Reflection on the July 2020 Listening Session

Photo by Sunyu Kim on Unsplash

As someone wrote in an evaluation, this event was not a passive listening gathering. It was an experience in which Cadmona and Rachel created a safe space for active listening and participation.

After some introductory comments and explanation of tasks for privileged and subjugated people (see below), we split into 2 groups, one for therapists who identify as BIPOC, a second group for those who identify as white.  And as quickly as a Zoom breakout room opens, there was injury. In what seemed to us organizers to be a matter of logistical convenience, there lurked harm, marginalization again.  We put the smaller group, BIPOC, in a breakout room (fewer people to identify and assign) and left the larger group, white, in the main room.

Breakout sessions over and everyone back in the main meeting room, I saw the look in my friends’ faces as they described the experience, the ordinary routineness of language and action that puts them to the side.  It was a real time example of the countless slights BIPOC experience, experiences against which they armor up every day.

My own first response was defensive.  I said to myself, “The facilitators should have seen this coming and prevented it!”  Yet very quickly it became a powerful experience, doing more than any powerpoint slide could, to open my eyes, our eyes, to how regularly marginalization occurs, how commonplace, how it exists in the water we all drink.

Other things happened in the meeting, of course, and if you are interested in the kind of learning, growth, repair and connection that can happen in this kind of experience, we on the board of ChicagoEFT invite you to our next session of active listening on August 20th, 2020.

I feel humbled by the gift of honesty and vulnerability given by so many.  I am grateful to be on this lifelong journey and have this community as my companions.

Gretchen Harro


The tasks of the privileged and subjugated come from Gurman, A.S., & Jacobson, N.S. (2002). Clinical handbook of couple therapy, Third Edition. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.  Chapter 22: Couple Therapy Using a Multicultural Perspective.  Pages 586-588.


  1. To resist false notions of equality. It is not helpful to equate suffering.
  2. Intentions vs. consequences: to understand that intentions may be good, but that doesn’t change the fact that consequences may be bad. It is not helpful to just clarify intentions when consequences were hurtful. Acknowledge the effect, impact, of your actions. Intentions are the province of the privileged; consequences are the province of the subjugated.  Including the impact of silence.
  3. To challenge the ahistorical approach. History does matter, the past does affect the present. The privileged cannot understand the subjugated “out of context.”
  4. To develop thick skin. Need to be able to thicken one’s skin, to not give up on connections with people who have been subjugated even if you are initially rebuffed, to continue to go back and back, to continue to try.
  5. To not become a FOE “framer of others’ experiences.”



  1. To overcome learned voicelessness; to advocate for oneself. One needs to challenge the belief that it is not worth speaking up. The subjugated have often been taught that “silence is golden” and “don’t speak unless spoken to;” the challenge is to unlearn this behavior.
  2. To learn to exhale the negative messages that have become internalized.
  3. To overcome the addiction to protect, educate or change the privileged.
  4. To deal with one’s own rage, to channel it appropriately, not to eradicate it.  Shame is a major stumbling block for the privileged; rage is a major stumbling block for the subjugated.
Share This Post
Have your say!