As Black History Month draws on its final week, I revisit my time spent in grade school, where stories of trial and oppression were masked with a curtain to remain appropriate for childhood. Ruby Bridges just wanted to attend the better school, Rosa Parks was simply tired, and Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about a dream. With years of experience and growing knowledge, the curtain still continues to be pulled back to uncover the atrocities of America and the explosive impact of the Civil Rights Movement. Even with the great strides America has made, there is so much more room to grow. As much as we can read about these historical figures, for the average White person, we will never understand the experience of growing up as a minority in America. For this, we must step outside of ourselves, and even out of our country, in order to embrace another’s lifetime of experiences. Black History Month is a time of remembrance for the historical events that occurred, but as our world grows more and more connected through social media, we must learn to accept one another and grow together rather than apart. Let us take the message of Black History Month and learn from our pasts. Dr. Esther Malm, an Assistant professor in the psychology department, walks us through breaking out of our inner circle to embrace those different from ourselves.
Dr. Malm, born and raised in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, was the professor of my cross-cultural psychology class. Growing up, Dr. Malm’s parents were supportive of her education and her dreams, sometimes sacrificing their own, and there was a multitude of support coming from extended family and friends. Through the differences in her siblings, Dr. Malm learned how to need one another and utilize individual strengths to fill in weaknesses. Her maternal grandmother helped raise her, providing guidance in life skills, while her paternal grandmother presented as a model of being a strong, industrious woman with discipline. She received her master’s in clinical psychology and worked in a psychiatric hospital in Ghana before pursuing her PhD in developmental psychology in Atlanta, Georgia. As a licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Malm is passionate about family functioning and how this influences children and teenagers. Hope and restoration, particularly the change and growth that arises, are her biggest motivators in life. As an educator and practitioner, Dr. Malm seeks to help parents and adolescents make informed decisions in all aspects of their life.
While we think of Black History Month as just a United States tradition, it is actually celebrated in multiple other countries. To Dr. Malm, who identifies as African, Black History Month is a time to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Blacks in the United States and around the world. Despite facing discrimination in Ghana, Europe, and the United States, Dr. Malm firstly overcomes this adversity with her faith, a connection to her grandmothers who were also followers of Christ. Through the knowledge that all people are created equally and the understanding of inherent biases existing in everyone, Dr. Malm encourages slowing down and learning about others before discriminating. This message was very clear throughout my cross-cultural psychology class.
By becoming more aware of people different from us, we can seek to become less discriminatory as Dr. Malm highlights in a few points. Traveling can provide first-hand exposure to the different ways of life around the world, but reading about other cultures can also be a great source of this information. However, keep in mind that some sources may be biased based on personal and cultural worldviews. As she quotes, “The world knows a lot about the USA, but many Americans do not know much about the world.” Don’t be afraid to approach those different from you with genuine questions! Learning about another group does not equate to believing in their beliefs; however, through perspective, one can learn a lot about what they value and what others value. All of these learning and communication can hopefully lower the amount of discriminatory acts.
As Black History Month winds to a close, let us not forget how far the world has come from such discrimination. Despite this, inherent biases still exist among all of us. Through self-acknowledgment, reaching out, and active efforts, we can slowly bring people together as we realize there is strength in coming together.