Beyond Performative Allyship: On Statement-Making and Organizational Commitments

Our group has been taking time to think about Black Lives Matter and how best to share our stance. It has been particularly interesting to see how various companies have crafted their responses. As a business owner and Asian American POC, I read countless organizational statements last week and asked myself: Why now? 

I noticed myself feeling perplexed – then angry – as my inbox filled up with statements from corporations declaring their condemnation of racism. Perplexed, because these statements often serve as virtue signals –  angry, because these statements leave a lot to be desired when it comes to accountability. We can only condemn racism in all its forms while holding the mirror up to ourselves and to see where we, as an organization of therapists, are falling short. 

Why now? And why George Floyd? Since 2015, police have shot and killed an average of 1000 citizens per year. Our militarized police systematically brutalize, murder, and oppress black citizens. Our society exploits BIPOC through our institutions. We tolerate modern-day slavery and modern-day Jim Crow through the prison-industrial complex. On a daily basis, we turn a blind eye to the ways in which black and indigenous people are systematically oppressed. 

Where were we, as business owners, in condemning the murders of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, and Breonna Taylor? As business owners, ours were silent voices. For many business owners and corporate leaders, silence felt easier. Silence seemed less risky. But we, as business owners, never risked our bodies by speaking up. We only worried about risking our “brands.” 

Our group has worked tirelessly over the past few years towards our actionable commitment to dismantle White Supremacy. As an Asian American business owner, my public silence on this amazing work demonstrates a lack of accountability to BIPOC. If I had been more public about our group commitment to anti-racism, perhaps I could have helped move the standard of organizational culture among group counseling practices in Chicago. Perhaps I could have been a proactive instigator of positive change. And so, today I am breaking our silence. 

All therapists in this country operate within the healthcare institution. This means that all therapists – all of us – participate in and collude with practices that advantage white people while harming POC, with the worst harms done to BIPOC. Social workers were frontline soldiers in the war against Native American families, against black families, and against immigrants (among many socially-sanctioned wars we willingly fought against communities of color). Counselors and psychologists inherit a professional history that involves dehumanizing POC through “treatment” and pathological diagnosis. Psychologists inherit a history of invalidating POC who have been traumatized by White Supremacy through diagnosis. 

As a team of social workers and psychological counselors, we hold our uneasy histories and our shared, contemporary experience of systemic racism with our group’s belief that the only way forward is to take actionable, daily steps towards realizing our vision of becoming a multicultural, inclusive society. 

In 2018, Chicago Compass Counseling made a commitment to become an antiracist institution. Our commitment required auditing, evaluating, and changing our institutional practices. It required committing money, time, and energy. It required investing in antiracist POC-led organizations and consultants to ensure we were on track. Our commitment did not involve fast solutions. Our approach required intention, focus, and ongoing evaluation. It continues to require all of these aspects. 

This was not an easy process, nor was it one that made for a great Instagram story. This process required me, as a business owner, to first allow myself to be honest about our reality as an organization. I needed to use tools of analysis to critically examine the business I had built.  With humility, I brought into my awareness the ways I had colluded with and reinforced White Supremacy values such as individual competition, scarcity mentality, secrecy mode, and either/or thinking. Even though I had designed a group counseling practice that claimed to help people interrupt self-destructive behaviors, the way I structured my business leading up to 2018 failed to interrupt the ultimate self-destructive behavior: White Supremacy. 

Through collaboration, our team deliberately overhauled our approach to hiring, development, promotion, communication, training, and resourcing. We shifted ways of doing and ways of being. We continue to amend our processes and culture to this day to better honor our commitment. And while all members of our team are dedicated to institutional anti-racism, our work in anti-racism is far from complete. We have only begun our journey. 

Today, our work to become an anti-racist organization involves continually inviting our team to examine the ways in which our institutional practices support White Supremacy. It involves continually identifying ways to interrupt these toxic practices. We call each other in, and call each other out. We endeavor to connect with and support antiracist organizations that demonstrate accountability to People of Color. But we, as a group, are nowhere close to being “done” with this work. We have a long, long way to go. 

And yet, part of this journey requires celebrating what we have done well. We are proud to be a Minority and Woman-Owned business. We are proud of our team diversity. We are proud of our hiring and onboarding process, which centers anti-racism and requires attending the CROAR 2.5 day Understanding and Analyzing Systemic Racism training upon joining our team. We are proud of fostering a company culture that genuinely cares about the goals and needs of our staff, thereby countering harmful white supremacy values that prioritizes profits over people. And we are excited to share our experiences with other organizations through workshops and training events we are planning in the months to come. 

We are proud of our continued commitments: 

Our team views our commitment to anti-racism as the foundation for serving our clients from a place of integrity. We are clear that the need to improve is an immediate, urgent, and ongoing effort. Throughout this long journey, we continually re-anchor ourselves in our anti-racist analysis. Until our society restores the humanity of BIPOC, our work as a group counseling practice is incomplete. 

White Supremacy is the ultimate harm. White Supremacy is the ultimate self-destructive behavior. Until we live in a society that makes amends for, and reparations to, communities of color harmed by systemic racism, our organization will not be free of the mantle of White Supremacy. 

Sarah Suzuki, AM, LCSW, CADC

Sarah Suzuki, AM, LCSW, CADC

Hi, I'm Sarah, and I'm a counselor who helps high-achieving men learn how to moderate their drinking. I currently offer counseling services and corporate training here at Chicago Compass Counseling. If you're interested, you can read more about me on my about page.