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Mental Health & White Supremacy: Being Critical About Urgency

For those of us who experience anxiety, or are just functioning in our world, you may be familiar with feeling like something must be taken care of right away. This feeling of urgency can often evolve into intense feelings of anxiety, shame, guilt and depression just as easily as it can lead to feeling mobilized and motivated to act. You might always be experiencing a sense of urgency, as if your brain is constantly looking for something — whether it’s work, school or family-related — to fixate on and attach a sense of urgency to.

Urgency has been identified as a tenet of White Supremacy by many racial justice advocates. While this may initially sound strange — maybe you are thinking, well, some things are actually very urgent! — pause and reflect on a recent time you felt urgency. Did it cause you to rush? Did it allow you to prioritize your values and relationships? Did it make it difficult to pause, breathe and reflect?

As Tema Okun writes on her website, “White supremacy and racism invite and condition us into toxic thinking and behavior every day. … White supremacy culture is not urgent about racial justice; white supremacy culture is urgent in the name of short-term power and profit. And white supremacy culture likes to engender a culture of urgency in those of us who are working to dismantle it because it knows that living with a constant sense that everything is urgent is a recipe for the abuse of power and burnout.”

Urgency often feels, almost counterintuitively, safest to us. We have been taught since we were young to value urgency. For many of us, urgency has helped us adapt to situations that might otherwise be hard to cope with (i.e. school or work deadlines). But what does it mean to automatically opt for a sense of urgency instead of slowing down and wondering to ourselves - is this actually urgent? And where is this voice that is demanding more and more of me coming from? What would happen if I choose not to be driven by a sense of urgency? And perhaps most importantly - what are the parts of my life I WANT to feel urgent about, like racial and climate justice, loved ones and beloved communities?

Interested in learning more? Here is a list of common ways urgency shows up in our lives. You may notice there is quite a lot of overlap with how anxiety and depression function in our lives. What to do about it? Try cultivating a practice that expands spaciousness, flexibility, and planning (scroll to the box about urgency). The goal is not to eliminate a sense of urgency - urgency is a helpful, protective state! The goal is to be able to get some space from urgency, to be able to question it, even be a bit critical of it and decide if you’d like to opt in or out of the need to expedite certain parts of your life.

Interested in learning more about tenets of white supremacy culture? This document explains different facets, as well as Okun’s website.

This month, Looking Glass Counseling is pleased to make a donation to Cambridge Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team (HEART). Cambridge HEART is a community-led proactive public safety program that aims to address the immediate needs of people in conflict or crisis (at the moment of crisis). They work toward creating a city free of carceral systems where cycles of violence are replaced with practices of care, healing, transformative accountability and community self-determination.


Sam Barklow is a second-year Masters in Social Work candidate at Boston College. She is a warm and empathetic counselor who believes that all of her clients have the knowledge and abilities to feel more at peace and balanced in their daily lives. She views counseling as an opportunity for both her and clients to explore different perspectives, talk through emotions and to connect with other people.

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