Racism, Family Secrets and the African American Experience
by Monica McGoldrick & Elaine Pinderhughes
Racism, discrimination, slavery and injustice are part of the historical fabric of the African American experience, impacting individuals, families and communities. In this gripping discussion with renowned family therapist Monica McGoldrick, professor Elaine Pinderhughes discusses her genealogical research into her own family, and her efforts to confront and transcend the lies and secrets passed down across generations.
It can be easy for therapists to stay squarely focused on clinical symptoms and the present, but when working with African American clients, this may come at the expense of understanding the historical impact of racism and discrimination on them. Further, utilizing individualistic theories and techniques may skew the clinician’s perspective away from the systemic nature of the client’s symptoms. Privilege, power, self-acceptance and identity are inextricably bound to race and skin color; truths that must be considered when working with these clients.

Stirred by the death of her father and Alex Haley’s “Roots,” professor, social work pioneer and clinician Elaine Pinderhughes began a journey into her family’s past, focusing first on her father, a supposed sharecropper. She soon discovered a rich and multi-layered story that predated slavery. When she turned her attention to the maternal side of her lineage, Pinderhughes uncovered even more mysteries. These ultimately revealed a complex, cross-generational narrative centered on discrimination, shame and secrets; but also, resilience, strength and pride.

Pinderhughes never sat idly by to watch the pain and suffering of generations of African Americans fade into history. A zealous advocate and historian, she turned her attention to understanding the destructive impact of racism in her own family’s origin to both validate history and invalidate the lies passed down over generations. By taking this journey with her in this video, you will appreciate how racism impacts individuals, families and communities you work with. You will learn how the lives of your African American clients and the choices they make may be tied to their racial legacy. In turn, your clients will feel deeply heard and have the opportunity to confront the legacy of racism in their lives.  

What therapists are saying…

"An amazing video; I give it Four Stars! McGoldrick, world-famous for advocating the benefits of constructing family genograms, interviews Elaine Pinderhughes, who relates how she researched her family tree back to when her ancestors were slaves in the Antebellum South. I won’t spoil it by telling you what Pinderhughes discovered, but will say that it involved family secrets that importantly shaped her life.  A must see for students of family therapy, or any mental health professional wanting a better understanding of how powerful historical and cultural factors influence our work in the present moment."

--Arthur Nielsen, MD
Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University
Faculty, The Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute and The Family Institute at Northwestern University
In Depth
Through this genealogical journey, Pinderhughes discovers long lost connections with her and her family members’ namesakes that enrich her sense of self and connection with family members present and past. In the truest tradition of social work, she and McGoldrick demonstrate the collaborative power of interviewing and genogram to reveal painful truths, including the historical pervasiveness of invisibility, the subordination of black identity to the slave owner and the dynamic impact of race and racism.

Length of video: 0:35:28

English subtitles available

Group ISBN-10 #: 1-60124-561-0

Group ISBN-13 #: 978-1-60124-561-8

Monica McGoldrick, M.A., LCSW, Ph.D. (Honorary), the Director of the Multicultural Family Institute in Highland Park, New Jersey, is also Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. She received an Honorary Doctorate from Smith for her many contributions to the field. Among many other awards, she has received the American Family Therapy Academy Award for Distinguished Contribution to Family Therapy Theory and Practice. She has written and spoken widely on a variety of topics including culture, class, gender, the family life cycle, loss, genograms, remarried families, and siblings. Three of her books have become best-selling classics of their publishers: The Changing Family Life Cycle, 3rd edition; Ethnicity and Family Therapy, 3rd edition; and Genograms: Assessment and Intervention, 3rd edition. See her website for more information on Monica McGoldrick and The Multicultural Family Institute.

See all Monica McGoldrick videos.

Elaine Pinderhughes is Professor Emerita and former Chair of the Clinical Program at the Boston College School of Social Work. She has served as Lydia Rappaport Professor at Smith College School of Social Work, Lucille Austin Fellow at Columbia University, and held the Moses Chair at Hunter College School of Social Work. Pinderhughes has received numerous awards including the CSWE 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award. Her 1989 textbook, Understanding Race, Ethnicity and Power: The Key to Efficiency in Clinical Practice, substantially changed the language of multiculturalism and human behavior in the practice arena and provided the rubric of culturally competent practice across human services disciplines. In 2016, she published Understanding Power: An Imperative for Human Services (NASW Press) with co-editors Patricia Romney and Vanessa Jackson. She helped the BCSSW establish the diversity series which bears her name.
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