Editor Note: This is a repost from the National Association of Peer Supporters, by Martha Barbone, Director of Operations
In our role as peer supporters, many people whom we support, and many of our colleagues, come from marginalized communities. These individuals and communities continue to face discrimination, oppression, incarceration, injustice and abuse in a broad sense including within the mental health and substance use treatment systems. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to see black and brown Americans getting sick and dying at disproportionately high rates.
Unfortunately, what we have seen very recently is not new. Now is the time to stand up.
Standing up will look different, and take different forms, for each of us. For us, as an organization we’re committing to additional conversations between the board, staff, and membership, as well as ensuring that our programming and offerings are centering black lives in more ways than we have in the past. We invite our membership and others in the world of peer support to join us on their journey and support us with feedback and ideas throughout this ongoing process.
How and why do we stand up to systemic racism as Peer Supporters?
Core value #6 in The National Practice Guidelines for Peer Specialists and Supervisors of Peer Specialists states:
Peer supporters facilitate change:
Some of the worst human rights violations are experienced by people with psychiatric, trauma or substance use challenges. They are frequently seen as “objects of treatment” rather than human beings with the same fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as everyone else. People may be survivors of violence (including physical, emotional, spiritual and mental abuse or neglect). Those with certain behaviors that make others uncomfortable may find themselves stereotyped, stigmatized and outcast by society. Internalized oppression is common among people who have been rejected by society. Peer supporters treat people as human beings and remain alert to any practice (including the way people treat themselves) that is dehumanizing, demoralizing or degrading and will use their personal story and/or advocacy to be an agent for positive change.
What facilitating change look like in practice for peer supporters and their supervisors?
As peer supporters we have the best tool already at our disposal:
Our work is fueled by our own experiences of being othered and facing discrimination, and our resolve to advocate for others. Draw on your struggles and make them your strengths.
Talking about racism is not going to be comfortable. This is a quote from Leah Harris:
Let’s talk about discomfort. Sometimes I need to make myself bear witness to a thing, even if it hurts. Sometimes I need to be in that hurt, because that’s called empathy, and it’s how I choose to live in this world. Believe it or not, comfort is not my primary objective in life. I am willing to be uncomfortable. Holding space for someone means you also have to be uncomfortable. If you don’t want to be uncomfortable, please don’t ask the person how they are doing in a terrifying unfolding situation. You may get an uncomfortable answer.
This is time for taking action, but what does that actually mean or look like? One may be paralyzed by the abundance of needs, both evident and unexpressed, yet not knowing how to help. We all bring our own worldview based on our experiences. Lack of understanding and the willingness to listen often increases conflict.
Finally, follow your heart. If you see a call to action or a chance to collaborate with others in your community to stand up against systemic racism and injustice, including addressing health inequity, and that speaks to your heart – STAND UP!
If you would like to comment or ask questions about this article please email Martha Barbone, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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