I Support #BlackLivesMatter And Was Threatened With A Lawsuit By A White Woman For Speaking Up
I never thought I’d write anything like this, but here we are.
My name is Ivy Kwong and I am a first-generation Asian-American psychotherapist. I support #BlackLivesMatter. In case you’re thinking, “But you’re a therapist and you shouldn’t be bringing up political issues,” I offer the following quote by Aristotle:
"Human beings are by nature political animals, because nature, which does nothing in vain, has equipped them with speech, which enables them to communicate moral concepts such as justice."
We are political animals. The color of our skin makes us political. The neighborhood we grew up in makes us political. The history of our ancestors makes us political. It is impossible to remove yourself from the context in which you find yourself. If you are a human being, you are political.
Which brings us to what happened on Sunday, June 7 2020. I saw the following public Instagram post by licensed psychotherapist Shannon Thomas in Southlake Texas who “specializes in healing trauma and working with people who are victims of narcissistic abuse” and responded accordingly:
1. In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and so many more, #BlackLivesMatter protests against police brutality are being met with extreme police brutality. Domestic violence is terrible but we need better solutions for DV and this post felt tone-deaf and insensitive posted in a moment when there is documented evidence of police brutality in over 45 cities and over 12 peaceful protestors recently killed by police.
2. It is greatly concerning to me when licensed therapists, especially those who specialize in trauma, minimize or do not consider the trauma caused by structural racism and systemic oppression. Racism, trauma, and mental health are all interconnected.
Imagining this would be an interesting discussion point in a Facebook group for fellow therapists (where many important conversations on race and privilege have been happening), I shared the public IG post there and a spirited conversation ensued (the thread has 240+ comments and we only have so much time, so I’ll just post a few here):
Many people reached out and attempted to begin a dialogue with Shannon Thomas. She deleted their posts and blocked them.
I then received the following messages:
So. Much. Gaslighting.
My friend Julissa reached out in an earnest attempt (shared with Julissa's permission) to engage in dialogue with Shannon, leaning in and offering to share her personal experience as a Black woman with police and domestic violence in communities of color. She offered to do the emotional labor to educate, because if therapists can better understand how their words and actions are impacting others, then they can become more compassionate clinicians. #ListenToBlackPeople
Shannon Thomas blocked Julissa and I received the following messages:
“I have the desire and financial resources to see this through that you that you never harass another therapist online.”
Ah. Here it is. A privileged white woman flaunting her “financial resources” and “the desire to see this through” — to hurt and to silence me, a woman of color with a differing opinion and the audacity to express it.
This feels very much to me like a white woman attempting to get a woman of color to shut up. To know her place and to stay there. People who say things like that are very aware of their privilege and their power and are used to wielding it to get what they want.
Shannon Thomas is threatening to file a complaint against my license and to file a lawsuit against me for sharing her public post… publicly. She is trying to shut me up and to hurt me, my work, and my livelihood. She is a privileged white woman who is used to getting what she wants, and she is weaponizing her privilege.
This story is not new.
“You need to learn the limitations of ‘free speech.’ There are many.”
Yep. A white woman attempting to silence a woman of color.
“You, Ms Kwong, may live in Washington but I live in the great state of Texas; where as you can see, we already have legal precedent for such situations.”
She linked to this article, which features Texas photographer Andrea Polito winning a $1M defamation lawsuit against an unhappy couple.
This is ironic. I am friends with Andrea Polito on FaceBook. Andrea responded to my post (on my private FB page for friends) about the situation (shared with Andrea's permission):
At that point, I stood up and shook out all the stress from my body, took a lot of deep breaths, acknowledged and expressed gratitude for the love, support, and solidarity of my friends, family, community, and so many kind and compassionate therapists and new Internet friends, and hoped that was the end of it.
And then on Thursday June 11 2020, I received this letter via FaceBook Messenger with hard copies mailed to my listed home and work addresses:
“By way of example only calling her a ‘racist’ and ‘unfit to be a therapist.’”
Wrong. I never said either of these things. Not once. A lot of other people did according to Shannon Thomas herself, but I was not one of them:
The ultimate gaslighting is someone saying something and then telling you that YOU said it… when you never did.
“We demand you immediately cease and desist posting misinformation regarding my Client, as well as soliciting others to do so.”
Never posted any misinformation. Only actual information directly from the source plus my opinion. No soliciting, either — people are free to do whatever they want, and I have no interest in telling anyone what to do.
Upon receiving the letter from “Anomaly at Law” (a self-proclaimed title via his website) Russ Riddle, I made an appointment with an attorney and spoke with a very kind lawyer who explained that having an opinion is protected speech. He said you can even call someone a “racist” or an “awful therapist” online, out loud, or in writing, and have that NOT be illegal in any way, shape, or form since that is an OPINION and we are all allowed to have as many of those as we’d like in this country.
KindLawyerBro explained that what I received is a cease and desist letter. He said that people “with resources” often send cease and desist letters to journalists and others all the time in an effort to silence them. People continue to speak, because #First Amendment.
At that point, KindLawyerBro told me that I am safe as long as I stick with sharing the facts. I asked him if I could write an article filled with facts, a literal timeline of what has happened (the one you are reading right now). He said sure, but why?
For a long time, women of color have been forced to be quiet. To sit down, shut up, and do as they’re told.
KindLawyerBro listened. He said, “I understand.” He encouraged me to speak truth, which is a complete defense to a defamatory action.
And so I am.
If Shannon Thomas ever reads this and wants to have a conversation from a place of kindness and respect, I remain open to that. We are both therapists who work with trauma survivors. We have both survived trauma ourselves.
If I could speak to her, I would say:
I hope that somewhere inside you, there is an opening to use this unexpected opportunity to heal something deep within that is yearning to be seen, heard, and held.
I hope that no matter where you find yourself, you can make slow steady changes that will add up and get you pointed in a new and healthier life direction.
I hope that you can use your power and your privilege to do good in this world.
I hope that we can heal and grow together instead of apart.
I hope that this country can one day do the same.
With hope and with love,
Ivy Kwong, LMFT