How gaining critical consciousness heals us all.
By Della V. Mosley, Grace A. Chen, Jioni A. Lewis, Helen A. Neville, Bryana H. French, Hector Y. Adames, and Nayeli Y. Chavez-Dueñas, The Psychology of Radical Healing Collective.
Amid the glitter and rainbow flags being flown through cities during this month of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer plus (LGBTQ+) Pride, it may be hard for us to realize that queer and transgender People of Color and Indigenous People (POCI) are experiencing discrimination at devastating rates. From depression to premature death, the consequences of prejudice are irrefutable for this population. Understanding the extent of the problem, and the possibilities for promoting radical healing in the face of such discrimination, will represent a real reflection of pride. We could all benefit from this awareness, especially given the rise of deadly violence against queer and trans POCI.
Late last month, Timothy Blancher, Paris Cameron, and Alunte Davis were living, breathing, and existing in their young, beautiful Black queer and trans bodies. Their lives ended abruptly when they were targeted and killed, most likely because of their LGBTQ identity. Chanel Scurlock and Chynal Lindsey, both of whom identified as Black transgender women, were murdered this month and also will not make it to Pride this year because of prejudice. Prejudice is also to be blamed in the case of 15-year-old Nigel Shelby, who died by suicide in April following experiences of sexuality-based violence at his school. While each of these individuals’ dreams, families, communities, plans, and spirits matter, so too does our ability to identify the core problems underlying these tragic deaths.
Many of us feel overwhelmed or helpless about these incidents and we often ask ourselves, “What can we do to address violence against queer and transgender POCI?” There is a growing psychological literature suggesting that we can start with increasing our critical consciousness of our world.
Critical consciousness is a tool offered by Brazilian scholar and educator Paolo Freire that can help us broaden our lens from these personal level experiences of trauma and violence and better identify and respond to the systems that produce and maintain them. Critical consciousness is a core component of psychological healing for POCI communities, which include queer and transgender people. To be critically conscious we must:
- Recognize and critically question the social and political realities that impact our wellness and uncover the root causes of oppression when we see it.
- Use this critical awareness to take action against oppression.
Psychological research provides evidence that, when we increase our critical consciousness (awareness and/or action), we increase our wellness. For instance, intentions to persist in college have gone up and HIV disease progression has gone down for racially diverse study participants who possess critical consciousness. In this case, ignorance is not bliss – knowledge is power and wellness.
Developing critical consciousness about the costs of prejudice to the pride of queer and transgender POCI is neither hard nor easy. Right now, by reading this post, you’re practicing the awareness aspect of critical consciousness. You can fairly easily locate sources online that track the premature deaths of transgender women of color or suggest brilliant queer and trans artists, community and activist organizations, and scholars to support. That support counts as critical consciousness and can help heal queer and transgender POCI. Such support would actually help us all, as everyone benefits from safer neighborhoods and more spaces where they can be their authentic selves.
How Can You Develop Critical Consciousness?
Critical Reflection. Critical consciousness development takes work. You have to commit to digging deeper and hone your ability to use an intersectional framework if you want to maximize the benefits that you and others will get from practicing critical consciousness. For example, unless you actively search for trusted sources of data on queer and trans POCI, you will have a harder time understanding the ways that racism and white supremacy, sexism and toxic masculinity, heterosexism and the gender binary work together to harm them in nearly every space they occupy.
Fortunately, current research is facilitating a better understanding of the experiences and needs of queer and transgender POCI. In a study published just this month, we learn that college counseling centers commonly offer targeted psychological services for women students and students of Color, but very rarely do they offer services specifically for queer and transgender POCI. Without an intersectional lens aimed toward understanding the unique experiences of individuals with multiple marginalized identities, we overlook some of the most vulnerable individuals in our community.
Critical consciousness makes us aware that queer and transgender POCI college students might experience a heightened sense of fear and grief as they witness the constant deaths that occur for individuals sharing their identities. The action component of critical consciousness would then have us mobilize to ensure these students have access to counselors they perceive as culturally competent.
Critical Action. Being aware of the issues is not enough to promote radical healing. Taking action to improve the lives of queer and trans POCI is essential. We have to understand how national policies trickle down to influence physical safety and emotional wellness. For example, current gun laws leave queer and transgender POCI vulnerable and thus can chip away at their dignity and self-esteem. The difference across states regarding which identities are protected in laws – such as hate crime, housing discrimination, employment discrimination – can impact this community’s stress levels as well. The limitations placed by the Trump administration on asylum seekers and their investment in ICE detention centers not only harm individuals like Roxana Hernández, but also others who hold those identities. They can feel anxious and depressed over these losses, and their own proximity to them. When we recognize that Paris Cameron, Roxana Hernández, and other fallen, or missing, queer and transgender POCI are victims of sexism and white supremacy then we are more likely to see the patterns and the potential solutions.
Critical consciousness is a healing tool that will allow us to think through how structural problems hurt people at a personal level, and what we can do about them. Instead of being surprised to learn that nine Black transgender women have been reported as murdered so far in 2019, we will say, “oh the numbers are actually probably higher because the media and criminal justice systems misgender transgender people as a regular practice.” Our investigations will lead us to connect dots so we realize, “wow, Black gay and trans men are taking their own lives and Black cisgender straight men are taking queer and transgender POCI’s lives and both these losses are tied directly to toxic masculinity and the systematic devaluing of Black lives.”
As you work on increasing your critical consciousness efforts, remember you do not have to do it alone. Join with others as you do this difficult, but critical, work. This practical infographic may help get you started as you seek to move from critical reflection to critical action during this month of Pride and beyond.
French, B. H., Lewis, J. A., Mosley, D. V., Adames, H. Y., Chavez-Dueñas, N. Y., Chen, G. A., & Neville, H. A. (2019). Toward a Psychological Framework of Radical Healing in Communities of Color. The Counseling Psychologist.https://doi.org/10.1177/0011000019843506
Mosley, D.V., Gonzalez, K.A., Abreau, R.L., & Kaivan, N.C. (2019). Unseen and underserved: A content analysis of wellness support services for Bi + People of Color and Indigenous People on U.S. campuses. Journal of Bisexuality. https://doi.org/10.1080/15299716.2019.1617552
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