The Black Woman in the Room

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At the heart of systemic coaching is the ability to create safe spaces where difficult conversations can be had, where hidden dynamics can be made visible, where uncomfortable, complex truths can be held up to the light and acknowledged.

It is a shame that the term ‘systemic’ feels so cold, inhuman, and machine like because in practice it is the opposite. Coaching systemically focuses the attention on complexity, on human connection, human interrelationships, interdependence, and symbiosis.


I recently joined an innovative eco-systems supervision group. The approach is integrative, positioning us in the web of interconnections between our personal and professional identities, our values, beliefs, attitudes and how we want to show up in relation to what is happening in the world.  For session three, approximately six weeks after the killing of George Floyd, we were invited to prepare with these words.

“We propose to spend the time giving space to what is currently happening in the world and what this means for us as professionals. When we say what is happening in the world, we are referring to what we consider a historic moment that encompasses the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter protests, the early stages of moving out of lockdown as well as other dimensions that might come to mind.”

I felt s creeping dread baring down on me to speak about racism, to speak about George Floyd, which would have been unbearable had I not already taken the decision to process that trauma in a conversation with four professional black women, two of whom are my daughters. That conversation was raw, and it was cathartic.  It is not a conversation I felt I could have had in any other space. In other spaces there is the fear that my telling would be consumed as spectacle.

Group Coaching Supervision

Coaching group supervision was not a place to do that work. In that space I felt called to do something else. I had the safety and the space to say what felt risky, exposing, and uncomfortable in a ‘room’ where every other face was not brown. I said, ‘I don’t want to be the black women in the room’, a statement specific to the moment and generalised to society.

It is also a contradiction; a statement of my humanity in resistance to racialisation but also reclaiming the concept of ‘blackness’. It felt, as meant, liberating. (Beko,1978)

I wanted to give voice, in this space, to my rejection of how blackness is seen through the ‘white gaze’, as victim.  Calling myself a black woman is a practice of freedom (Foucault, 1984), an exercise of power in my relation to others, it is the refusal to be put into a box as ‘the black women in the room’.  I also wanted to free the white people in the room from seeing me as other, someone they had to tip toe around. To free them from having to apologise for their whiteness.

I hoped that my boldness would liberate them too.

Charmaine Roche

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