One of the first graduate school courses I taught was called “Adult Development and Aging”, a standard course in many clinical psychology programs that masters and doctoral level students take as a requirement. I remember the looks of confusion and surprise scattered throughout the classroom as I walked in and stood behind the podium rather than taking a seat with the other students. I guess when they imagined that a “Dr. Khalid” was teaching the course, a 27 year old South Asian woman was not quite what they had pictured. I felt apprehensive myself, trying to quiet my own imposter syndrome with the trust that I had what it took to teach the course successfully. Those were some tough 12 weeks, with my authority being challenged on multiple levels by students, two of whom decided to contest their final grades, only to be given the exact same grade and comments by an third-party reader assigned by the department. Being a young woman of color in a field historically dominated by older white men presented me with a “triple-jeopardy” with intersectionality of age, race/culture and gender. I had felt the impact of carrying multiple minority statuses throughout my life as a child and young adult, from being told to “go back” to where I came from or being told to “smile more”, but feeling it as a professional in my work forced me to take a closer look at how deeply imbedded systemic oppression can be.
As a therapist, I work with a range of LGBTQ BIPOC who have also shared similar stories and experiences of navigating identity politics. Research in these areas, for example the Racial Identity Development models or the Sexual Orientation Identity Development models, usually prescribe stages and linear progression in their approaches. However, identity development can be nonlinear, and there is a need for using an integrative approach to work with LGBTQ populations, especially with BIPOC communities. There are also unique challenges when it comes to finding support from the extended family, folk healers, religious institutions, merchant groups, or social clubs. There can be significant barriers affecting LBGTQ BIPOC, such as:
- Racial/ethnic discrimination and oppression
- Sexual discrimination and oppression from the larger heterosexual society
- Discrimination within racial/ethnic community for being LGBTQ
- Discrimination and rejection by the LGBTQ community
- Multiple minority status requiring assimilation into many different cultures
- Limited social support
- Few resources and limited access to resources
- Lack of healthy role models
These can have a profound impact on a person’s mental health, and can contribute to anxiety, depression, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and even suicidal ideation. My own identity/personality/ethnic development has fluctuated between the powerless/stigmatized and powerful/dominant groups due to extensive travel and ensuing immersion from a very young age. So when I work with my clients, it’s imperative that I become familiar with cultural values and factors that affect their process of identity development. My awareness of the process of cultural identity formation as well as other aspects of identity formation has helped improve my ability to assist clients in navigating this intersection. Furthermore, I encourage psychology student and clinicians to become skillful in eliciting from clients the cultural values that cause them difficulties functioning within many diverse and contradicting value systems and cultures. These cultural values in turn can be reframed into positive strengths and resources.
Some of the richest conversations I have had with clients have touched on both the challenges and opportunities that come from multiple minority statuses. From the Latina client in a wheel-chair to the Asian trans adolescent, I have found value in understanding the context from where my clients are coming from, what statuses are visible (i.e. physical disability and race) versus invisible (i.e. sexual orientation, neurodiversity, or at times, social economic status), and how clients can shift in the fabric of society based on these identities. While some other nations are making strides towards equality and justice, here in America we have a long way to go to dismantle systemic oppression and create a fair and equitable society that allows all people to have access to shared resources and opportunities and not be quickly judged based on how they present.
Dr. Ammara Khalid
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
CORE – Center of Relational Empowerment, P.C