An interview with Eddy Paul Thomas, Author of A “Broken Seat at the Table: Conversations About Race, Resilience, and Building Bridges”
The most profound book I read in 2022 was entitled “A Broken Seat at the Table: Conversations About Race, Resilience, and Building Bridges.” This book addresses communication around systemic racism and how we can work to build stronger relationships through communication with others. The author of
the book is an Indianapolis native, Eddy Paul Thomas. I had the pleasure of interviewing him with his thoughts around communication, relationships, and talking about “what it means to be a man.”
Navigating Difficult Conversations
1. When it comes to relationships, how can your book make it easier to navigate difficult conversations for couples with different ethnicities?
A Broken Seat at the Table attempts to share open and honest conversations about race. For those brave enough to candidly share their experiences, beliefs, and baggage in conversations about race, it can be a very healing journey. It showcases the ignorant and the innocent. The arrogant and the meek. For couples of different ethnicities, A Broken Seat at the Table provides an opportunity for readers to see authentic listening modeled while navigating stressful conversations.
2. Cultural differences with relationships can pose a challenge at times. How could racism manifest in relationships?
In my experience, racism most often appears in two ways within a relationship. Power dynamics or assumptions based on race. This often manifests itself when the Person of Color expresses concerns with a given environment, group of people, or institution, but their partner does not take their concerns seriously. Something as simple as picking up your child from school can present several challenges for the Person of Color in the relationship. Equally, observing your significant other being approached by a police officer could be an eye-opening experience for the White member of a mixed-race couple. Finally, even if the couple has done a wonderful job of working through their own cultural biases, racism can manifest in relationships with one another’s parents or extended family, which can put a great deal of stress on the couple.
Sex & Intimacy Difficulties
3. In your opinion, how can sex/intimacy difficulties come up in couples with different ethnic backgrounds?
Candidly, I believe the answer to be most accurate if looked at on a spectrum. When you are younger, it has been my experience that boys played at love, for which they were not ready, to gain sex. And girls played at sex, for which they were not ready, to gain love. As we grow older and hopefully more secure in who we are as a person and what we want in a partner, I believe that intimacy has a true opportunity to grow. When it comes to different ethnic backgrounds, I don’t think racial differences impact sexuality beyond curiosity. However, as it pertains to intimacy, trust is a foundational nonnegotiable. You have to have trust to achieve intimacy. If a person of color does not feel like you understand what they are truly going through…if they do not feel like you believe their experiences to be genuine as a minority…then true intimacy would be hard to come by.
Micro-aggressions in Relationships
4. You mention micro-aggressions in your book. Relationships are complicated when it comes to friendships, family, partners etc… How can people communicate micro-aggressions to their loved one that could be causing discord in that relationship?
In the case of a couple, one would have to assume that some of the most harmful micro-aggressions would be less likely. Examples:
• “The Alien In a Foreign Land” – When Asian Americans, Latino Americans, or African-Dialect American citizens are assumed to be foreign-born.
• “Ascribed Intelligence” – Assigning an intelligence level to a person of color based on their race or accent
• “Criminality” – Presuming a person of color to be dangerous, more likely to be a criminal or deviant based on their race.
However, in a relationship, there are many micro-aggressions that can appear if one is not putting in the work. Examples:
• “Type Casting” – assuming that because the Person of Color you are dating acts or believes a certain way, all people within that people group will act or believe a certain way. This also occurs with assumptions about religion, preferred music genres, preferred foods, intelligence levels, etc.
• “Denial of Individual Racism” – Denying racial biases because you date or have married a person of color
• “Pathologizing Cultural Values of Communication Styles” – Making the assumption that the White way of doing things is the Right way to do things.
Being the only Person of Color in the room
5. In the book you mention being the only person of color to educate others and how that can be exhausting or could cause strain in relationships. What advice would you offer someone feeling this way and what are some tools you could suggest to those individuals (besides your book)?
In my employment, I often found myself in rooms as the only Person of Color by employer design. Without going too heavily into the fallacy of Affirmative Action, it was often well-known but never directly addressed that my employers sought to reach a quota that made those outside of the organization happy, while also keeping the Majority Culture within the organization comfortable. So, as an employee, I faced the reality of death by a thousand paper cuts or learning how to address these issues in a way that did not threaten my employment.
My advice to those minorities is often unnecessary because we have learned how to navigate these scenarios over the years. However, to a newbie or for someone fresh out of college, I would suggest finding a safe group to talk to. That would be one group of co-workers whom you can feel safe with and discuss office politics, micro-aggressions, etc. The second group would consist of people outside of your workplace who make you feel safe. People who work in a similar field and can relate to what you are going through. Lastly, I am a huge proponent of therapy. I could dive deeply into the need for more Black therapists and therapists of color who can relate to the experiences of People of Color, but I will save you from a dissertation and simply say that one can build greater resilience through working on your mental health.
Pressures of minority culture males in sex/intimacy
6. What pressures do minority culture males have when it relates to sex/intimacy expectations?
I don’t tend to place entire groups of people together when it comes to relationships. When it comes to cultural norms with regard to sex and intimacy, it can be a mixed bag depending on how that man has handled trauma from his past. I know that there are some very unhealthy tropes that are placed on Black men in general based on stereotypes whose lineages can be traced back to the “Brute Caricature” placed on us during slavery. Black brutes are depicted as hideous, terrifying predators who target helpless victims, especially white women. The tropes and stereotypes that have stood the test of time
also include that Black men are over-sexed, animalistic in their desires, low in morality as it pertains to sex, and presumed to either be incapable of true intimacy or must be taught how to be intimate because we don’t have a natural ability to be intimate.
7. As a therapist, I see many men who struggle with perceptions of what it means to be a “man.” These perceptions can be formed through family views, society, or lack of conversations around it. You recently came out with a children’s book entitled, “What does it mean to be a man?” How can this book help parents or guardians to have conversations with their children?
Yes. The book was just released on Amazon and debuted #1 for Juvenile Fiction: Men and Boys. While growing up I struggled a bit with the notion of what it means to be a man. One of the most important conversations I ever had was actually a conversation that I had over and over. I would tell the important men in my life about what society was telling me about manhood. I was lucky to have my grandfather, father, uncle, coaches, and mentors who helped me deconstruct the unhealthy messages society tried to impress upon me day after day. This book gives dads, moms, or guardians a really good foundation to build from as it pertains to helping their young male figure out whom they want to be as a man someday.
I highly recommend this author and his books, particularly A Broken Seat at the Table, as it gives a different perspective to consider when it comes to race, resilience, and building bridges. Gaining insight from different perspectives helps expand our minds and communicate more effectively with others.
Counseling can help in exploring communication, race and identity concerns, gender issues, and more. If you are interested in doing this with the support of a therapist at Emma Schmidt and Associates, know that each of our therapists are trained and equipped to do so.
If you are unsure of who could be a good fit for you? You can view the therapist profiles on our website, and schedule a free consultation with a therapist by contacting our office.
1. Contact Emma Schmidt and Associates to request a free Counseling consultation.
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3. Begin online Counseling and begin your journey towards mental wellness, health, and happiness.
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The therapists at Emma Schmidt and Associates are skilled relationship and sex therapists. However, that’s not the only mental health service they offer. Our therapists treat general mental health and relationship concerns. We offer anxiety treatment, depression treatment, trauma and PTSD treatment, EMDR, and relationship and couples therapy. In addition to offering online therapy in Ohio, we also offer online therapy in Kentucky, and online therapy in Indiana. Contact our office to learn more about the many ways our team of skilled clinicians can help you thrive.