Pecan Pie

Social Anxiety from the South

They Tried to Make Me Go to Rehab: And I Found All the Racism

So, apparently the white racial frame and the pressures exhorted on Asian Americans to assimilate (including the damage done to the psychological welfare of those trying to gain whiteness) is apparent in the micro-interactions of a small residential addiction treatment facility in North Georgia. The space is overwhelmingly white, upper middle class and male. The second of two, an Asian American resident was repeatedly subjected to the pressure of the white racial frame described in Chapter 5 of The Myth of the Model Minority during my time there (Chou and Feagin 2015).

Chou and Feagin (2015:142) write that individuals of color are repeatedly made to bear ridicule, humiliation and exclusion. I met J***d my third week in addiction treatment. His mother and father brought him and they looked about as worn out and scared as every other loved one who brings their child, parent, sibling or friend to rehab. Certainly no white savior/white knighting was necessary from me, but after seeing the way the only Black resident was treated during my first two weeks there, I guess I was apprehensive on this new client’s behalf.

J***, the nickname provided to him by his white, male counterparts in treatment who seemed to have “trouble” pronouncing his name began attempting to find his place in this closed community after about two days. The name problem was a persistent obstacle to his assimilation and an unacknowledged tool to remind him he was excluded. Referencing Sue (2007), Jennifer Gonzales (2014) writes about the lasting impact repeated mispronunciation could have on students of color…or anyone of any age who has a name not classified as “white”. While white America has no problem with names like Galifianakis, somehow a man’s name with five letters is too difficult for credentialed professionals at a mental health facility to pronounce. Gonzales (2014) has a category for both the professionals and the clients who gave J***D his nickname in this instance-“arrogant manglers” who continue on with their mispronunciations after repeated corrections and “nicknamers” who just don’t care enough about another human being (because that person is seen as less than human) to say their name correctly. Both of these categories were evident as J***d’s name was repeatedly corrupted for at least the first week he was there.

J***d attempted on multiple occasions to gain entry to this overtly white space. He “excelled” at rehab (a condition ironically named “making an A in rehab”) by never missing meetings or groups, giving out cigarettes to anyone who asked, playing corn-hole with anyone who would team up with him and making conversation with his most ardent attackers. When overt racism was apparent, he laughed it off. This is explain by Lara in the reading, “ignoring the issues and always just trying to be better than the people around me so…they didn’t have anything over me” (Chou and Feagin 2015:145). It’s impossible for me to know if his attempts were propelled by a need to be a model minority in a facility that attract so many from the low end of social acceptability or he was just trying to survive that experience or both, but the outcome was the same.

Of course, outward humiliation and degredation were present as well. During large group meetings it was common for clients to respond to roll call with silly or inappropriate outbursts, rather than “here” or “present”. Several young, white men began to respond with “Allah Akbar”—nevermind that none of these men knew J***d’s religious beliefs or had recognized that he is not Middle Eastern (which is assumed to be the reason they did this. I am not sure they understood the vastness of the Islamic population worldwide or that, as a near Asian descendent it was just as likely that J***d is Hindu or Christian.) This outburst was followed by some garbled version of another Arabic phrase turned into a bludgeon to associate Brown persons from Persia, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, etc. with terrorism. “Rocking the boat” was not an option for J***d (Chou and Feagin 2015:169). In a closed environment where these same men were his roommates, small group therapy-mates and his cohorts in games, outings and social smoking activities, speaking up was not available. At least, not if he expected to get through the program. At one point he or someone else did complain. The talk in the rumor mill began immediately. Someone was “offended” and “they were just joking”. While the responses to roll call stopped, the same phrases continued, even escalated during smoking times or free times. These spaces were even more important than the roll call situation because this is where clients create relationships. Close relationships with at least one or two other people in treatment are considered especially important to successful completion. In other words, exclusion can literally prevent a person from maintaining sobriety and gaining the tools to finish the program. This is another example of how racism can impact health care outcomes.

Lastly, in the same way that Coates (2015) discusses at length the ways in which Black Americans have little to no rights over their own bodies, J***d was repeatedly humiliated either in secret or in person for his dietary needs-his autonomy over his own person. This is another example of exclusion, othering, unrealistic expectations and humiliation (Chou and Feagin 2015:142). Clients and staff believed that J***d should be expected to put his faith-based dietary needs on hold in order to accommodate the facility. If he did not meet this expectation, he could assume some backlash. On a Saturday while an outdoor activity was being held outside, I read on the couch in the common space. A man from admissions was speaking loudly to the nursing staff. He was complaining about religion and having to respect the beliefs of others. “Just because you being in some Big Sky Fairy shouldn’t mean that we have to accommodate your food!” There was only one resident who required dietary accommodations for religious reasons. When I mentioned that he was being very loud and others, including clients, would be able to hear him, the response was one of categorical disinterest. A moment later after a short discussion on appropriateness of professional behavior, I was told that I was “taking this too seriously.” A later conversation with the head of the clinical team ended with an instance of rescuing whites (of which I am quite possibly a part given my minimal attempt to do anything) since this admissions professional didn’t “mean to offend me” (Bracey 2011). It seemed to go over his head that I wasn’t the person who needed to be assuaged or apologized to, another occurrence of whiteness being the important factor. I was talked to, humored, and placated rather than any meaningful conversation about race and its intersection with religion and bodily autonomy in a facility touted as a spiritually grounded program.

The instances of racism in my time at residential treatment were many. Beginning with the fact that I only saw four people of color my entire time there. The only other Asian client was a Vietnamese woman who suffered much of the same racism J***d did, but dealt with it differently, by utilizing her woman-ness to create connections with other women and separate herself from younger clients. Still, slurs like “slant eyes” were heard during her tenure as well. It was suggested that it would be helpful to have people on staff with a more broad understanding of inequality and social factors that intersect with addiction, but these were, as most suggestions, brushed aside in favor of a “what have you done to escalate conflict” approach. This was an eye-opening experience in a number of ways. A disheartening example of how racism still works in medical and mental health institutions, an example of how this treatment may do more harm than good for those not of the upper-middle class, white, male populations.

 

 

Bibliography

Bracey, Glenn. 2011. “Rescuing Whites: White Privileging Discourse in Race Critical Scholarship” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, NV, Aug 19. http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p506887_index.html Retrieved January 11, 2017.

Chou, Rosalind and Joe R. Feagin. 2015. The Myth of the Model Minority. New York: Routledge.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. 2015. Between the World and Me. New York: Spiegel & Grau

Gonzales, Jennifer. 2014. “How We Pronounce Student Names, and Why it Matters.” Cult of Personality. https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/gift-of-pronunciation/ Retrieved April 6, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Written by thelittlepecan

April 22, 2017 at 10:20 pm

6 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. So true.

    nationofnope

    April 27, 2017 at 8:05 pm

  2. I’m white and it certainly greased the skids for me. My name however as a distinct Jewish ring to it. Not always Adventitious. Just saying.

    nationofnope

    April 27, 2017 at 11:57 am

    • Nothing is *always* advantageous, but this anecdote is consistent with the data.

      thelittlepecan

      April 27, 2017 at 7:59 pm

  3. This is a really disturbing. In a place where people are supposed to get better minorities are still isolated. So much for there truly being a safe space.

    mittflorg

    April 23, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    • It was really disturbing. I never heard the r****d word so many times in my life. So much queerphobia. Sexism.

      It wasn’t a safe space for anyone. I don’t know if it was intended to be, honestly.

      I got so much out of it, but I knew why I had the opportunity to and others did not.

      thelittlepecan

      April 23, 2017 at 5:37 pm

      • I was going through Amazon recently and skimmed a book called How Does That Make You Feel. One of the chapters is Therapy is For White People. That part was not in the previews, but your experience may explain that situation.

        mittflorg

        April 23, 2017 at 5:39 pm


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: