As I move more into working in psychotherapy and academia, and work less in the arts, I’m seeing the same difficulties around equality played out in psychotherapy worlds (practical and academic) that I have seen in publishing and theatre for decades, about all forms of inequality, but especially around racism.
I’m not sure anywhere has got it right, but the liberal/left assumption that ‘we’ (left/liberal white people) are automatically better at being inclusive, aware, open, including, diverse, not-excluding – whatever term is currently preferred (and I note it’s often different for the different occupational forms above) – is beginning, finally, to fall away. Hard though the resulting questions are, I believe (hope) that with less self-delusion, more useful change might come, and sooner.
Literary Twitter has been very painful in the past week, with way too many people diving in to this story, clarified here by Pragya Agarwal, before listening to the thoughts of those most affected – ie, the Black, Asian, PoC, minority ethnic, neuro-diverse, fat and working class people written about, as if none of them/us might speak for ourselves.
However, those most targeted in abuse on Twitter for questioning the work & publishing’s response, have been Black and Asian writers. As ever, those most affected by racism have been most attacked for speaking up.
In my own writing, my take has been to try to write as well as possible about people who are less-like-me, as well as those who are, in order to try to write worlds that are more like the one I live in – ie. peopled by many different sorts of people, not one homogenous group.
I will, of course, have got it wrong sometimes. I’d rather try that than write still more books about still more white, straight, middle class, able-bodied people. That’s my choice. It’s also up to me to try to do better if (when) I get it wrong.
I think that one way to do these things better is by listening more than speaking, attending more than defending, trying more than giving up. I don’t think it’s easy or simple. We all feel horrible when we screw up and many of us also get defensive which makes listening even harder – and still, I think it’s worth trying.
This open letter, written by Sabeena Akhtar, is beautifully clear: Open letter from writing & publishing community and Beth Bhargava explains more here.
For a valuable perspective on change thinking in psychotherapy, which could easily apply to publishing, have a look at Dwight Turner’s work on Intersections of Privilege and Otherness in Counselling and Psychotherapy and Susan Cousin’s Overcoming Everyday Racism, both lovely writers exploring this thinking personally and professionally.