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Embracing Our Past: Lessons from Doctor Who's "Rosa" and Black History Month

Cartoon version of a bus with the title "Black History Month" and "Reaction to "Rosa"" Doctor Who s11e3
Therapist Reaction to "Rosa" episode of Doctor Who in honor of Black History Month

Did I expect to get completely wrecked by watching a Doctor Who episode? Well, maybe. There are some amazing moments in the long history of this show. But did I expect to be taken to the streets of 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, and have a moment of deep connection to the civil rights movement? Not really. Yet, Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall wrote a phenomenal piece of history into this science fiction show. They distracted us with a "Back to the Future" plot where the Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whitaker) and her British companions race to restore a key moment in time, while at the same time dropping every viewer into the powder keg of racism in 1950's America.

As they navigate the past, the Doctor and her companions inadvertently become integral to a pivotal moment in black history—the Montgomery Bus Boycotts. However, what sets "Rosa" apart is not just its portrayal of historical events but its subtle exploration of the human psyche and the profound impact of acknowledging our shared history, no matter how painful. The viewers watch racism play out: Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) is assaulted for touching a white woman. Rosa Parks (beautifully portrayed by Vinette Robinson as a woman of deep inner strength) is forced to use the back door of the bus and subsequently left on the street with no recourse. And the whole party is forced to leave a restaurant because they "don't serve coloreds."

*****SPOILERS (sweetie)***** For me, one of the deepest emotional connections was when Graham (Bradley Walsh) stands to get out of the bus at the end and realizes that he has to stay on the bus and act as the catalyst that will cause James Black (Trevor White) to demand Ms. Parks to give up her seat. The helplessness that he felt hurt me to the core - especially given his connection to his late wife Grace and his adopted grandson Ryan.

By having the case (and thus the viewers) witness firsthand the indignities faced by Rosa Parks and the African American community, we are all forced to confront the systemic injustices ingrained in society. Through their experiences, we can all come to understand that ignoring or glossing over these injustices only perpetuates them.

In the realm of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), one of the fundamental principles is the acceptance of all experiences, whether positive or negative. It teaches us that attempting to suppress or ignore our past traumas only perpetuates our suffering. Instead, by confronting these painful realities, we can begin to heal and move forward with purpose.

Similarly, in our own lives, we cannot ignore the negative aspects of our history. Black History Month serves as a powerful reminder of this. It is a time to reflect on the struggles and triumphs of African Americans throughout history, acknowledging the injustices they faced while celebrating their resilience and achievements.

Just as the Doctor and her companions played a crucial role in ensuring the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, we too have the power to enact positive change by confronting our past and learning from it. Our experiences, both positive and negative, shape who we are and how we interact with the world around us.

I was recently privileged to sit down and watch a train by Deran Young, LCSW. "Healing Cultural Trauma with IFS Therapy: A Culturally Sensitive Approach" in which she blatantly stated that we don't need to come to her "rescue", but we do need to hold space for her story - as well as many others who have been affected by this.

As we celebrate Black History Month, let us not shy away from the painful chapters of our collective past. Instead, let us embrace them as essential building blocks of our shared humanity. By acknowledging the struggles of the past, we can pave the way for a more just and equitable future for all.

In conclusion, "Rosa" not only serves as a captivating episode of Doctor Who but also as a poignant reminder of the importance of confronting our history. Through the lens of ACT therapy, we learn that our past experiences, no matter how painful, are integral to shaping our identities and guiding our actions. This Black History Month, let us honor the past by striving for a brighter future, one built on acceptance, understanding, and compassion.

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