Navigating Privilege and Colorism

A Black Latinx Art Therapist’s Experience in the Dominican Republic


  • Johannil Napoleon Art Therapy & Counseling, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, USA



Black Latinx Art Therapist, Colorism, Privilege, Dominican Republic, Therapeutic Relationship


Discussions about cultural responsiveness for mental health practitioners often perpetuate colonizing frameworks. By centering White therapists’ awareness of power and privilege when working with people of color, dominant paradigms in the field can overlook the experiences of practitioners of color and the relational dynamics of engaging shared racial/cultural backgrounds. Interrogations of Whiteness are necessary to prevent harm in the predominantly White fields of the creative arts therapies, yet this discussion should not overshadow discussions about the experiences of practitioners of color who encounter issues of colorism and citizenship in working with communities of color. This self-reflexive essay describes how a Black Dominican-Haitian woman art therapist, who was raised in the United States (U.S.), recognized a need to explore her own political awareness while working with female participants at a youth organization in the Dominican Republic (D.R.). The author discusses the use of art to critically interrogate issues of colorism, citizenship, and privilege that arise during her time in the D.R. Recommendations are presented to support arts therapists of color to engage their perceptions of citizenship and colorism while providing mental health services to communities of color.

Author Biography

Johannil Napoleon, Art Therapy & Counseling, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, USA

Johannil Napoleón, LPC, ATR-BC, is an art therapist, artist, educator, and scholar. She is Dominican-Haitian, born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Napoleón received her Bachelor's in Art at Berea College and a Master’s in Art Therapy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Napoleón is a bilingual (Spanish and English) Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Board-Certified Art Therapist (ATR-BC). She has years of experience practicing in the United States and abroad at community organizations, hospital settings, residential programs, primary and secondary schools, and universities. In these settings, she created innovative and individualized therapeutic interventions that met the individuals’ needs while considering their unique individual and cultural factors. Her passion is serving BIPOC youth and young adults in under-resourced communities who have been impacted by traumatic experiences, facilitating workshops related to mental health and racial trauma, and creating art that supports Black girls and women empowerment. Napoleón is the founder of the Black Art Therapist Network, an organization that provides support, resources, and mentorship to Black art therapy students and professionals globally. Currently, she resides in the United States teaching at SAIC’s Master of Arts in Art Therapy and Counseling Department and pursuing a doctorate in the clinical psychology (Psy.D.) program at Adler University with a concentration in Traumatic Stress Psychology, and Primary Care Psychology and Behavioral Medicine while continuing to use art as a tool for healing and social change.



How to Cite

Napoleon, J. (2021). Navigating Privilege and Colorism: A Black Latinx Art Therapist’s Experience in the Dominican Republic. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 21(1).