Dialogue – On Microaggressions

What If They Don’t Know Any Better?

A Discussion of Micro-Aggressions In SGVPA

With Drs. Wayne Kao, 

Suzanne Lake and Alex Wong
(Complete Transcript)

Dr. Wong: My name’s Alex. I’m sitting here with Dr. Wayne Kao and Dr. Suzanne Lake. Do you guys each want to say a little bit about yourself?

Dr. Lake: I guess I would say I’m a member of SGVPA board and was with Wayne several years. I’m a clinical psychologist in private practice and originally from the Midwest.

Dr. Kao: I’m Wayne Kao. I was also on the board of SGVPA, I want to say for 5-6 years (kind of lost count) as the Diversity Chair. 

Dr. Lake: We so miss you.

Dr. Kao: I miss being there too. I’m mostly from like…pretty much from Southern California, but patchy times in Taiwan. But very multi-cultural in that aspect. And I created a clinic with my wife. And we’re doing kind of a community private practice to see how that goes. And Alex is my PA.

Dr. Lake: Wow.

Dr. Wong: I am.

Dr. Lake: Cool.

Dr. Wong: So I guess I have my list of questions. But before we jump into this, I think it would be wise maybe to say how this came about, like what your motivations for doing this are.

Dr Kao: Well, you know for me and… I’ll share this. So I had to step down from the board for various personal and professional reasons, for at least temporarily. And I think in talking with the current president at the time, you know there was just some… I realize there was actually a lot of little…. sometimes micro-aggressions, and sometimes little biased statements that would come my way as the Diversity Chair, regarding culture and regarding kind of what the position was.  And I thought it was just something to mention to the President, Leine [Delker] at the time, just to see at least if the board was aware of it…  that it could be helped to navigate. And in the process, you know, Suzanne had asked me to write an articl,e because she’s obviously on the board and had heard.  And, you know, I was very appreciative of the fact that she further reached out after the article to have lunch with me and talk about, you know, what were some of the things that were actually said, but on top of…

Dr. Lake: Yeah, more in detail

Dr. Kao: And then on top of that, what do we do? And how do we make SGVPA not just more outwardly welcoming, but to be able to minimize those little statements that get made that put people a little on the uncomfortable side without anyone really knowing it?

Dr. Lake: Right….   And some of them, I remember one in particular, which we don’t have to go into now, are kind of ambiguous but you can read it as something… you know…. as disrespect

Dr. Kao: Yeah, yeah, like a lot of the you know…. I think this was the more common statement at least being on the board…  just “Oh don’t worry about doing too much as the diversity chair.” And there was more than one…. more than one time.  bBut at the same time, it was a welcoming tone. v And it was a genuine desire to have me on the board or have me part of the membership, but then having this almost odd statement that I didn’t know how to calibrate it or how to interpret it.

Dr. Lake: Yes, exactly because it was ambiguous. vBut what I hear in that, and you know I’m not you, but I just think it’s well to realize that sometimes things can be taken in a way that they weren’t intended because they were ambiguous. vWe said that when I was President of SGVPA. I often would say, “there’s not that much work unless you want it… there’s as much work as you want to do it,” ‘cause we’re trying to encourage them to be on the board and take it on.  So that may or may not have been…

Dr. Kao:  Right, yeah, and there were times where I did have that conversation and that’s how I felt.  But then there were times where that was said and it was also added as “and then the Diversity Chair.” You know? And so…

Dr. Lake: Like secondary.

Dr. Kao: I would get mixed…. And I would look at the person and sometimes it would be someone that has become a friend of mine over the years. You know, this is like high school. 

Dr. Lake: Yeah!

Dr. Kao: This is like when I was a kid, and I’d have friends who would make some comments and they didn’t mean anything by it. But they were still my friend. 

Dr. Lake: Exactly.

Dr. Kao: And so we would go and hang out and nothing would be wrong. But as just growing up and where I grew up is just…   I’m not really sure how to….  what to do with that. 

Dr. Lake: How to handle it. I know 

Dr. Kao: So, and I would just leave it alone.  Just move on, because they were still friends.

Dr. Lake: See that’s the other thing, you know one of your questions here about why we don’t talk about it more.  That’s one of the things, you’re afraid that if you get too deep into it, it’s going to damage the relationship somehow. 

Dr. Kao: Yeah. And especially if they didn’t even know. They just didn’t realize that they said it. And then, we are in such a defensive time in the world, where we have that broad stroke where everything that can be seen as racist or prejudiced is all just bad. 

Dr. Lake: It’s just like there’s no step…  it’s like if you say anything that can be taken that way, you’re a racist or a bigot.  And that’s a misuse of terms, you know?

Dr. Kao:  Right. Yeah.

Dr. Lake: And it kind of cheapens it. 

Dr. Kao:  And certainly, I’ve had comments growing up, and even sometimes as an adult, some people telling me to ‘go back where I came from,” and sometimes I have to laugh, because I was born in Orange County!  And it’s just odd. And those are obvious statements. But I can’t compare that in the same vein of somebody says, “Oh I knew you were going to be really good at math.” 

Dr. Lake: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Dr. Kao: Which I am.  But at the same time, it’s…again, I don’t know if it was a rude comment or…

Dr. Lake: It speaks a stereotype that lumps you in with everybody else. 

Dr. Kao:  But it is a stereotype. But it’s not mean -spirited. It’s not meant to harm somebody. 

Dr. Lake: In fact, it might be a wrong-headed way to flatter you. 

Dr. Kao: Yeah, you know the kind of back-handed…. sometimes a back-handed compliment.

Dr. Lake: Exactly.

Dr. Kao: ‘Cause what if I wasn’t good at math.

Dr. Lake: That’s right! That kind of reminds me of when I first met Martin Xia. 

Dr. Kao: Oh yes.

Dr. Lake: He said, “Hi,” you know, “I’m Martin.” And he goes, “And I’m one of the only Chinese people you’ll ever meet who’s not good at math.” He started out like that!  Dr. Kao: And now he’s not alone. I know a lot of students who are not good at math.

Dr. Lake: Really?

Dr. Kao: So yeah, I think it’s just this conversation is a good start to be able to give room for those levels. And to be able to see what we can do to further that, at least starting with the microcosm of SGVPA. And see what we can do because we are a branch of CPA. We’re collaborate with LACPA. And then members are part of their respective memberships that they’re a part of. And how to expand that out. 

Dr. Lake: What you just said is really, to me, is one of the answers— to dial down jumping on somebody, because then nobody wants to be singled out. And everyone…  If I can make a micro-aggression without even realizing it, then I’m really afraid to open my mouth. You know? Let alone get into a discussion. You don’t want to commit yourself to anything, ‘cause it might be taken the wrong way. I’m getting ahead of myself. But that’s one of the things.

Dr. Kao: But actually, something that I’ve long felt is, what if a micro-aggression isn’t actually aggressive? 

Dr. Lake:  You mean if the words themselves aren’t aggressive.

Dr. Kao:  Yeah, if the action to it…

Dr. Wong: I feel like Suzanne brought up earlier, like when you were President, you would sometimes talk to the other board members and what you were meaning to emphasize was that the position’s very flexible, right?  And then it came out and it may have been interpreted as you belittling the position.

Dr. Lake: Yes. 

Dr. Wong: I guess in that instance, I would understand it being a micro-aggression but not being aggressive in nature. 

Dr. Lake: Oh I see.

Dr. Wong: But yeah, so Suzanne, why don’t you tell us why you decided to reach out and initiate this back and forth.

Dr. Lake: Well, because I first heard about what Wayne said in his exit interview, I think, from Ellen [Kwon].  And I was just really, kind of distressed about that. 

Dr. Kao: Okay. 

Dr. Lake: Not in a way against you, but just the fact that that … I don’t know if you meant among the members in general, or among the board. But I took it to mean that among the board, they would say things.

Dr. Kao: I think the most obvious is the board, because I was on the board. So those were the people I was really talking to. But it was also at events with members who weren’t necessarily talking about a position, but you know, other comments that would come my way.  And I think that was the hard thing, ‘cause I grew up with a lot of those little comments.  So it wasn’t upsetting, so to speak, because I’ve been so used to it. But at the same time, thinking, “I constantly hear psychologists are supposed to know better.” 

Dr. Lake: Exactly, that’s why I was shocked. I was like, really?

Dr. Kao: And again, I go into levels of, “What if we don’t know better?” Because I’ve certainly said things about a few people where I had to backtrack and say, “I really didn’t mean anything by that and I’m sorry.” And then we were okay. So you know, but then…you know, kind of going back and forth, and having to decide if somebody was really trying to put me down as kind of like…. kind of “other” psychologist, or as one who’s just a little less than. But that they’re welcoming and that they are, you know, being nice. 

Dr. Lake: Oh right, like gracious to you, because they’re gracious to you because you deserve it.

Dr. Kao: Right, and I’ve grown up in community mental health as a professional academia teaching…   I guess some of the lower paying jobs. 

Dr. Lake: I never thought of that.

Dr. Kao: But working the kind of like the high stress, high population, low low income. And lots of crisis. And so it’s the work people don’t want to do. And it’s sort of looked down upon. And then having that…. those comments. And again, going back and forth of well who are genuinely kind and maybe kind of just said something that they really didn’t…. that wasn’t belittling at all, but just was a biased comment. Versus some, who kind of subconsciously did mean to put people in a certain place.

Dr. Lake: How do you detect which is which? 

Dr. Kao: Face scanning. There’s a lot of little…

Dr. Lake: A human lie detector!

Dr. Kao: Yeah, without squinting at them. But just kind of like, you know, just continue the conversation and looking at their face, like you know, are they…  these are thoughts that come to my head… “Are they arrogant?” “Are they kind?” “Are they maybe a little nervous/anxious?” Almost in a way, being a psychologist without making it too obvious.

Dr. Lake: That’s right!

Dr. Kao: And then, also if they’re my friends.

Dr. Lake: And what would that tell you? That they didn’t mean offense at all?

Dr. Kao: Thatit helps me just kind of figure out whether or not they’re being even subconsciously hostile, or if they’re not. And if they just come from the world that they live in. 

Dr. Lake: Exactly.

Dr. Kao: And kind of, we talk about…. I’ve started talking more about ego and ethnocentrism is just this is the way I grew up and this is the way I live my life. These are the people I’ve been around, and this is how I understand people to be.  And so when you don’t fit into that it’s “Oh, I’m not sure how to take that.” And it’s not bad, it’s just, “I’m not really sure what to do in this situation now.” 

Dr. Lake: So that may not be the person that’s as much appalled, as you will, as it is the…the society that he or she identifies with, and is just a mouthpiece of it, without having discriminated. What does that really mean? How could that really feel?

Dr. Kao: And so like kind of one of the… this is some of the differences that is that I grew up in Encinitas where it was a very white town. And we were the only Chinese family. 

Dr. Lake: Really?

Dr. Kao: In contrast with Alex. He grew up in Alhambra where it is very Asian. And so for me kind of part of our own personal ethnocentrism is we’re both Chinese-Asian (like our mix) and yet, we can be lumped into the same category often times. But we also grew up with very different viewpoints, like vantage points, of what our lives were. My Asian-ness was very apparent because we were the only ones. And so it was always in my face. Whereas Alex, he could have kind of a certain anonymity where in terms of culture that, you know, cause everyone else was that way. 

Dr. Wong: A little bit of both, stepping into the more mainstream sort of American world, and then back into my cultural enclave. So a little bit of both I would say. 

Dr. Lake: I have a patient who’s Hispanic. And he grew up in East LA. And he said he never encountered any racism that he identified as such until he got to college. 

Dr. Kao: Oh yeah. Actually my wife and I talk about that because we both went to Santa Cruz. But she came from the Bay, where it was very multicultural. And she said she really didn’t actually have that many classmates who were Caucasian. And then again, for me, well I came from San Diego where everybody was Caucasian. But then we both landed in Santa Cruz. And she had a culture shock. And I just thought, “It’s the beach. It’s like San Diego. It’s just a little weirder. It’s a little hippier.”

Dr. Lake: Santa Cruz was that white?

Dr. Kao: Gosh, yeah. Maybe different now. But at the time, I mean this was…. It was like 20 years ago. But it was still predominately Caucasian. And so it was really just shifting another location with pretty much the same population for me. But her and I are both Asian, and it was the same vantage point. It’s a similar place… like we landed in the same place, but because we grew up so differently.

Dr. Lake: Do you think it’s better one side or the othe— to grow up with it, and still then feel the sting of micro-agressions..? 

Dr. Kao: I think it’s different, but equally, you get benefits and drawbacks to both sides. Because she had the culture shock. And for me, it was like home, but in the woods. You know, ’cause it’s Santa Cruz. But we were able to talk about that. And to this day, she still sort of struggles with it a little bit because it’s just something that she’s not accustomed to. And for me, I am. But then there are certain things that she can blend in a lot easier in other areas than I can. 

Dr. Lake: And why is that? 

Dr. Kao: Like being in the Bay, being around a lot more people of color, a lot more different cultures.

Dr. Lake: Oh I see.

Dr. Kao: I didn’t get that as much until I got to Santa Cruz. And there was, you know, more cultural differences. But she was like, “Well this is just people.” She just didn’t realize there weren’t any Caucasian people in her mix. Whereas I had all of that. And then, “Oh, okay, these are Polynesians. These are…the black community.” And I just really didn’t grow up with that a lot. And so I got that later on. 

Dr. Lake: I think I haven’t answered your question yet. So let me just say that I want to bring attention,attention, of more people to this issue that Wayne had shined the light on. 

Dr. Kao: And I’m glad that she did, because I…  After having written the article or talking to Leine at the time, I did wonder, “Huh, I wonder if anybody’s gonna…. if it’s going to matter.”

Dr. Lake: Exactly. 

Dr. Kao: Or if just going to be one of those, “Oh, okay.” And there might be people afraid to say something. So I’m glad that Suzanne did.

Dr. Lake: No, I’m glad I did too. But I still think one of the things in your questions here gets to the issue—how do we address that resistance to talking about these things, or to even ask you a question about it?  Or to wanting to discuss it. I mean I think it’s really important to think about ways to do that, because otherwise it just doesn’t go anywhere. And we can say, “Oh, that’s interesting” and go along. 

Dr. Kao: Yeah, I agree.

Dr. Wong: Shall we move on to the questions?

Dr. Kao and Dr. Lake: Sure.

Dr. Wong: So the first question has to do with psychological organizations and their lack of diversity. So just interested in knowing, what comes to mind when you guys see that? And I guess for me, my perspective on this is, it’s interesting to see how we separate into different psychological associations by ethnicity.  So like Asian American Psychological Association. Or there’s an association for black psychologists. Or there’s an association for another ethnicity of psychology. So we separate by ethnicity basically. 

But in the larger organizations that aren’t by ethnicity, membership, at least to me, tends to be more on the white side. So what comes to mind for you guys when you guys look at these kind of organizations? 

Dr. Lake: Well I think that one thing needs to be at the top of my list. If I had to say it is, I would think that maybe being from Chinese culture, or someone from a minority, might feel intimidated to try to get involved with an organization that’s mainly white. Or maybe they’re…. maybe they’d rather be with their own ethnicity. Or this is most important, maybe we haven’t made the effort to recruit, and then most of the people are white and bring in their white friends, you know, and that’s just affiliation.  

Dr. Kao: Yeah, and I think there’s a natural part of that. You bring your friends in. And whoever your friends are are the people that come. And some are much more diverse and some are not for better and for worse. But I think we do naturally kind of stick to what’s the most familiar or within proximity too. So there’s a part of that that is a very natural piece to it. 

Dr. Lake: Very.  

Dr. Kao: You know, I get really kind of a mixed feeling of seeing kind of the different organizations that are out there because one end, I see the need for it. You know, to address the specific issues within certain communities. But I think even though every organization is speaking English and is essentially speaking the same language… I’ve grown up knowing that English can be spoken—any language can be spoken— with kind of a different linguistics. Like there’s a different frequency of the way people talk, what they say, how they say it. And I’ve noticed a strong difference of when I go to the community mental health clinic, depending on what community they’re serving versus, like, a more Caucasian-specific, or just represented organization and seeing the conversations that are being had, but then also the way the conversations are being had. 

Dr. Lake: For example?

Dr. Kao: Like I’ve been in South Central for a year. I’ve done work at the Asian Pacific Family Center. And then sometimes community mental health as a whole; it’s just a big mix of population. Versus SGVPA. I’ve done the LACPA thing. And when…  there’s definitely, and this is really just a kind of emotional frequency of….  community mental health is very communally based.  You know you work their agencies.  And you work with people, and a lot of time people are bringing food.  And there’s a communal aspect to us trying to do the work together. And so…. And we talk about clients who are underserved, really struggling. It’s community mental health and it’s non-profit. 

But then sometimes I’ll shift into SGVPA, or LACPA.  And it’s a little bit…much more private practice oriented. So that population that’s being served are generally more upper-middle class. And so the conversations shift.  And so if… fortunately for me, I do both. And so, I love both conversations. But for those who are solely one or the other, either one is going to feel very odd, like they don’t know where they fit in. And so, I’ve brought a lot of my friends to SGVPA events, LACPA events. And it’s the common feeling of, “I had a great time, but I don’t really know if this is for me.” 

Dr. Lake: This is not my tribe. 

Dr. Kao: But they can’t identify other than, “it’s very Caucasian.” Like other than that, they can’t really say specifically what’s said. And for me, that’s what I notice. The kinds of conversations based on who’s…like the population being served, the work that people are doing. 

Dr. Lake: So that would probably be one reason why you could say that there weren’t minority members of SGVPA, right?

Dr. Kao: Yeah, and sometimes, see even down to the chit-chat, like, I could even say, and this is really colloquial, but the jokes that are being made. And they’re not at anyone’s expense. It’s just different cultures have different kinds of jokes and different ways of laughing, different ways of commenting on society. And so it’s…you can be more comfortable in one than the other. 

And unfortunately, a lot of the mainstream organizations are, you know, Caucasian. But then the culture-specific organizations are also not very diverse in it of itself because they are separate. And understandably so. But we have that work to do. But it was interesting, ‘cause I’m actually glad we’re having… the timing of this discussion because I think the Asian American Psych Association conference was over the weekend. And my wife was asked to be a part of the symposium. And we shared a similar feeling of “I don’t know if we’re comfortable with going.” 

Dr. Lake: Really?

Dr. Kao: I didn’t go. I drove her there, and then I chose to see some family because it was in San Diego. But she…. because there were certain things…. like just the way certain things played out that even though she was asked to be a part of the panel, she was required to pay for it. And then she was required to pay for the whole weekend. Even though she was just going. And there was no, whether it was a discount, or a just a one day fee. We were trying to go through all the amalgamations. And we kind of thought, “Well, what is AAPA trying to be?” Like, “What’s happening?” Like, “Why Asian American communities are supposed to be a little more communal?” But are they trying too hard to be mainstream?

Dr. Lake: Well I think mainstream would mean they would comp everything to serve on a panel. 

Dr. Kao: That’s what I thought. And so I was wondering if they were trying to be…  make more money, you know, to be able to represent or was an oversight? Maybe we don’t know. 

Dr. Wong: So what do you mean by mainstream?

Dr. Kao: I think a lot of times if people from non-Caucasian cultures are trying to fit into the mainstream, they try to fit in in the way that they think they’re supposed to be. And I think…. sometimes I think it’s a lot of is…. and it could be SES too…. is that they were trying to I guess match the prestige. And if you match the prestige, it’s going to cost you. 

Dr. Lake: Yes. 

Dr. Kao: And it speaks to different levels of Asian psychologists and mental health professionals. Those who can and cannot afford it. 

Dr. Lake: Right. See, I thought you were going to say in communal cultures, there’s more willingness to everybody contribute to…  like more generosity is what I’m trying to say. 

Dr. Kao: And then I think that’s where the split happens. Where even in this case, the Asian community can even have their own differences. There’s the non-profit community mental health kind of Asian population, or people who grew up maybe in middle to lower-middle SES versus those who grew up with money, immigrated with money. They weren’t really worrying about whether or not they were going to make it. And so then they speak to a different… and maybe more SES. And so they may want to set those boundaries…. set those rules so people on the lower end of that spectrum can’t actually break in…  like break through. 

Dr. Wong: So it’s like if you have a certain amount of prestige then paying for the whole weekend is no big deal because you’re used to paying for everything already. 

Dr. Lake: Yeah, but it’s not like the rich people don’t like freebies. 

Dr. Wong: I’m not disputing that. 

Dr. Lake: It’s not they can’t, they’re flattered to not have to. 

Dr. Kao: Well, more than that, and this is me in my culture growing up, is that if you come from more wealth, it’s that you should want to pay…  you should pay for this, because this means that it’s more valuable. 

Dr. Lake: Wait who should pay for what? 

Dr. Kao: Like if you pay for the conference, you should pay for the whole weekend because it’s… it means it’s valuable. 

Dr. Lake: Oh I see, right.

Dr. Kao: It’s like the more expensive something is, the more valuable. 

Dr. Lake: That’s right. That’s why we all have to charge for our sessions. 

Dr. Kao: And then it creates that automatic schism of those who can’t afford it, and those who can. And then the judgements then come. Sometimes both ways. 

Dr. Lake: Part of the problem is you’re talking…. there are great chasms between social classes in this country. I think maybe more than there used to be. Or at least there’s more people in the top end with the shrinking middle class and all of that. And then there’s these homeless people all over the place. It’s like this country has become so stratified, not just by race, but by socioeconomics.

Dr. Kao: Yeah, and it shows in our field. And I think we, again, quote-unquote, we’re supposed to know better. But beyond the comments that I said about being, you know, the Diversity Chair, I’ve also heard a lot of comments of people saying, “Oh, that’s great you’re in community mental health. When are you going to stop?” 

Dr. Lake: [laughs] When are you going to stop? When are you going to graduate? 

Dr. Kao: “You know, the private sector is really where it’s at.” And I just thought, “Yeah, financially—and I don’t disagree on that end.  And, I love private practice. I love being able to do what I want to do, kind of have my own dictation of what I…. how I practice. But there’s all these people who need help.  And yeah, I don’t make as much money.  I’m not going to dispute that.  But if money is the determination of the value, then I guess they’re not wrong. But I get those comments in mainstream boards or mainstream memberships. And if they’re saying it, I have to wonder if maybe they’re projecting a certain kind of energy or frequency out there to where people can feel it. 

Dr. Lake: Yes, I think you’re right to have that question in your head. But I also think that everybody assumes that everybody else is out to make more money. That’s kind of a very American thing. Let’s just assume that as you as you can, you will—because we’re all about making the big bucks, you know! 

Dr. Kao: Capitalism.

Dr. Lake: But especially in America. And I have friends in Europe. And one time I was talking about…or he was talking about his new job. And I said, “I hope you’re enjoying it.” And he goes, “Yeah I am.” And I said, “I hope you’re making a lot of money.” He goes, “You are such an American.” 

Dr. Kao: And we are in California too. 

Dr. Lake: That’s true. 

Dr. Kao: So there’s almost a kind of necessity… almost, just to survive.

Dr. Lake: To have a lot of money.

Dr. Kao: Just to make…just to be able to pay for what you want to pay…   like what you need to pay for.  

Dr. Lake: Exactly. So there…. that might be less a disparagement of community mental health, and more of an avarice. 

Dr. Kao: Right. And actually, in tracking it for over 10 years now, I don’t the pay has changed in community mental health. 

Dr. Lake: No kidding.

Dr. Kao: But the cost of living in California is moving [up]. And so it is an unfortunate problem. It’s almost kind of like being a teacher. 

Dr. Lake: Yeah, that’s a good comparison!

Dr. Kao: It’s just the pay hasn’t changed, but they’re still doing it. 

Dr. Lake: That’s right, and “When are you going to get out of that and do something else?”

Dr. Kao: “When are you going to stop?” Well, I don’t want to stop! And ultimately that’s why I decided to start the clinic the way it is. What if we could take the private practice part of it but then project it into the community and still do outreach…. still do the things that community non-profit does, but without the government oversight…   just the documentation. But then it still…. the comment comes in, “When are you going to stop?” or “Isn’t the pay insulting in a way?” 

Dr. Lake: I see that.

Dr. Kao: Yeah, the pay is insulting. But it’s not the work. Let’s separate that. But those comments come about.

Dr. Lake: Well, I think you set yourself apart in a good way, you know. When you look at it that way. 

Dr. Kao: Thank you.

Dr. Lake: Yeah, people don’t assume that. People don’t think that way a lot of the times. 

Dr. Kao: And then the truth be told, there are times that I left the job in community because the pay just…. I needed more. I needed to find something else. But I also made it clear, it’s not the work. It’s not the patients. It’s not the coworkers. It’s… I need money.    I need something a little bit more. 

Dr. Wong: I feel like since SES has come up, I’ll bring up what we talked about yesterday Dr. Kao, which was, I feel like the segregation along socioeconomic lines starts really early. It starts in training. because I just graduated last year from my program, so I was mentioning to Dr. Kao, like, in our program, there are things you have to pay for yourself that cannot be paid for by student loans. So you need…. I’ll give this example, like, one of the requirements for graduation was 45 hours of psychotherapy with a licensed psychologist. So I was, you know, lucky I was able to find a kind-hearted psychologist who was able to offer me confirmation on this scale.  But for individuals who weren’t that lucky, that’s you know, like even for me, I ended up spending thousands of dollars on psychotherapy that isn’t covered on my student loans. And if I didn’t have that, then I wouldn’t be able to graduate. 

Dr. Kao: To which student loans are already astronomical. 

Dr. Wong: And I have tons of loans, so don’t get me started on that! But, I was mentioning to Dr. Kao, I feel like in our field, like we have our doctoral level and we have our Master’s level. And the bifurcation is very natural along those lines because in order to get a Master’s degree, the investment’s cheaper, you can go a public school to do it. You know you can go to a public university to do it. There isn’t usually the psychotherapy requirement like I was mentioning. And then when they get out into the field, they do many of the similar things that we do. And they do it more in the community mental health settings. And their loans are less. You know, so there’s a natural sort of segregation already. People who can afford to become psychologists, well, they become psychologists. 

Dr. Lake: You’ve seen that that group is disproportionately white, is that part of what you’re saying?

Dr. Wong: It might be. It might be. I mean in my cohort, certainly I feel like I’ve never seen more white people in Alhambra before. You know? And like we’re sitting in Alhambra, and then I would just go onto campus and then just like the white numbers would spike. But, you know, it’s like I’ve also had colleagues who just were not white, but came from wealthy families. And the wealthy families could afford the entire bill for this PsyD degree, which cost almost $200,000, you know? 

Dr. Kao: And by doing something [like that]….  it’s easier to acculturate or assimilate into the mainstream culture or just fit in.

Dr. Wong: Yeah, they know how to act and speak and present…  sort of sell yourself in a way, I think, that isn’t as common

Dr. Lake: Isn’t as common in minorities? Oh, that’s really intriguing, ‘cause I would think those kinds of how to act and how talk and how to be and pretty much any segment of society is already available online, on movies, on tv.  So what you’re saying is kind of, “No, not so much. People can see it, but they don’t really learn it unless they’re participating.” 

Dr. Wong: Yeah, and I also think it depends on what movies you’re watching, you know. 

Dr. Lake: Yeah.

Dr. Wong: You know, what books you’re reading. I think, you know, there’s some responsibility for the individual, of course. It’s not that, like, the system’s all messed up and so it’s all the system’s fault. But I think, we in mental health, there’s this two-tier system, you know?  I would probably argue the vast majority of clients are seen by Master’s level clinicians…  And then, you know, the Bachelor’s program allows you to work while you’re doing school, to have children while you’re at school. It’s more flexible. Whereas, the doctorate level requires you to be able to work for free. You know, “Accrue all of your hours, and if you have a family, then I hope you have separate financial arrangement for your family.” 

Dr. Kao: I think sometimes—and this brings me back to grad school ‘cause I was the co-chair of Asian Pacific Student Network—and I remember one of my mentors had mentioned prior to me starting, and this is within culture, and part of that issue of socioeconomic status is that…   he was talking about there was a time, a couple years before I had started, where the Asian Pacific Student Network was split in this kind of half, where the people in charge came from a degree of money, and they were all Asian. And so they would hold events at like a Cheesecake Factory, or places where you naturally have to pay a little bit to be there.  And it would look a little strange if you went and you maybe ordered like a side salad or something small.  And so then there were the Asian students who were on student loans, didn’t have a lot of money, who couldn’t afford to go to those events. And this was very specific to the Asian Student Network. And so, nobody said anything. And it was just this unspoken split. And because the students that were in charge had more money, it was, “Well, this is just where we wanted to have the event.” And it’s the, “You don’t have to have money to come.” You know, “you can order something light or whatever the case is. But we still want you to come.” But it still feels awkward. And then students who didn’t have a lot of money were, “I just won’t go. It’s not for me.” But this was happening within a culture.

Dr. Lake: Yeah, yeah, no, I hear you.

Dr. Kao: And I think that happens within SGVPA. It can be a kind of schism of…   I think of a student who…. well the student fees are pretty low for our membership. But then I hear from a lot of students that, “Oh, well I don’t know if I can afford to go.” And I have to remind them that a lot of the events are free. And you can get free appetizers. Most of the time they give you a free alcoholic beverage on top of it! So you really don’t actually have…outside of the fee itself of the membership, you really don’t have to spend anything almost. But it’s like a feeling. 

Dr. Lake & Dr. Wong: Right.

Dr. Kao: It’s an intuition…  it’s a feel that’s not necessarily true because there’s a lot of freedom.  

Dr. Lake: That’s really discour,aging because look, we bend over backwards to offer the free…

Dr. Kao: We’ve been on the board. We were both on the board. We were trying to make all of this stuff for the students free.

Dr. Lake: Yeah, exactly. And nobody’s paying attention to it anyway.

Dr. Kao: And people just have this feeling of “I mean it just feels expensive. It just feels like it’s something that I’m gonna have to pay for something. And I almost have to cajole them, “No, you really don’t. You really really don’t.” And it’s almost like they can’t get past it.

Dr. Lake: See, now that kind of speaks to what I was saying before. And this is way down on the list of probable causes, but where the people themselves are either intimidated or too shy or avoidant.

Dr. Kao: And then sometimes, then sometimes, that’s on them. 

Dr. Lake: Yeah

Dr. Kao: And then we can’t take responsibility for all of it. But we can look at what we’re doing. So it’s, you know,… I think that’s a very long discussion. 

Dr. Wong: So I’ll be mindful about time. There are 6 questions that are left still.

Dr. Kao: I think it shows how…  how important this discussion is, and how long overdue.

Dr. Wong: So, okay, the next question….  If you’ve ever been accused of saying something sensitive to another person due to their minority status, what were the thoughts or feelings that came up for you? Do you ever become defensive?

Dr. Lake: [jokingly] Never!

Dr. Wong: Oh okay. Let’s write that one down.

Everyone laughs.

Dr. Lake: Well, of course I get defensive. I think most people are…. particularly as a psychologist ‘cause you…. you kinda think you’re going to be the one who is super-sensitive, you know? And then when somebody says that you’re not. So yeah, I think I would get defensive. I think, and you said, after you talked with Leine about everything that you…  people came forward and said, “Did I say something?”  I think I even said, “I hope I’m not one of the people!”

Dr. Kao: I think you were one of them that said, “I might’ve said something, but I don’t remember.  So I’ll just preemptively apologize.” But then, I appreciate it, because we all have. And I’m sure I’ve said things where people just never told me. And I don’t remember if I did. And I go home thinking, “Did I say something? And should I apologize? Cause maybe they just actually didn’t say anything.”

Dr. Lake: So would you say that if you were called out on it, that you would be defensive? 

Dr. Kao: If they’re…. If they’re angry. If they look like they came for a fight, then I’ll be defensive cause it’s usually along the lines of, for me being a male and maybe in a position of power now it was 10 years since I graduated…. over 10…. So when people tell me I have to see my privilege, it’s an implication I have to atone for [something]. But I just made a comment, and I really didn’t mean anything by it, and I’m apologizing, but it’s not enough. And I just don’t know what’s left to do. And that’s when I get defensive of the…. when somebody tells me, “You have to.” And I’m already a fairly litigious person in my head! So when somebody tells me I have to do something, I’m not very good at listening. So then I just want to fight. But usually when people come with that intent of “You have to see what you did.” I don’t know if it’s congruent. 

Dr. Lake: Maleness is a stigma in and of itself. 

Dr. Kao: And it’s like, “Oh no, but I don’t know if I did anything.” And so those are the times. But when somebody….  honestly, when somebody comes to me and says, “You said something the other day, and I just kind of wanted to talk to you about it.” “You know, I said it— and immediately felt bad. I was hoping you just didn’t hear it. But since you did, I am sorry.”  It was amicable and it was a great conversation. 

Dr. Lake: Was it a racial thing? 

Dr. Kao: It was a racial thing. But it was kind of a slip of the tongue comment that I made. And it’s one of those where it’s, “Oh, I didn’t even really think to say it that way.” And then it came out that way. So what was in my head wasn’t communicated appropriately. And there was an insinuation which again wasn’t congruent to the intention. But we were able to talk and I think it helps. And I think I’m jumping the gun a little bit, but when you make friends, not that they’ll give you a pass, but they know who you are. 

Dr. Lake: That’s true. 

Dr. Kao:  So they’ll say, “Okay, I know you didn’t mean anything by it, but you know you said it.”

Dr. Lake: And that raises your consciousness. So hopefully…

Dr. Kao: Yeah, and it’s like, “Yeah I really have never said that before. But um…whoops!” 

Dr. Wong: I mean that would be like a good instance of owning it, but not feeling like you’ve been defeated by it in that interaction. Because Dr., like you’ve said sort of like kowtow to that. I don’t think that it’s always necessarily the case that when something comes out your mouth that can be construed as offensive, and then you get into that interaction with that individual, and then it’s identified as offensive. Then you necessarily have to kowtow to it. I mean it could be a bunch of misstatements. It could be a variety of things. 

And I think in order to get any further along in this conversation, not this one in particular, but just like about issues regarding racism and our society the conversation has to be much more open. 

Dr. Kao: Oh yeah.

Dr. Wong: Like where the conversation isn’t centered around whether you are racist or not a racist, like these are bifurcated two category things. So, I mean we’re not going to get along because then… if I call you a racist, then you’re defensive. 

Dr. Kao: Right.

Dr. Wong: And now we’re going to fight. 

Dr, Kao: And such a bold thing to say. Like, you know, I hope that if you say it, you really have a…. like it’s true. I really hope it’s true. Because if it’s not, now we’re…. it’s going to be an unfortunate end in battle.

Dr. Lake: Exactly. Exactly right.

Dr. Kao: But I think …. It’s kind of a difference between looking at content, and looking at intention. 

Dr. Lake: Right.

Dr. Kao: You know, yes, you’ve said this thing, but what was the intention behind it. Was it just an unfortunate choice of words? You know, I think of…. This is a really good example. In the NBA….  In basketball, when Jeremy Lin was becoming really popular, I think the moment that he started to be less good that I think that in the media they would say, “Oh, is this his chink in the armor?” 

Dr. Lake: Oh no, come on!

Dr. Kao: And I read it, and I’m like, “Oh geez.” Now, if you just look at it and you don’t even look at the person that it was intended for, it’s a perfectly fine question. And I have to think when the person who wrote it or said it, did they make the connection? 

Dr. Lake: I bet they didn’t. Like that would be the stupidest thing ever! 

Dr. Kao: And had it been a white player or black player, it would just be “Oh okay, moving on.” Or they’d have a discussion about just the content, is it true? But because he was the first Taiwanese American player, it’s a problem. But did he mean it? And I don’t know. And I don’t know the person. 

Dr. Lake: I bet you a million dollars he didn’t mean it.

Dr. Kao: But maybe on some subconscious level. That’s a very derogatory word to use. It’s a very derogatory word. 

Dr. Lake: It’s a horrible word. You know what, then you’re betrayed by your synapses— because when you were impressionable, associations are almost easier [when you are] unconsciously making a connection, which you would never want to make if it was conscious. 

Dr. Kao: But then we have the [inaudible] culture right now that’s like, “How horrible of a thing.” 

Dr. Lake: Oh I know.

Dr. Wong: Yeah.

Dr. Kao: Can we just kind of…

Dr. Lake: Get along

Dr. Kao: Talk. Get along and then talk. Open us up like, “Did you mean it?” 

Dr. Lake: Right

Dr. Kao: Have a discussion.

Dr. Wong: I think that intersect with issues of privilege too, you know? It’s because these people are out in the spotlight, and we kind of see these people as making the examples of the society. When they do something, it has much greater impact than when somebody else who’s not as in the media spotlight.

Dr. Lake: That’s why you could argue that they have to have a higher level….  a higher bar to meet in terms of not being affected. If they have that much impact on people

Dr. Kao: And I would say, at least in our field, most people are good people. 

Dr. Lake: I think so, yeah. 

Dr. Kao: And so, I think I’m a good person. And so when somebody says I’ve horribly offended them and they’re really angry and they’re not going to let me go. They’re not going to let me off the hook. My first thought is, “I’m a good person. Like I really didn’t mean it to be this way. And now I’m getting really attacked for it and it just doesn’t feel like it’s matching what I said or did.”

Dr. Lake: That’s the worst feeling.

Dr. Kao: “Can we move on?” versus “Oh yeah, I did say it and I gotta go home and kind of think about it like what I meant.”

Dr. Lake: Is there any…. not retaliation, but retort or repartee with someone who’s really going at you for having made a misstatement? Is it ever enough, you could say, “Back off. I understand you feel that way, but you don’t have the right to talk to me that way. I don’t think you should act that way to me. Or are we losing the big picture? Can we, in other words, push back on somebody that’s coming at us to say?

Dr. Kao: I think, and this is just for me, when it has been put in my direction, and it’s not ending, the comment….  the question I end up asking is, “What is it that you need?” 

Dr. Lake: Yeah, “What do you want from me?”  

Dr. Kao: ‘Cause I’ve apologized. If it’s not sincere to you, I’m not sure. But what is it that you need right now because we’ve had this…. now we’ve talked about this for a little while now? What is it that you’re looking for? Because I can see us going on about this for another 30 minutes without a resolution. So…

Dr. Lake: What do you need?

Dr. Kao: What do you need? And I might be defensive, “What do you need? What are you getting out of this?”

Dr. Wong: I think it’s as much about the nonverbal as it is about the verbal. Like you could say, “Calm down!” You know, and that’s very different from you exhibiting calmness [to de-escalate the situation]. 

Dr. Lake: That’s true.

Dr. Wong: And the client…   sees you as a model of the calm, and you’re not feeding into the crisis. And so, maybe the tone of voice and the speed at which you move and if you sit down that makes a big difference. “Okay, let’s sit down. And have…. let’s talk about this.” 

Dr. Lake: Like civilized people.

Dr. Wong: Yeah 

Dr. Kao: Or..  and I been using this, like “reasonable people.” What’s been the reasonable apology, the reasonable mea culpa? Just a reasonable comment. 

Dr. Wong: Let’s trudge on. So the next question is about difference between willful ignorance and unintentional ignorance. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this issue. I think we’ve touched on it quite a bit already thought. But I guess this is pointing to your…  how do you do judge it, one, whether someone is exhibiting willful ignorance or unintentional ignorance. And then, having judged it, sort of to see which one it is, how do you react to it? 

Dr. Kao: I think for me, it goes back to what I had said earlier about sometimes face scanning. 

Dr. Lake: You have that superpower. Not everyone has that superpower. 

Dr. Kao: And again, this comes to making friends for me…. for me making friends. So if I know my friends, I know what their intentions generally are, unless I really did miss something. So a lot of times it’s having those…I don’t want to say “tools” that sounds a little cold. But just things that I do. And how I want to live my life to help me better able to see the people around me. 

Dr. Lake: That’s nice.

Dr. Kao: But again, because I grew up in a way having been trained so much…unintentionally trained so much to hear these comments and think like, “Oh this is my friend or this is my teacher.” 

Dr. Lake & Wong: Yeah.

Dr. Kao: And then again, I have endless examples of like high school substitute teachers who told me that they knew that I wasn’t going to cause any trouble. And that they were so glad that I was there. 

Dr. Lake: They probably thought that was not offensive because they were making a positive generalization.

Dr. Kao: Yeah, and then “I really like you. I hope you come back and substitute teach cause it was a nice class. You said that and….  and I still want you to come and teach…” now I’m conflicted. Now I have a conflict. But then as I get older, I just realize, one, he’s an older gentleman. And two, he’s no different than sometimes an uncle or an aunt who just says sometimes prejudice things, but you love the hell out of them. You know, my parents are not…They used to say so many prejudicial things towards their customers cause we own a restaurant. But I was always very glad that no matter what they still served them like nothing was different. But sometimes make harsh comments like, “Oh god, can you just say that…Say that at home if you’re going to have to say it!” But then, they would still be kind, you know, and serve and everything was the same, you know. And it makes me think of you know anybody who’s older, but has prejudices, but would treat everybody fairly at the same time. So the action doesn’t match the word. 

Dr. Lake: Right. That’s a good point. Or like, what was it?…. Jesse Jackson said something about hymie-town one point about New York City [which was a slur against Jews]. People that—especially politicians—that somebody’s got a mic on and they don’t know, they’ll say these things…

Dr. Wong: Oh the hot mic!

Dr. Lake: Yeah! Atrocious things—but when you look at their politics, they’re doing things very even-handedly and they’re not…   it kind of speaks to what you’re saying. You know maybe that was not something for public consumption, but does that really indicate the man or the woman, [the content of their character] And I think often it doesn’t. You know, it’s just we… 

Here’s the thing, humanity…. people need to have, like a pressure cooker like a vent for all the pressure that builds up.  Like my husband was a critical care physician, he worked with lots of people in ICU, that was one of his specialties. And in the ICU they would make jokes about you know…. they had this euphemism. Somebody was going to die that night they’d say, “Oh, he’s going to Mississippi.” He’s going south, you know. They’d make… they’d call this guy a rutabaga over in the corner, like terrible things, in the vegetative state, right? But it’s because they needed something to lighten it up, because things are so intense and crucial in that setting. So I think we can extend that argument to some extent to people. They might say unfortunate things, but that does not necessarily mean that the measure of their whole character… 

Alex: Like gallows humor almost. 

Dr. Lake: Yes, exactly. 

Dr. Kao: But are we going to block access for them?

Dr. Lake: Right.

Dr. Kao: So we can say what we say. But are we actually blocking something for them that would harm them? 

Dr. Lake: That’s right.

Dr. Kao: And I think, we can both relate because we both work in psychiatric skilled nursing facilities, and it gets so absurd there after a while that we have to start making jokes. 

Dr. Lake: There, that’s what I mean.

Dr. Kao: Behind closed doors because nobody should hear about them. But at the same time, it’s…. and we come out and we love the residents. But it’s that sometimes they do really absurd things and we have to laugh, but not at them. And sometimes the residents do know that they did what they did. And then we laugh with them. But we have to know that. We have to be able to judge that. And so it’s a lot of times being able to judge the intention and action with the words. And it’s not easy.

Dr. Lake: Do you think we could say…. ‘cause those people in psychiatric skilled nursing don’t have a lot of power. They can’t do anything to hurt anybody at this point versus somebody who’s in the public domain who maybe a politician or leader or…. and do we judge them more harshly for misstatements than we would with someone who has no power that’s in a psych unit, you know? ‘Cause part of it…. part of the issue here is how much power they have. 

Dr. Wong: How much freedom do they have?

Dr. Lake: How much freedom, that’s right, too.

Dr. Kao: That’s a good point that extends to us, psychologists and professionals. But then it’s also if we’ve been in the field long enough, you know, we’ve lived through certain times and we evolve. You know right now, because of whoever’s running, I think of Joe Biden who’s done things that people…. people will look in the past like, “But he did those things,” or,  “He didn’t support the things that he supports now.” But he’s been a politician for so long. 

Dr. Lake: Exactly, and do we give a person credit for evolving? 

Dr. Kao: Yeah, and it’s the, “If he was the person today that he was then, would he…would the world have been different?” 

Dr. Lake & Wong: Yeah.

Dr. Kao: And it’s hard to say because he’s a politician too. And we never really know who that person really is. But I think in terms of the clients to psychologists is maybe there is a degree of our clients needing to know a little bit more about us. So they can know who we are. So if we do make an infraction or we do say something, it’s “Oh, but that’s Dr. Lake and she’s so nice! You know, I heard about some of the things that she does on her down time when she…You know, I heard about you going to countries and doing crisis work.” And just like, if they can know maybe a little bit of that, it’s “Oh yeah, so she said that. And I know this other side of her. You know what, she’s…”

Dr. Lake: Yeah, get a pass?

Dr. Kao: Or like “I know the content like her character.” 

Dr. Lake: Yes, you’re right. And that’s a very good point too there, Wayne. Because how much…Any given person, especially somebody we don’t know, we can’t really judge their whole character, their whole personality, everything. We can judge what they say. But how do we know if they’re not somebody that the rest of their life is totally beyond reproach and exemplary. 

Dr. Wong: Well, I mean I guess I have an example of that. Like when the torture scandal was coming out and the APA, you know. One of the board members of the…. my school school was the psychologist who sort of designed that program. And then, you know, it was very big deal because he ended up having to leave the board, and leave APA, because he had not complied with the benevolence aspect of our code. And I thought, “Well, he decided that this was going to be part of his professional role. And he felt it was his right to take on that position.” And us from the outside, we’re going to judge the whole thing based on his actions at that job. I mean, he may have come up with some brilliant other things, you know, during his course of his career as a psychologist, but…

Dr. Kao: You know, this makes me think of something else too is part of the willful ignorance or the willful, you know, bigotry and unintentional is sometimes I….  when we look at white supremacy, and sometimes I’ll see pictures of kids, you know, kids who are white supremacists. But they have such a genuine smile on their face in certain pictures I’m looking at. And they’re in high school and they have their friends and they seem to be kids. 

Dr. Lake: Right.

Dr. Kao: But then there are these things that they do. And I have a heart, and I just don’t have an answer to it. I just have a hard time reconciling people who are white supremacist or racist, depending on their culture, yet they love mother, love their grandmother, like would not do anything to harm them, but then have this other side of them that does a lot of harm to other people. And yet…. but there’s a good person there at the same time. And I’ve had this conversation with some who say, “No, they’re just evil.” But…

Dr. Lake: I hate that attitude.

Dr. Kao: But it’s the, “Oh my god, but then what do we do about this other side?” And it’s the same thing of the…. sometimes I worked with people who have molested a child. But then I find myself liking them. 

Dr. Lake: Exactly. 

Dr. Kao: Oh, I don’t know how to reconcile this feeling. And can I have both? And it’s not an easy answer.

Dr. Lake: Well isn’t it the case that labeling is a cognitive distortion?  I mean if we label any individual according to one criteria by definition, it’s a distortion.

Dr. Wong: Yeah. 

Dr. Lake: And that’s something to think about. 

Dr. Wong: It’s difficult to strike that balance, but these labels are part of schema. We need that in order to function in the world. 

Dr. Lake: I’m really glad to this point that we’re all…   see the nuance in things. When I forsaw this discussion, I was worried it would split into kind of like dichotomous, you know, way of evaluating people. And we’re not doing that, which I really am enjoying.

Dr. Wong: No, I don’t think that would’ve been helpful. 

Dr. Kao: No, I don’t think it’s helpful at all. 

Dr. Lake: I think we each put out an argument too, because I think that might go some distance to helping people feel less defensive about it when they realize that…

Dr. Wong: So rubber meets the road. When it comes to making improvements or progress to diversity in our Psychology field and organizations, what do you think needs to happen? What do you think we can do to…. I mean, I’m sure steps have already been taken in SGVPA, such as having the Diversity Chair.  Is having that chair there an indication that the recognition of the need for and the desire for greater diversity in the organization? 

Dr. Lake: And the fact that there is no institutionalized racism or ethnocism anymore in any institution. It’s all…   even the Boy Scouts have girls now. There’s no way…  the door is open. 

Dr. Kao: Yeah, it is, but it…

Dr. Lake: In ways it never was. 

Dr. Kao: Yes, in ways it never was, but it also…   it still has a…. to a lesser extent the parallel of desegregation of…. we’ve open the doors, but we’re not totally welcoming you too. 

Dr. Wong: So maybe it’s more fair to say institutional…

Dr. Kao: “You can come through, but…”

Dr. Lake: “But don’t.”

Dr. Kao: “But we also don’t want you.”

Dr. Wong: Maybe it’s fair to say that the institutional racism is lessened, but not disappeared.

Dr. Lake: Well, you might say that. But by the letter of the law, it’s not there. You can’t discriminate. 

Dr. Kao: I draw this comparison and actually I want to bring to…. I never had her as a professor, but Kumea Shorter-Gooden was a professor of mine or of ours at Alliant when I was there, but I never got to have her. But I talked to her a little bit. But she was…. She has two Ph.Ds. from Ivy League schools. But her childhood was…. She was…. I don’t remember the state she was in, but she was one of six black children who were bussed to the kind of the first desegregated school in that area. And it was, again by the letter of the law, they had the right to be there, but then, if I remember correctly, she also had to walk through with protection to get into the class because there are people protesting who still didn’t agree with it. And so, by law, she was free to go, but then there’s the push. Now…

Dr. Lake: No, you’re right.

Dr. Wong: There’s de facto…

Dr. Kao: Now I don’t think we have that obviously as intense now. But kind of what I’m saying with what I’ve experienced is, not just with SGVPA but to a degree LACPA and even AAPA like Asian American Psych Association, it’s more polite now. 

Dr. Lake: The racism

Dr. Kao: And it’s more silent. And it’s the “Oooh, but I can’t prove it now.” But I feel it or it was said and no one else heard it. And it’s quiet. 

Dr. Lake: So I want to say this before we have to finish this thing. There is something that on an instinctual level, we all came from cavemen, and our tribalism was a form of survival, where anybody from your tribe versus somebody else. You’re going to be more suspicious [and rejecting]of the other person because they were unfamiliar. There are resources that we’re all fighting over. And so, you can’t get over the fact that we all have that level of instinct. 

Now that having been said it, does that mean we shouldn’t do anything to fight against its affect on modern society? Of course that’s not what I would say. But unless we acknowledge it, how are we going to…. we can just call everybody a racist and be done with it! But there, you know, there is a level…. and also, what is the in-group/out-group way of looking at things.  It’s primitive.  But it’s got….   generations of precedent, biological, you know, remnants of it in our brains. So we have to say, this is the way it is, but you still have to get over it because, you know, we see things differently now. And it’s not fair to people in our society. 

Dr. Wong: It’s a process.

Dr. Lake: ‘Cause otherwise, why would you want to kick out somebody who was black or Chinese or Jewish or whatever? Why would you want to do that? It’s because you feel [threatened]…and here’s another thing I want to say about mainstream, as member of the mainstream, you know, I don’t know exactly what it’s like to be a minority in our culture, but I do know that sometimes I feel just under attack because I am mainstream. And that does not foster anything.

Dr. Kao: It’s something that I’ve said before and I think it’s very appropriate for, Suzanne, what you just said. I think when we go into content or rules of engagement, so to speak, “You can’t say this. You have to say it this way,” it’s very content-based. It can also very easily teach someone who is willfully racist just to learn how to get by. And then still be very much a racist and a very horrible person in some ways. But they just learned how to be polite. But I’ve…. my feeling has been we need that when people can’t move to a genuine kind of authenticity. 

Dr. Lake: We need the content-base to…

Dr. Kao: Because we just can’t get there. And I’ve had multiple conversations on things like Affirmative Action, where I actually agree, I don’t theoretically like Affirmative Action. But it’s there because we have a better way that we aren’t willing to do it. 

Dr. Lake: But we won’t do it, yeah.

Dr. Kao: Because we do look at superficial aspects of people’s skin color, where they come from. And we don’t know how to look at how are they doing? Where are they coming from? And that’s complex. And we want it simple. And so then we have Affirmative Action because if we were try to make it merit-based, then we’re going to have segregation. So it’s just we haven’t been able to do it better. 

Dr. Wong: Do you guys have more specific proposals or answers to this specific question on how to increase [tolerance]…?

Dr. Lake: Intermarriage! That is what we all have…. that is what will stop racism. If everybody just marries other races then everybody will find out that they’re good, lovable people. And they’re family…

Dr. Kao: Which we’re moving towards.

Dr. Wong: And how about the psychology field? That’s for the greater society, right? 

Dr. Kao: Mentorship. So whether you as now longer term psychologist who’s been doing it for a little while now being able to mentor, teach if you want to teach. If you’re not interesting in teaching, it’s okay, but like mentoring students to come up. Alex and I have talked a lot about him not necessarily feeling like he fits into SGVPA. And me kind of forcing him to come. “You should come. You should see it. It’s not going to hurt you.” But seeing that there’s a place for him. 

Dr. Lake: Come talk to me.

Dr. Kao: And then having this dialogue here is now it’s not just me bringing Alex to events. It’s you two now know each other, and you can have conversation. And I remember the first time I was at SGVPA and I didn’t know anyone. And I was borderline, “Eh, I just won’t come back.” You know, other organic things happened to allow like to meet more people in the membership. But I think mentorship is huge. I think we need to invite our friends. But that allows other people to come and then have a connection. And SGVPA, LACPA, you know all the organizations, will feel a little bit more diverse on that end. That’s a good start in my mind.

Dr. Wong: I’ll propose something, which is that I noticed that SGVPA has San Gabriel Valley in its name. And I would really like to see events that are scattered more widely throughout San Gabriel Valley, rather than centralized….

Dr. Kao: We did do that.

Dr. Lake: And people complain that it’s too far out. 

Dr. Wong: Is it?

Dr. Kao: ‘Cause we had that event in Monterey Park, at Luminarias. I thought that was…it was also up in the hills so that was an added…

Dr. Lake: So it wasn’t that far

Dr. Kao: It wasn’t that far, but up in the hills. 

Dr. Wong: Well I mean my school’s in Alhambra. You guys could talk to the school and… it would be convenient for me.

Dr. Lake: I would love to see if we could figure out a way to reproduce what we’re doing now as some kind of a workshop, where people break up into small groups and talk about these issues. But we’d have to set this stage very low defensively. ‘Cause I think out of the box unless we were to work through pains to make a point of not looking to find fault with anybody. We just want to open dialogues. Somehow to get that off the ground, even to have it, like for example at our December luncheon where you don’t have a speaker or something like that. 

I don’t know what to do to get people to an event, but if we could do something where we, you know, put people that maybe don’t know each other, even people that do know each other. Because I’ve never talked about this to any of my friends. So it doesn’t matter. So you can have people talking about it— ‘cause I think this process has really made me feel a lot more in touch with what I believe and how I feel about things. 

Dr. Kao: You know I just signed on to do a CEU here next October. As far as I know the CEU luncheons get scheduled like really far down cause they get booked up. But I was going to do something on diversity and intercultural issues. And maybe this would be something we could do. Because this is also a feeling I had on the board is because I am somebody who is more outspoken and I didn’t…. I would say like half the people on the board I don’t know too well. Part of the face scanning is a lot of times looking at, again, people’s faces and thinking, “I wonder if what I said just made you guys upset. But I don’t know and I don’t have the heart to bring it up.” And in part of something that I value so much of having this now, like kind of a building friendship with Suzanne is there were often times where I would say something and yours was one of the faces where I wasn’t like “Oh I don’t know if I…?”

Dr. Lake: I passed the scan test? 

Dr. Kao: It was almost like a not sure. I didn’t know if I upset you. 

Dr. Lake: Oh really? 

Dr. Kao: ‘Cause sometimes I would just put a comment out there. And sometimes something is not well-received, not necessarily from you, but just certain people on the board. “Oh I can tell that that wasn’t…     That didn’t go over too well.” And then I’ll look around and I remember looking over to you, Suzanne, and going like, “I dooon’t knoow…” I don’t know what that was. It was just like “oh okay.” And you’ve always been very nice to me. So it was kind of like “Oh okay, I’ll just leave it alone. Maybe it was just me.”

Dr. Lake: Oh see. You were trying to see through what was…. maybe looked like a neutral expression to see if there was any more to it.

Dr. Kao: Part of it. And then also…. and then this is me just wanting to do well is I generally say things I really believe in. So it’s the “Oh okay, if it didn’t go well, can I kind of restate it or maybe I need to do something, you know, to see if it can get better…get a better reception.” And so a lot of it is just kind of me not….  kind of going through that process. And I’m losing kind of the point that I’m having. But I think it’s opening kind of the…   and that being willing to mess up on that level and able to talk.  and I’m losing my point again now…

Dr. Wong: I’m going to try to hold the conversation until 4:30. Is that okay? I’m think we’ve answered this particular question pretty well so far and I have this one left. Is that fair? 

Dr. Kao: Okay, sure!

Dr. Lake: Which one’s that?

Dr. Wong: So the last one, actually, Dr. Lake already started answering it, which is about having…. fostering open discussion. What do you think stops people from having open discussions regarding diversity issues? How do you see this as an issue within our own field? And what do you think would make it easier for people to have these discussions?

Dr. Lake: To have discussions about…

Dr. Wong: About diversity-type issues. I mean you already started talking about it in the context of having sort of panel discussions. 

Dr. Kao: Or smaller group. 

Dr. Lake: You’re asking what stops people from talking about things right? 

Dr. Wong: Yeah.

Dr. Lake: So I think what I said earlier about self-consciousness and defensiveness where there’d been so much loading on what you say or how you say it that could get you called out, or get you seen in an unfavorable light, that we really have to address that. And if we want anything constructive to happen, we have to make people feel that you know…. just wrestle with these ideas and see where you come out with them, and don’t feel like you have to have a right answer. I think so. I think that’s one reason why people don’t talk about it. It’s sensitive. 

Dr. Kao: I think I like the idea…   And now I think I’m coming back to the point, I realize. I found my point! Is the idea of allies and representation. And it comes with what I was saying about being on the board, is trying to find a better way to say things. Because like I said, I am a fairly outspoken person. So sometimes I know I say things that don’t….  it’s a little hard. But also sometimes think of like, “What if, like, Suzanne said it or somebody else on the board said it? Would it be taken as such? Or would it have been taken as poorly?” I’m not sure. But I think when we sit in on panels or we have more discussions on diversity, it is important to have more representation, but also to have allies. You know I’ve had panels with Caucasian colleagues who just think, “I don’t think I should be the one up there.” And I had to remind them, “First of all, you’re not the only one. And second, you absolutely should be there because….”

Dr. Lake: Because they were white?

Dr. Kao: Because they were white and because they were in the majority that we need allies. We need people to be able to…

Dr. Wong: So they didn’t feel comfortable being on that panel? 

Dr. Kao: And then they did. I cajoled them. 

Dr. Lake: You talked them into it.

Dr. Kao: Part of my outspoken nature. And then it was very…. it was wonderful because we were able to have that dialogue. And then I think again, this is part of the value I see in this is there are naturally people who are going to be who…. and then you’ve been in the field longer and you’ve….  Been previously president for a while of SGVPA, that people will naturally hear you better. And so it’s possible we could say the same thing and then people would just take it differently depending on who said it. And so we need to have that space.

Dr. Lake: Voices coming from all along the spectrum. 

Dr. Kao: And then to point out, you know, times where it says…. if it comes up and if it was a situation in which we were all on the panel, you know, Suzanne, you being, “You know, Wayne said the same thing. And it wasn’t taken the same, and it wasn’t taken the same or it was taken differently.” And to be able to point that out, but in a way where you’re somebody who people might hear more sometimes and then vice versa. There are certain things that I would say and you might say the same thing, but other clinicians, other mental health professionals or just people or laypeople, you know “Oh yeah yeah yeah.” You know, he said it and they liked it better for whatever reason. But it’s being able to bridge that gap. So I think it’s being able to merge allies with representation. 

Dr. Wong: Closing comments? It’s like the Presidential Debate. I give you each a minute.

Dr. Kao: Well I, you know, I’m really thankful again we were able to kind of have this conversation because, you know, like I’ve already said a couple times is it takes a lot to be open to doing this. So I appreciate that Suzanne was willing to do this. But part of also wanting Alex to be a part of it because he comes from such a place that is underrepresented. And I won’t divulge certain parts of his history unless he wants to, but just the…. And so this is something I said to him yesterday as we were talking about this is he wasn’t supposed to be in a lot of ways someone who was going to make it through to the doctorate to all these things for a lot of reasons with where he came from.  And it’s just the fact that he did means that he should be at this table. He should be represented. 

Dr. Wong: I guess I’ll give you some context. 

Dr. Lake: Whatever you feel alright with.

Dr. Wong: You know, I guess what I think Dr. Kao is referring to is the fact that because I am the first person in my family to go to college and the first to go through graduate school. And my family background is my dad immigrated from Vietnam as a Boat Person in the Vietnam War. And my mom came directly from China. And they formed a family here. And I’m the oldest of four kids. Growing up, money was pretty tight. My parents are still aren’t very acculturated because they live in the enclave, you know. Their education level is very low between them. My dad is…. you know…. maybe 4th grade/5th grade education. And my mom maybe 5th/6th. And that was is. This is back in Vietnam and in China so a lot of it isn’t very applicable here. So in navigating my own journey through professional development and deciding to become a psychologist and school. There were, I guess, many cultural things that I didn’t catch on to. And things I felt were…. initially felt were, “This is for the rich people though.” You know? I’ll give an example. 

The first time that my school had like a touring for us, showed us around campus, they served us wine and cheese. And I felt, “Wow, is this gonna be like…” And it was for free, they didn’t ask for us to pay for it. At least up front, in the fees they do make us pay for it. But, I felt like, “Oh is this the new standard? I’ve never had wine and cheese.” 

Dr. Kao: And it so good.

Dr. Wong: Later on, the program decided they decided it would serve pizza. So we never again had wine and cheese. We had pizza. So, I looked at the pizza and said, “I get this.”

Dr. Lake: Pizza I get.

Dr. Kao: And I think this is I think something that happens in Asian communities. ‘Cause my family came from poverty as well. We had this thing where “That’s rich people stuff. That’s not for us.” Even though it was right there and free. Like it’s not for us. It’s for the rich people.

Dr. Lake: My grandma had a 7th grade education and my grandfather not even high school. So that was only two generations back. So it’s really not that far out of my realm of understanding this even though it may feel like it is.

Dr. Wong: I just feel like, in certain ways our society has an oligarchy like people with privilege will perpetuate privilege. That’s just the way the laws of nature…. government. That sometimes with that comes many blind spots. Things are designed…. governments are run with privilege in them. 

Dr. Lake: I think there are many politicians in the national level that came from humble backgrounds. 

Dr. Wong: I’m sure there are some in Congress.

Dr. Lake: I’m sure there are some. ‘Cause you look at the George Bushes and the Joe Bidens as people who….  and Kennedys. 

Dr. Wong: That’s definitely a dynasty.

Dr. Kao: I think President Obama, whether you like him or not, he didn’t come from that.

Dr. Wong: Didn’t from come that pedigree.

Dr. Lake: That’s true. Somehow he made it through.

Dr. Kao: Yeah, he kind of made it through. But it’s the “he wasn’t supposed to” in a lot way. 

Dr. Lake: No, so much of serendipity but also tremendously capable and intelligent man. Kind of defied the odds.

Dr. Kao: And what he represents. It wouldn’t have been if he was somebody who came from a lot of money. 

Dr. Wong: Dr. Lake, I want to give you time for your closing comments. 

Dr. Lake: Closing comments…. well, I am really glad we did this, and really appreciate both of your time. I hope that…. I would like to see this spring board into more discussions…  what should I say, events or opportunities for people to dialogue like this? I think it would be…. I don’t know how many we could get if we had like an evening because I don’t know if people would come out for that, you know? 

Dr. Wong: Maybe if you serve free food. 

Dr. Kao: Give CEs. Do the CEs thing! 

Dr. Lake: Yeah, we would have to do the CE thing.

Dr. Kao: Plan ahead. Part of maybe turning it into kind of an important thing maybe? Part of the reaching out and bringing friends and really telling…  maybe telling people how important it might be and people might make time for it. 

Dr. Lake: Yeah, I completely agree. If we promote it properly, I think it has a strong chance of…. And then if we…   Well I don’t know. Anyway, I do hope that something does come out of this. I’d like at least one or two more articles. 

Dr. Wong: Sounds good.

Dr. Kao: Oh yeah!

Dr. Lake: And then other than that, maybe something hands on. Because I think at the end of the day, I think most people, especially most psychologists, are good people, well-intentioned people. And people who are open to the idea of stretching their…  or whatever you call it—- raising their consciousness. But it doesn’t necessarily…. it doesn’t necessarily happen without this kind of thing—- talking and thinking about things, which you ordinarily, on any given day, you don’t have to think about them— and turn turn your attention to those things. So I’m glad that this gave me the opportunity. Thank you. 

Dr. Wong & Kao: Thank you. 

For Further Reading


Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientationby Derald Wing Sue, Ph D.  

Microaggression Theory: Influence and Implications by Gina C. Torino, Ph D.  David P. Rivera, Ph D., Christina M. Capodilupo, Ph D., Kevin L. NadalDerald Wing Sue, Ph D. (Editors) 

Microaggressions and Traumatic Stress: Theory, Research, and Clinical Treatment (Concise Guides on Trauma Care)Kindle Editionby Kevin L. Nadal, Ph D.    

Microaggressions in Everyday Life, 2nd Editionby Derald Wing Sue, Ph D.   (Author), Lisa Spanierman, Ph D.  (Author) 

Navigating Micro-Aggressions Toward Women in Higher Education (Advances in Higher Education and Professional Development)By Ursula Thomas (Author and Editor)

This entry was posted in Psychology News, Uncategorized, What's New and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.