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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

My Ni

In his song entitled “The eND,” lyricist Torae, along with Shaquawna Shanté, addresses a topic I think is worth expanding on. The self-examination executed in this jam is similar to how I help clients, as Torae puts forth the following verses:

“Now when my nigga calls me his nigga, I ain’t tripping, ‘cause I figure that he love me, so I feel it’s all good. But when they’re treating us like we’re niggas, they’re choking and pulling triggers, then we wonder how to put a hault to it.”

“And then almost like it was planned, overseas on stage talking to fans. And whether German or Poland, I always cringe at the moment they say, ‘You killed it, my nigga, you the man.’ (Nigga) Damn, ‘cause they don’t even know the origin. They just heard it in every song I perform for them. Be the change you want to see, so who really looking crazy, them or me?”

I have two points of discussion before I delve further into my analysis. First, there is little evidence that Mahatma Gandhi ever uttered the memetic quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” or other variations of this phrase—as Torae makes reference to the quote.

Still, as one person states, “This quote helps us to pay attention to the inner self work we need to do before we attempt to change the world.” I’m here to help people with self-work, not changing the world, so I can appreciate striving to be the change one wishes to observe.

Second, I deem it appropriate to declare that I do not typically support issuance of trigger warnings. Regarding this matter, one study found that such warnings can “increase anxiety responses for participants who strongly believed that words can harm.”

A separate source suggests subsequent studies “found that individuals who received trigger warnings experienced more distress than those who did not.” The priming effect occurs when your exposure to a stimulus influences your response to a subsequent stimulus, as I think use of “trigger warning” primes people to anticipate harm.

As such, I don’t intend on issuing an advisement related to this post. I’ll reference a particular no-no word throughout, and I hope the reader has the emotional maturity, mental fortitude, personal wisdom, and anti-fragility to cope.

While I practice Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), the current post represents my views and not those related to the Albert Ellis Institute. That stated, herein, I’ll address REBT techniques as they pertain to a racialize word.

I will not be using minced oath terms like “n-word” in this entry, because doing so detracts from the message I intend to communicate. If—like the Knights Who Say “Ni”—you petulantly scream when others reference words on your naughty list, I invite you to dispute the irrational beliefs with which you disturb yourself.

Additionally, I maintain that words are not violence. I see little evidence to support the notion that words “cause harm,” though I have no doubt many people may argue otherwise.

Further, I disagree with the idea of “hate speech,” the suggestion that “speech is traumatic in and of itself,” and I question claims linking the free expression of ideas to negative emotion. Others are free to disagree with my views.

I am, after all, an REBT psychotherapist who uses the ABC Model to demonstrate the Epictetusnotion, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Here’s how the model is set up:

(A)ction – The (A)ction that occurred

(B)elief – What you told yourself about the (A)ction that resulted in a (C)onsequence

(C)onsequence – What you felt (emotion or bodily sensation) about what happened and what you did (resulting behavior)

(D)isputation – How you challenge what you told yourself (Belief) about the (A)ction

(E)ffective new belief – What (E)ffective new belief you can tell yourself about the unhelpful or unhealthy (B)elief

People tend to think that an action (A) leads to a consequence (C). A white person using the word “nigga” is conceptualized as traumatic (A) and is said to lead to anger (C).

However, REBT maintains that rather than an A-C connection, we disturb ourselves with irrational beliefs (B)—this creates a B-C connection. These beliefs often come in the form of should, must, or ought narratives.

Therefore, someone uses a racial slur (A) and you think, “This shouldn’t happen, and because it has, I’m being wronged. This shit is traumatic” (B). As a result of this unhelpful belief, you disturb yourself to an angry disposition (C).

This is an A-B-C connection that could use disputation (D) which could lead to an effective (E) new belief (B). Herein, I won’t go into depth about how I challenge unhelpful/unhealthy belief systems with clients.

Torae effectively uses a rational technique to decrease self-disturbance when he declares:

“See, I don’t want to cry no more, see young brothers die no more. And if it mean I got to walk away from my nigga, and I ain’t by his side no more.”

If you would like more information about how I approach REBT, I invite you to read my blog post entitled Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). For a more in-depth understanding about how I practice disputing, I encourage you to read my blog post entitled Disturbing Democracy.

On the topic of what is or isn’t considered traumatic, I propose that not every unpleasant circumstance is akin to trauma. This includes non-black people uttering syllables with their mouths.

As one source states, “The word trauma has been subject to something we call concept creep. It’s when the original concept, let’s say, a different—much more watered down concept—has crept on to it and diluted the meaning of a word quite important, like trauma, like racism, like bigotry, like misogyny, like all the words that we…that we have, you know, out in the public sphere at the minute. And, umm, trauma is a very specific thing.”

In addition to concept creep, there’s a tendency in modern “therapy culture”—especially regarding “multicultural and social justice counseling competencies”—to focus on alloplasic instead of autoplastic reactions. For the sake of argument, let’s suppose you consider racist rhetoric harmful—literally life-threatening.

Which of the following strategies do you think would best serve you? Per one source, an alloplastic adaptation occurs when a person “attempts to change the environment when faced with a difficult situation.” An example is activism.

An autoplastic adaptation is said to happen when a “subject attempts to change itself when faced with a difficult situation.” An example is Stockholm syndrome, wherein an individual changes behavior to cope with the event.

I suppose it’s tempting to advocate change on a societal level. Though, what does that look like? Public policy protection, language policing, physical assaults, or some other method by which you deprive others of their enumerated right to free speech so that you will never again hear the gamer word you oppose?

When working with clients, I explore a concept addressed in a separate blog entry entitled Circle of Concern. Rather than disturbing ourselves with rigid demands of the world, which are rarely obeyed by others, we can practice unconditional acceptance of that over which we have no power or control.

Torae grasps the notion of changing one’s behavior in order to achieve a goal by stating:

“See, I remember in the beginning; in every line, every conversation, and sentence. It’s always been my word, but word, I might end it (Nigga), making change to make a difference.”

Torae’s song “The eNd” opens with a brief monologue from Richard Pryor declaring an end to usage of the word “nigga” by claiming it as “dead.” I, too, went through an evolution with use and then disuse of the word, having grown up biracial and once considering the phrase acceptable.

Yes, dear reader, I used to use “nigga” as a term of endearment, though I now choose not to do so in my day-to-day speech. Part of the reason for my decision relates to Richard Pryor’s description regarding why he stopped using the term.

“It’s nice to have pride about your shit. I went home to the motherland, and everybody should go home to Africa. Everybody, especially black people,” “I was leaving, and I was sitting in a hotel, and a voice said to me, said, ‘Look around, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see all colors of people doing everything.’ You know? And the voice said, ‘Do you see any niggas?’ And, no. And I said, ‘You know why? ‘Cause there aren’t any.’ And it hit me like a shock, man. I started cryin’ and shit. I was sittin’ there, I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been here three weeks, I haven’t said it. I haven’t even thought it. And it made me say, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been wrong. I’ve been wrong. I got to regroup my shit. I mean, I said, ‘I ain’t never gon’ call another black man nigga,” “We never was no niggas. That’s a word that’s used to describe our own wretchedness. And we perpetuate it now.” – Richard Pryor

I recall during the so-called “summer of love” 2020, when reportedly $1 billion-plus in property damage and arguably over 20 deaths resulted from “fiery but mostly peaceful protests” and gatherings. What an example of alloplastic reactivity!

Would less destruction, and more personal reflection and individual change, have led to achievable goals? Is it necessary to force one’s will upon others? Has racism effectively ended following the 2020 events?

In my personal life, there were some people reaching out for “conversation” related to black lives, knowing my dad is black. Presumably, my multiracial genetic makeup affords me some inside knowledge of how 12.4% of the United States population thinks, feels, or behaves. Actually, it doesn’t.

In my professional life, I had some clients express demandingness by bringing activism into sessions. There was a careful balance of REBT disputation of irrational beliefs and unconditional acceptance taking place in those sessions.

Albert Ellis, who pioneered the development of REBT, was said to be a “controversial trailblazer[,] because of his significant contributions to changing long-held archaic and uncivil societal attitudes toward sex, sexuality, diversity, racial prejudice and more.”

I’m uncertain about whether or not Ellis sought to envelope an alloplastic role, or if he was simply working with each client to promote individual change. Given the many texts I’ve read, lectures I’ve listened to, and videos I’ve watched, I don’t get the impression that he set out to rigidly demand others should have obeyed his wishes.

I could be wrong. In one text, Ellis verified, “Although, as a heterosexual, I am not personally adversely affected by this anti-homosexualism, I nonetheless deplore it, just as I deplore anti-Semitism, anti-Negroism, or any similar kind of group discrimination.”

This sentiment more closely aligns with the principles of REBT I was taught when undergoing the certification process. As REBT practitioners, we can dislike use of the word “nigga” or despise racism, though purposely disturbing ourselves by catastrophizing and awfulizing isn’t within the REBT framework.

Ellis is quoted as having said, “As a matter of fact, as a result of my philosophy, I wasn’t even upset about Hitler. I was willing to go to war to knock him off, but I didn’t hate him. I hated what he was doing.”

Nonetheless, I’ve heard some therapists support the occurrence of righteous indignation—said to be “reactive emotion of anger over perceived mistreatment, insult, or malice of another. It is akin to what is called the sense of injustice.” I tend not to agree with such support.

[C]onstructive rage and righteous anger” are often displayed through activist efforts. Per one source, “[B]eing dangerous — getting off the sidelines to speak up, stand up for justice, and show up for each other everywhere — is a necessary response to these dangerous times and the best way to sustain hope amid all the fears.”

Outrage over historical injustice, used as a proverbial cudgel with which one may metaphorically assault so-called “beneficiaries of oppression,” is something I’ll forego. Instead, I’ll take Ellis’ approach, as he once said, “I think it’s unfair, but they have the right as fallible, screwed-up humans to be unfair; that’s the human condition.”

For now, I’ll continue promoting techniques for self-change, similar to how Torae ended his song:

“I mean, I came up using the word, you know? So, I always took it as, ‘Nah, it’s a term of endearment,’ but the older I get, the more mature. It’s like, I understand it’s not. Our forefathers fought and died for that, you know what I mean? That word; and it’s like, no matter how much we march and protest and say we want respect, we got to learn how to respect ourselves first.”

In closing, I invite you to consider the lesson described by one source regarding Biosphere 2, a vivarium science research facility in Arizona:

“[T]hey had trees growing faster than they would grow in the wild. Also, they found that these trees wouldn’t completely mature. Before they could, they used to collapse. Later it was found that this was caused by the lack of wind in the biosphere. And it turns out, wind plays a major role in a trees life. The presence of wind makes a tree stronger, it is thus able to mature and not fall down due to its own weight.”

Are you similar to a tree raised in a bubble? Will you be able to grow strong in the face of adversity or challenge? Will a breeze in the form a mere word cause you to tumble over?

You have options in this life. You can choose to bellow in agony, much like the Knights Who Say “Ni,” because they’ve used low frustration tolerance by convincing themselves that they “can’t stand hearing the word ‘it,” as you tell yourself you can’t stand hearing non-black people using the word “nigga.”

You may also choose to work on yourself rather than inflexibly demanding that others change to suit your desires. So, what will it be, my Ni?

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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