Consulting White: Self-Exploration and Growth
Consulting White: Self-Exploration and Growth
By Laurie B. Moret
Dr. John Fulkerson grew up in the deep south. His early life experiences in a racially segregated community introduced him to a biased society before he had language for it. While not everyone in his family bought into this way of thinking, some did and he was aware of discrimination. He noticed that he had limited contact with people with skin colors different from his own, and he noticed racist movies, language and stories in his surroundings. His deeper self-exploration started in college when he took a course on Differential Psychology, and in recent years, his interest in understanding those parts of his past has grown and deepened to inform how he approaches work and life.
While there was no single, critical event, Dr. Fulkerson has been nurturing a building realization of racism’s impact on his own life and those around him. He has embarked on an ongoing journey that is both reflective and simple with the willingness to address racism in everyday small moments, consistently. For example, attending to how he feels and reacts when in an elevator or other close space with a Black person, commenting when in the presence of an individual who shares a racist story, questioning family and friends about their beliefs and experiences, and being open to talk about race. As such, he lives his life attending to the many micro-opportunities for engagement and connection.
This takes courage. Over the years, he has broached difficult discussions with his mother and close family friends who are White. When with his long-time friends, he confronts them when they bring up topics of race in a derogatory manner. He routinely seeks to draw them out and influence change, which is a delicate balance. He’s learned how important it is to confront the situation but doing so in a way that keeps others engaged so change is possible.
These early conversations started his journey to try and understand his past and then figure out what he can realistically do to influence positive change. He supports his journey by reading books and articles, listening to others, and asking questions. For him, recognizing how critical dialogue is when large scale social change is needed has inspired him to focus on a few key elements essential for constructive conversations. He seeks to understand his own comfort level and boundaries as well as what he stands for and is willing to stand up for. Thinking in advance about how he will respond when he is exposed to things counter to his beliefs and values is also important.
As psychologists, we impact individuals in meaningful ways. Dr. Fulkerson reminds us that we need to have patience and think about how we engage. While there is no quick fix, he encourages us each to ask ourselves what can we do modestly on a daily basis to make a positive impact. He routinely asks himself, “What can I realistically do? How do I put myself in the mode of helping others have insights?” With this preparation, he hopes that he may be able to help others modify their cognitive map.
Reminded of his own upbringing, he underscores how broad the spectrum of beliefs is on the topic of race. Sometimes, a critical moment may be simply helping another see that racism is real. Helping others increase their understanding of the experiences of people of color and how that impacts our society as a whole is a significant step because until the reality of racism is understood, it’s harder to be a part of positive change. Psychologists are a in a unique position to help people appreciate other’s experiences and find opportunities to speak up when another is capable of listening. For Dr. Fulkerson, interacting with others and staying attuned to them helps him remain sensitized to the most productive way to engage others in discussion and as such motivate them to stay as curious, open, and involved as he continues to be.
Dr. John Fulkerson has been working in organizations for 50 years. His experiences in a variety of industries working both as an internal and external consultant has afforded him the opportunity to travel to nearly 80 countries. Over that time, he has seen an evolution both domestically and internationally in how diversity and culture have changed in organizations. Today, he works as an independent consultant in the Northeast. When not with clients, he is working on a book to teach self-coaching skills.
Dr. Laurie Moret is a practicing leadership and organizational development consultant, coach and facilitator in the Washington, D.C. metro region. Dr. Moret worked for two large consulting firms before starting her own practice in 2008. She consults in a variety of organizations and industries. Most recently, she published a book on consulting in National Security settings and was awarded Fellow Status by the Society of Consulting Psychology