An important mentor I'd like to thank is Dr. Suzette Speight. She was my very first Black teacher or professor. This was not until my Master's degree program in Counseling Psychology in 1995. So that is after about 15 years of only being taught by mostly white women. Dr. Speight taught me that despite being a person of color myself, despite the fact that my first real boyfriend in high school was Black, and despite the fact that I was sent to live in Colombia, South America, for 6 months so that relationship would fizzle I, too, could have unconscious anti-Black and even anti-Latino bias! WHAT?!
I am ashamed to admit this, but on the first day of the class called, Counseling Special Populations, when Dr. Speight walked in the room, the racist thought that popped into my head- for a split second -was, "I hope she's smart." I had never had that thought pop into my head with any of the white teachers I was accustomed to having. UGH!!! I caught myself and tucked that thought away never to mention it again until a few years ago.
Fast forward to the moment she became my mentor. We had to write a 10 page "Worldview" paper, talking about our upbringing and cultural background. We also had to reflect on all our writing assignments in a journal. It was in this journal that she challenged me on some of my views and values. These were views that I didn't realize were anti-Black and even anti-Latina! Anti-myself?? How could this be? No way, nope...denial!
At the time, I was dating my college boyfriend who was white. We were on our way to getting engaged, following the path of most of my college roommates getting married to their college boyfriends. In the journal, she asked me what it meant to me to be dating a white man. I got so mad at her. Why would she ask me that? What was wrong with dating a white guy? Even though she only asked that simple question, I became defensive and argumentative with her. Duh! I was in a Counseling Psychology master's degree program being taught by a psychologist. We had already learned about defensiveness. That was a sure sign there were deeper issues, but in my stubborn mind, I accused her of being prejudiced against whites. Again, I am so ashamed. She patiently diffused my anger and taught me about the stages of racial and ethnic identity development. Through this process of counseling me in my journal, she helped me realize that my desire to fit in and conform to the dominant white culture, had caused me to bury thinking about establishing a healthy healthy racial and ethnic identity. I was shocked to learn that I was so deep in the first conformity stage of identity development that I held many of the same anti-Black, anti-Asian and even anti-Latino views held by the dominant white culture I grew up in.
This experience changed my life. I didn't marry my college boyfriend and I began to ask myself what parts of myself I was hiding in order to conform to the dominant white culture. And from then on, I started to follow my dreams to travel, live and work abroad, and forever leave the segregated and racist Chicago suburbs. That was the start to me trying to live my life authentically.
Thank you, Dr. Speight. You deserve a medal for having to deal with me. I appreciate you and what you did for me.