Thoughts from Dr. B: “Put some respeck on my name!!!” -Birdman, 2016
A dear colleague tagged me in an Instagram post recently. This colleague is actually my first ever clinical supervisor so, in essence, she birthed the me that is a psychologist! Ta-daaahhh!!! I love and respect her dearly and her post completely resonated with me. She eloquently expressed the difficulty that many women of color face when we are in professional arenas and are addressed by our first names, rather than our titles (i.e., calling me Rashanta instead of Dr. Bledman). It was validating to see the comments and "Yaaassss!" from other professional women of color who identified with this experience. She explored how this phenomenon is inherently microaggressive, racist, and sexist...overall it's just problematic. I would balk at this post...if I hadn't experienced it personally on numerous occasion.
I've had clients and students refer to me by my first name, despite introducing myself as Dr. Bledman. I've even just been addressed as "Hey," which led to a lengthy email response as to the appropriateness of addressing a professor (I was teaching an undergrad course at that time). Some may believe that it's ok to say Ms. Bledman, but I wonder why that rolls off the tongue more easily than my acquired title.
I often joke that I have the student loans to prove that I have obtained my Ph.D. and licensure as a counseling psychologist. I can send you the bills to confirm. I also recognize that I grew up in a Black/Caribbean family in which I was taught to address everyone with a title, because that shows respect and that I was "raised right" and have manners. Imagine my surprise when I got to graduate school and professors insisted that we call them by their first names. I wondered how I would approach this name issue after obtaining my degree, and initially thought I would be fine with being addressed by my first name. But...I'm not fine with it.
It is not a matter of superiority, but in some ways a matter of equity, respect, and recognition. An honoring of the hard work, the sacrifice, and the difficulties. I have noticed, in some spaces, I am overlooked and/or even made to feel invisible. Things change when I announce that I am Dr. Bledman. Who would have thought that the curvy, afro having, red lipstick wearing Black woman is a doctor!? For some reason, many people cannot comprehend. I don't take this title lightly. I try to use the privilege I've been granted by obtaining this degree to advocate for clients and for myself. It also allows me to set boundaries around my personal and professional identities. And it pushes me to demand the respect I deserve. It helps me honor my family, who has been on this arduous journey with me. It allows me to take pride in being the only person in my family to obtain a Ph.D.
I am still figuring out my preference for being referred to by my title. A trusted White woman colleague/mentor and I had a long conversation about this on my way to the hair store (can you say "crochet braids for the win!?") and I struggled to clearly articulate the importance to me besides "I mean...like...because!!!" For now, I just ask that in professional spaces, I be addressed as Dr. Bledman or Dr. B. I'll keep figuring out what that means to me. Until then, just put some respeck on my name!