervise and check in with my team members in the following ways…
The discussion of representation does not come at a better time than now. Recently, we all witnessed the inauguration of a newly appointed female Vice President of African American and South Asian descent, Kamala Harris. Little Brown girls across the globe stared at their TVs and saw themselves. When we see people from our communities in positions that have been historically dominated by non-BIPOC, it relays a message of hope and reassurance, “I can do that, too.”
As a Supervisor, I noticed that there are not many that look like me and the level of representation is minimal at best. This often produces feelings of pressure, perfectionism, and for some, imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the feeling of inadequacy despite having both the education and experience. Knowing this, I check in with my BIPOC supervisees hoping to uplift, encourage, and inspire them to be future BCBAs or even better, to follow any dreams despite the roadblocks. My hope came to fruition in one moment that is one of the highlights of my ABA journey, when a supervisee recalled her initial reaction upon meeting me:
“I saw you and thought, ‘Hey, my Supervisor looks just like me!'”
As important as it is to understand how representation can positively impact others, it is equally important to recognize the negative consequences of zero representation. One of them being, the initial shock from staff and/or clients, “You’re the Supervisor?”.
Mindfulness can be defined as the quality of being conscious or aware of something. In the year of 2020 and what appeared to be the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, we witnessed story upon story of absolute racial injustice through the news and social media. The battle between staying informed and staying mentally intact became more prevalent then ever, especially for Black people, and especially for Black people working in a field dedicated to helping others.
For the uninformed, these stories were shocking and, for many of us, these events caused feelings of despair and anger, but for the sake of true transparency, the feelings cut even deeper when you understand that it could be about your father, brother, or child. These feelings do not magically disappear because we clock in for a session or because it is time for a meeting. It’s still there.
During this time, I had decided to take my furlough and upon my return I was met with the usual questions, “How was your time off?” I often replied with the same response, “Great!”, although it wasn’t. I had been consumed by everything that was transpiring and didn’t know how to communicate that to someone who may not have understood. How does this relate to mindfulness? As Supervisors, it is necessary for us to be mindful that current events can play significant roles in our supervisee’s performance, morale, and overall burnout. The racial injustice and level of discrimination Black people face are intertwined in all aspects of life, both professionally and personally, and must be taken into consideration when attempting to create a safe, diverse, and inclusive workplace.
I think we can all agree that the year 2020 will go down in history due to a pandemic, BLM, an election, and so much more. As Kadiant did with many of these historical moments, let us continue to acknowledge, because acknowledgment is always the first step to progress. Happy Black History month.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
– Nelson Mandela