We, as members of the American Family Therapy Academy, must be vigilant and mindful of the racist air we breathe and of the residual racism in the far reaches of our unconscious.  Racism is the common denominator of many of the injustices in our society.  Despite civil rights legislation and public discourse, racism persistently intersects with other systems of oppression and domination, ultimately defining our social structure, institutions and culture.

We support the Black Lives Matter movement because we recognize, painfully, that white racial domination and the myth of superiority are deeply embedded at every level of society, even among those of us who are aware and accountable.  This has a direct impact on the safety, health and well being of individuals, families and communities.

Black Lives Matter identifies itself as making a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of black people by police and vigilantes. "Embracing intersectionality, Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, black undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all black lives along the gender spectrum" (http://blacklivesmatter.com/about/).

Background of Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter began as a hashtag on Twitter in the wake of Trayvon Martin's death. It was a motto authored by three black women; Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in response to the political and social climate of dehumanization of Black lives evidenced in the blaming of Black victims of violence while acquitting the perpetrators of said violence.  This was epitomized in the way that Trayvon Martin was posthumously vilified and blamed for his own death.

Black Lives Matter increased in prominence as a motto and began to take the nascent form of an organization in response to the shooting and killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.  Protests and acts of civil disobedience in Ferguson in response to the lack of indictment for Darren Wilson garnered wide spread media attention and focused a brighter light on the issue.  A string of ensuing incidents involving the death of Black people at the hands of the state have highlighted both the idea and the importance of Black Lives Matter.  Initially, a rallying cry, it has since taken the form of an organization seeking to establish a presence on the ground in the form of protest and of an assertive voice.

Black Lives Matter can best be understood as an affirmation of the value of Black lives.  It is an assertion in response to the dehumanization of the Black community.  Every time a Black individual is killed and blamed while the police or the judiciary protects the killer, it communicates a lack of value or worth of Black lives.  Black Lives Matter, first as a slogan and now as an organization, is a force pushing back against that message of white supremacy.

Why the Black Lives Matter Movement Should Matter to Members of AFTA and to all Mental Health Professionals

We enter therapeutic relationships with preconceived, often subjective ideas of normal and abnormal, functional and dysfunctional, rooted in our racial, cultural and social contexts. The experience of racial privilege can lead to a universal assumption that all people and races have similar experiences and opportunities. Diagnostic assessments and research practices are far from immune to these influences and assumptions.

Assumptions based in White privilege are present in psychotherapy regardless of the setting or the social status of the participants; from private practices to agencies serving clients of lower socio-economic class. Therapy is not conducted in a vacuum.  In addition to the personal history and present situation of each family and individual, therapy is influenced by the intersecting, multidimensional contexts that include the social systems and cultural identities of privilege, race, ethnicity, socio-economic class, education, sexual orientation and gender identity addressed by Black Lives Matter as it affirms the lives of Black people and challenges the dehumanization of the Black community.

In our work as family therapists, teachers, program planners and researchers, our support for Black Lives Matter calls for:

  • The recognition that people have diverse reactions and/or experiences with racism and privilege;
  • Informing ourselves and our work about the consequences of white privilege for clients, families and communities of color and challenging the manifestations of internalized domination and oppression in our culture, clinical work, teaching, research and program planning;
  • Including race and matrix privilege and oppression in our assessments and in the process of our work;
  • Creating a context for our clients, regardless of race, to consider how race and privilege are meaningful and relevant areas of inquiry and proactive intervention.;
  • Develop and implement systems of accountability and action aimed at addressing issues of dominance, oppression and inequity in all forms with our clients and within institutions and communities.

 Call to Action

We support policies, laws, and the allocation of resources to address problems that are rooted in racism, including but not limited to the following critical issues:

Inequality in economic security and economic development;

  • Inadequate living wages;
  • Bank loan discrimination;
  • Healthcare disparities;
  • Human trafficking for sex and labor;
  • Unfair and unequal treatment in the criminal justice system, including putting a stop to mass incarceration, police brutality and killing of Black citizens;
  • Disproportionate numbers of Black children in out of home placements (e.g.foster care, residential care);
  • The school to prison pipeline; the practice of disciplinary measures resulting in Black children being expelled and subjected to police intervention at an exponentially higher rate than White children:
  • Voter suppression;
  • Unequal opportunity for a quality education for all children inclusive of the history of Black people.

Strategies for Intervention

We are committed to learning from and supporting groups such as Black Lives Matter.  As professionals with expertise in systemic, contextual thinking and family wellness, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to expand our individual and collective efforts to end structural racism, promote healing and minimize the residual effects of oppression on those most marginalized in our society.  Through a variety of strategies including advocacy (such as writing newspaper articles and letters to the editor), participation in public hearings and community meetings, addressing legislators and government officials and participation on boards and committees we endeavor to:

  • Engage in the broader social discourse from our position as experts on family life and family systems;
  • Expose discriminatory and racist practices in educational and other public institutions;
  • Expose the intersection of structural racism with the oppression of other marginalized groups as it makes it impossible to end the oppression of one to the exclusion of the other;
  • Promote a multifaceted framework for well being that includes a focus on preventing/reducing the negative social, emotional, relational and behavioral consequences that oppression and inequality have on individuals, families, and communities;
  • Provide training, consultation and technical assistance to support larger systems (e.g. schools, juvenile justice, mental health) in becoming more culturally proficient service deliverers;
  • Promote mandatory participation of teachers, healthcare and mental health professionals in undoing racism training;
  • Assist vulnerable communities to actively promote their constituents' capability to resist the damaging effects of internalizing racism by drawing upon cultural wisdom, strengths and traditions.
  • Recognizing the liberation and resistance effects of people who are dominated

About the American Family Therapy Academy

 AFTA envisions a just world through the transformation of social context to promote health, safety and wellbeing for individuals, families and communities. Through our commitment and dedication to advancing systemic thinking and practice, we will collaborate with and support Black Lives Matter and other social justice organizations to end structural racial oppression and promulgate the concept that anti-racist social action is directly connected to empowering families and individuals.  As an organization of family therapy teachers, clinicians, program directors, researchers and social scientists, we urge our members to engage with local, regional and national efforts to dismantle racist social policies and laws, to promote policies that are racially equitable and fair, and to advocate for respect for the dignity of all people.