Breaking barriers

Broaching the race/ethnicity dialogue is never an easy feat.

By Cassandra Page, PsyD

Broaching the race/ethnicity dialogue is never an easy feat — whether you're a member of the minority or majority culture. It is laced with unconscious biases and prejudices, unfounded stereotypes and good intentions. Oftentimes, the expectation is that the minority member break the barrier, gently pointing out intentional or unintentional wrongs — teaching the offender a lesson. This expectation is weighty, for the minority member, already tasked with dodging presuppositions and discerning good intentions and always giving the benefit of the doubt, also bears the burden of providing correction in a way that is easily swallowed by the other. It is often a life of continuous molding and reshaping oneself to noticeably defy expectations — without being the exception — code switch and demonstrate ultimate malleability.

This dialogue is often a marathon of flexibility. Only those willing to bend but not break, only those able to contort themselves yet still maintain an aesthetically pleasing shape, only those slow to speak and quick to forgive, only those supported by others willing to shoulder the burden of long sought correction, recognition and validation of worth and humanness are able to stay in their race — pounding the pavement one foot at a time.

Recently, the challenge to run this race has shifted to inclusivity. At the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) International conference, all members were tasked to engage with differing perspectives, different people and different stressors various group membership makes one privy to. The façade of colorblindness, “the belief that group membership or physical appearance is not and should not be influential in how we perceive, evaluate and make decisions about or formulate public policy toward” was removed (APA Presidential Task Force, 2012, p.9 as cited in Sue, 2015). Instead, conversations contained dialogues of unfairness, distorted perceptions, biased evaluations and conflated decision making all because of difference.

Theories and objectives from traditional Western perspectives were adapted to cultural norms (Roysicar, 2004). There was an openness to being challenged, an openness to learn and grow. There was a strong and present desire for the majority to broach the conversation (Day-Vines et al., 2007) — a desire long fought to light a flame in the hearts of the well-meaning and good-intentioned individuals who unknowingly miss the mark.

Minority culture members were encouraged to meet allies who have been partnering with them in this marathon. There was inspiration in seeing the fortitude and strength in those who have been running their race for much longer. Those more experienced were not ashamed of their battle wounds. Instead, they held steadfast to the promise that though they may fall, they will surely be lifted again. Pioneers of the marathon, I like to call them. Hearing their stories helped new race runners step outside of themselves, momentarily releasing the burden. They knew they were not alone.

And yet, somehow, following such empowering and energizing experiences, we can find ourselves returning to fatigue. Not pounding the pavement in strides as before but dragging, sometimes crawling inch by inch on the course laid out before us. We can feel like our axe swings are not enough to chip away at the generations of solidified pavement of unchanging ideals and philosophies and human understanding. When the weary and fainthearted feelings take hold, we can now rest in the hope that those running alongside and those just signing up for the race are chipping away at the tired foundation too.

Slowly, we can join our marathon companions and shift our collective talents from chipping to building — bolstering foundational connections impenetrable by idleness and complacency, but fortified by truth and understanding, founded in love. Eventually, there will be no more barriers to break.


Day-Vines, N., Wood, S., Grothaus, T., Craigen, L., Holman, A., Dotson-Blake, K., & Douglass, M. (2007). Broaching the Subjects of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture During the Counseling Process. Journal of Counseling & Development, 85. 401-409.

Roysicar, G. (2004). Cultural Self-Awareness Assessment: Practice Examples from Psychology Training. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 35 (6). 658-666.

Sue, D.W. (2015). Color-blind means Color mute in Race Talk and the conspiracy of silence: Understanding and facilitating difficult dialogues on race (pp.74-91). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.