About a year ago, I graduated with a degree from a US institution that would make it possible for me to work in the mental health field. So naturally, post-graduation, I began the process of looking up open positions, sending out applications, and waiting for responses back. For years, I had considered the concern with “wokeness” in the national dialogue to be, at best, an amusing pastime and, at worst, an irritating culture war distraction from the actual pressing problems facing humanity as a whole. However, over the course of the last year I underwent a significant internal shift in my relationship with this cultural issue: I now view this ideology as something that threatens me in the workplace, the integrity of the psychotherapy profession, and the ever-so-fragile coexistence between the various human demographics. So, what happened to make me shift my disposition toward the cultural movement of wokeness? Namely, having gone through three different kinds of experiences that I will describe below.
The conference on anti-racism
My credulity about the topic was already highly stretched by the time I chose to attend this conference but since I make an effort to have an open and independent mind, I thought “Heck, maybe there is some more stuff to learn from attending a conference on the subject of being an anti-racist as a mental health professional”. Over the course of several hours, as I sat there, the speakers methodically constructed a critical theoretical conceptualization that is aptly describable as “Orwellian”. Basically, the trainers turned the meaning of the word “whiteness” into a synonym for the word “freedom”, and then explained how various negative behaviors, such as road rage, were the consequences of people “getting caught up in the freedom of their whiteness”. I’ll let my readers use their own logic and imagination to figure out the likely ramifications of such a worldview.
The double-speak was compounded in other ways through the course of the training. During the Q&A, an attendee went up to the microphone and asked one of the speakers about what they, as a white person, could do to help ameliorate structural racism in society. The speaker then (in what sounded to me like partially contained rage) lashed out at the questioner and gave a scolding, saying that it was “not their day’s work to tell white people what to do”. Observing my fellow mental health professionals, all of whom had high IQs, not have much of a problem with the content of this conference left me feeling disappointed and, in regard to my professional life, lonely.
I participated in group therapy and, in one particular session, topics related to woke activism came up in the discussion. In response, I respectfully spoke up and said that although I had empathy for the anger and hurt experienced by people, I felt that woke activism sometimes turned into the very thing it was supposed to be fighting against and this move wasn’t helpful to anyone. In response, the kind of familiar enactment (that everyone reading this could have predicted) occurred: some other group members became furious and made assumptions and accusations about me being a bigot. The group facilitator followed suit and he proceeded to use this as a teachable moment to inform me that bigotry only matters when there is “structural power” behind it, and that it is my white privilege in action when I complain when woke activism becomes hypocritical. How they could not see the irony in this and how it was a flagrant violation of ethics in counseling did not surprise me. There certainly was a “structural power imbalance” there, but it was not to my benefit.
The job search
The following experiences had the biggest impact on me. Upon graduating, I was discriminated against three times in the job application process. Each time it was during the interview stage when it first became possible for hiring staff to visually identify that I was white and male. Incidentally, when out of curiosity I checked online several months after being rejected or ghosted, all three of the positions I applied for were still open and accepting applications. This fact becomes significant because I was applying for jobs during a time of an immense shortage of mental health workers in my area due to the effects of the covid pandemic on the professional world. I draw the conclusion that these agencies would rather have left themselves short staffed for a long time rather than hire a white male.
The first instance occurred when my supervisor recommended me for work in another department of an organization where I was an intern. To prepare for the interview, I preemptively looked up online who the director of the position I was applying for was (like any diligent applicant would in this day and age), and discovered that this person was on a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee. I felt that this was a potential red flag and began to get concerned about showing up to the interview as a white male. Right from the start of the interview, the person visibly demonstrated a disinterested attitude with very little to no smiling; my implicit bodily sensing at the time registered subtle bafflement about why there was such an evident lack of warmth. I ended up not getting this job despite my suitability: I had straight As in graduate school; I had been recommended within the organization by a supervisor who was a member of a racial minority; and my background experience dovetailed with the expectations of the role. Later on I heard from my supervisor that the reason why I was not hired was that the organization wanted to “increase diversity” in the department.
The second instance was applying for a position in a different organization. Although I already knew from word-of-mouth that this organization had an anti-racist agenda, their website seemed to indicate the importance of treating clients in a respectful and non-medicalized way. So, human resources and later a department director responded to my application and I was quickly set up for an interview. A short time before the interview, a racially motivated white-on-black mass shooting occurred. I was horrified by the news itself and the social ramifications of it, but also aside from that, I began to get worried about if my sex and race would count against me in the interview. When the day came, I logged into the interview and quickly perceived several potentially negative signs: the interviewer was female; her preferred pronouns were listed; and there were rainbow-colored posters in the background. Within 2-3 minutes, the interviewer ended the meeting by informing me that I was not suitable as I did not have experience working with a particular client demographic. This job requirement had not been listed in the job description and, even if it were just a desired rather than necessary requirement it should have already been noticed on my resume by human resources and the person interviewing.
In the third instance, I had an excellent first interview with a recruiter and an excellent second interview with a program director. I walked away from that second interview feeling like I very likely got the role. Some time passed and I was informed about another interview with an additional staff member. I began to get apprehensive again since I knew that there was a high possibility that I would be interviewed by a woke racist and not get the job. I logged on and lo and behold, the interviewer had pronouns on the screen, was female, and had woke-related decorations hung up on the wall behind them. From the very get-go, the interviewer presented as being disinterested: she did not smile and had what seemed to me to be a lackadaisical tone of voice. Aside from that, the interviewer informed me that the position involved having, even by agency standards, an unrealistically high workload and this was different to the job description given to me originally by human resources and the program director. I answered all the questions well but already knew I was all but certainly doomed a minute in. The interview ended after just five minutes with a “goodbye, and thank you for your time”.
In total, I applied to seven jobs, received three offers, and was turned down from one due to non-discrimination reasons. Eventually, I did find a job without great difficulty partially because there was a high demand for mental health workers as a result of the covid pandemic. Perhaps people will think that as I eventually got hired without too much difficulty I should stop being so worried. I do understand the importance of not indulging in paranoia but if this type of discrimination in the mental health professions is this bad now, what will it be like a decade from now? For example, will they actually start trying to take away dissenters’ (especially white male dissenters) licenses via various underhanded tactics? Perhaps licensing board-sponsored entrapment agents will be sent out into mental health practices to pose as clients to test for “discrimination”. Or maybe it will become mandated that white professionals be put through intolerably shaming continuing education courses about how they are innately and inescapably malevolent? What these experiences I have been sharing here have taught me, is that this is a real possibility.
I do not deserve to be subjected to all of that. To my recollection, I have never treated anyone in a nasty way due to whatever demographic categories they happened to fall under. I have done deeply meaningful work with many people who would be considered by the woke movement to belong to marginalized categories. I believe that I am a kind, thoughtful, and responsible person who is not “an evil white man” or a “racist/sexist oppressor”, or whatever. In addition, I also believe in some amount of what the woke movement preaches, such as the importance of taking demographic differences into account when doing psychotherapy work and having those sorts of conversations with clients. However, what the experiences I have spent most of this piece sharing with you all have taught me is that to the woke movement the above does not matter, only that I am a white male. It is outrageous that this woke-racism and woke-sexism is now accepted, even celebrated, in the mental health professions. It is also dangerous to clients, as well as to the possibilities of attaining a more peaceful and mutual coexistence amongst varying demographics of people. Nietzsche famously said, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster. For when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you”. The woke movement has gazed into the abyss and the abyss has gazed back into it, and it is increasingly thinking and acting like a monster and monopolizing our profession. I have awakened to the reality that it is up to all of us to push back powerfully without turning into monsters ourselves.
Thank you for reading.
By name withheld