Race and Racism in Psychoanalytic Thought: The Ghosts in Our Nursery

Beverly J. Stoute


Beverly J. Stoute

Race, a biological fiction, is a social, cultural and political construct. The tenor of this reality in the United States is sober and often quietly horrific, interwoven throughout private and public discourse. Race, as the daily news cycle, film and song remind us, is stark and differentiating. It has been so since the early years of the colonies. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, decided by the Supreme Court in 1954, did not alter that reality; nor did the tandem Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Affirmative action policies, designed to right a long history of denied opportunity, could not dynamite the bedrock of racism. Not even the election of the first African-American president could shake it. In 21st century America, racism is alive and well. Complex economic, social, political, cultural and psychological forces interact to make it a seemingly intractable challenge in the American conversation. Race is a challenge for us all; and yet, as a profession dedicated to integrity and change, where has psychoanalysis been in this conversation?

In this article, I review psychoanalytic literature and related mental health disciplines for their writings on race, beginning with Freud and continuing to the present. Psychoanalytic literature has historically been fraught with ignorance about race and limited by racism, both overt and subtle. Yet, on a positive note, psychoanalytic thought is growing ever deeper and richer, as it has been influenced by work on race and racism in other fields of the humanities. Yes, psychoanalysis is finally catching up.

During my own analytic training, issues of racial difference permeated my patients’ transference with threads, at times, in the parallel process of the supervision. One supervisor noticed, yet there was only one paper in the literature she could quote. When my training analyst asked me as our work began if our difference in race was influencing the relationship, I snapped back, “You ask the question as if I have a choice.” I noted that at least she did ask, and she quietly tolerated my defensiveness; after all, I was the only African-American at my institute.

My analysis began before Dorothy Holmes (1992) or Kimberlyn Leary (1997) published their seminal papers on race and transference. The published interview of Ralph Greenson, in 1982, with Ellis Toney, one of the first African-American analysts, revealed he and other early African-American analysts were less fortunate than I. Greenson, a self-described “white liberal” who paved the way for the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and Institute to admit Toney, its first African-American candidate (1948), later confessed that during his analysis of Toney, he became aware of his own unconscious racism. That bias distorted the work and made it more difficult. Toney, for example, requested a change in the time of his analytic session because, being the only African-American on the street in Greenson’s neighborhood at the appointed hour, the police sometimes stopped him (Greenson, 1982; Forrest Hamer, 2002). The response: An Oedipal interpretation of Toney’s “paranoia,” with no awareness of what we now call “racial profiling.” Their disconnected realities damaged the relationship and limited the analysis. At that time, it was also not clear to the psychoanalytic world that establishing trust, a fundamental challenge in interracial analyses, is crucial to a working therapeutic alliance (Marlin Griffin, 1977). It is particularly ironic that Greenson is known for his 2008 classic paper formulating the concept of the therapeutic alliance.

As a mature analyst, I came to understand with greater clarity the traumatic effects of racism in my life, and the family and defensive factors that shielded me. The fantasy that analytic understanding could be a radical tool of individual and social change had made me hopeful, and helped me endure the micro- and not so micro-aggressions along the way. Naively, I did not expect to question whether my chosen field was prepared for the task I expected of it. But a review of the literature makes clear that latent racist attitudes had long impeded the development of psychoanalytic theory on racial difference, the psychological underpinnings of racist thinking, the diversification of the field and, many postulate, also fostered an inhibition of curiosity in many psychoanalysts on the manifestations of race in their clinical work (Anton Hart and Dionne Powell, 2016).

Starting with the Founding Fathers

Where should we begin this conversation about race and racism? A developmental perspective leads us to start even before conception. Do we start with the architects of democracy who wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” while also creating the Three-Fifths Compromise; namely that each African male slave counted as 3/5 of a white man? As they wrote these words, the architects of our democracy owned slaves, voted Africans subhuman, and built the foundation of our democracy on the graves of countless millions dead in the Middle Passage. We must start, therefore, by acknowledging America was and is a racialized society. Everything we are and everything we have become emanates from that split in the foundation of who “We the People” really are. Americans are acculturated and bred in the notions of race, power and projection onto socially sanctioned “others.”

Although propagandized as a great melting pot, acculturation and assimilation to a dominant group followed the rule for the early waves of immigrants, assuming the socially sanctioned position for othered groups created by African slaves. The existence of “the other” as a container for hatred, envy and prohibited sexual fantasies came before Kleinian theory (1946) defined splitting, projection or projective identification and before “otherness” as a theoretical construct existed. “It is always possible to bring together a considerable number of people in love,” Freud wrote in Civilization and Its Discontents, “so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness.”

Freud, as did many Jews in Vienna, endured anti-Semitism throughout his medical training and professional career. In Smiley Blanton‘s Diary of My Analysis with Freud (1971), Freud is reported to have said, “My background as a Jew helped me to stand being criticized, being isolated, working alone.” Sander Gilman’s (1993) well-known scholarly work in this area documents that Jews were thought of as the “the Negroes of Vienna,” psychoanalysis was a “black thing,” and Freud was labeled as a “Black Jew” (Neil Altman 2006). Freud referred to anti-Semitism in Interpretation of Dreams and to racial self-hatred in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, 1905. It may be difficult for us in the postcolonial modern era to understand his reluctance to localize psychoanalysis culturally. In “Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety” (1926), when Freud discussed childhood neuroses, he pointed out “from our observations of town children belonging to the white races and living according to fairly high cultural standards, the neuroses of childhood are in the nature of regular episodes in a child’s development,” making it clear he had some awareness of the cultural and socioeconomic status of his patient population, though he chose not to emphasize those factors in his clinical work or theory.

In his 1936 paper, A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis, Freud identified the “limitations and poverty of our conditions of life in my youth” as contributors to his dissociative neurotic symptom at the Acropolis, indicative of his success neurosis, which Holmes (2006) eloquently reinterprets with reference to social class and the anti-Semitism Freud endured. Freud’s emphasis on Oedipal conflict as a wholly adequate explanation for his success neurosis may have further contributed to the early focus on Oedipal theory over deeper considerations of race and class in the field as a whole. Many believe also that Freud dissected out reference to race and culture from his universal theory of the human mind to avoid psychoanalysis being labeled as a Jewish science (Gilman 1993, Altman 2006).

Although the classic psychoanalytic view posits a universal theory of the human mind, social and cultural influences infiltrated the thinking of early American psychoanalysts in other detrimental ways. At the turn of the 20th century, the scant analytic literature on the subject reveals that many American psychoanalysts adopted the prevailing theories of race inferiority. In 1914, a lead article, “Dementia Praecox in the Colored Race” in the Psychoanalytic Review, the first psychoanalytic journal published in the United States, A.M. Evarts (1914) asserted the “colored man” is prone to dementia praecox and “bondage in reality was a wonderful aid to the colored man.” In the same journal, John Lind in his article, “Dreams Wish Fulfillment in the Negro,” explained that the “Negroes’ development is lower than the white race and…similar to those of the savage,” that “their psychological activities are analogous with those of the child,” and “their psychology is of a primitive type.” In a subsequent paper, Lind (1917) cited an 1847 source to support the claim that “Negro children are sharp, intelligent and full of vivacity, but on approaching the adult period a gradual change sets in.… The intellect seems to become clouded.… gives place to a sort of lethargy, briskness yields to indolence” and he concluded “after puberty sexual matters take the first place in the Negro’s life and thoughts.” These examples illustrate the racist undercurrents that undoubtedly influenced theory and practice early on.

Formulating Prejudice into Theory

Early theorizing on prejudice followed Freud, who discussed individual and group antagonism at the level of group dynamics and group hatred. In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1922), Totem and Taboo (1938), and Moses and Monotheism (1939), he discussed the role that the metaphorical killing of the primal father by the sons plays in fostering group cohesion and the binding of aggression within the group. This formulation provided the basis later for the related psychodynamic speculation on lynching of black men by white men in the South (Philip Resnikoff, 1933). In Taboo and Virginity (1918) Freud described the “hostility against intruders,” which he termed “the narcissism of minor difference,” and referenced further in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). Early psychoanalytic theory was slow, however, to develop these group formulations into a comprehensive psychology of how we process racial difference, a developmental formulation of racism, or into the work of clinical psychoanalysis. Evolution of Freudian theory to integrate the influence of culture and race especially in a culturally heterogeneous America took decades sparked by social and political forces, including the diversification of the field.

The contribution of latent derogatory attitudes in the literature on the part of some analysts was juxtaposed with a clear effort on the part of others to question theory, reformulate and understand. The literature demonstrates an awareness of the unconscious culturally endemic race fantasies, the latent meanings of blackness (bad, evil, nothingness) and the negative attitudes toward the Negro as they emerged in the fantasies, dreams and minds of white patients, but the limited experience (personal and clinical) with Negro patients and Negro people made the work of elaborating theory slow. Early authors described individual cases of “the Negro,” or of “a Negro” (Philip Graven, 1930), demonstrating a subtle tone describing the Negro people as separate and somehow not part of the universal human experience, indicating a subtle form of othering that created a latent yet palpable racist tone.

The works of John Dollard, and later Abram Kardiner and Lionel Ovesey, were welcomed into the literature since these authors actually interviewed Negro informants in their works; even the autobiographic work of Lillian Smith made its way into analytic circles for similar reasons.

John Dollard, a Yale sociologist with technical psychoanalytic training, studied a Mississippi town he called “Southerntown.” His meticulous description in the 1937 Caste and Class in a Southern Town of how the racialized caste structure maintained a hierarchical social and economic division between Negroes and whites, allowing whites, especially white men, to maintain a superior social, economic, political and sexual advantage, remains an important contribution. Dollard et al. advanced the “frustration aggression hypothesis,” and the “scapegoat hypothesis,” stressing that the individual, frustrated in achieving a certain goal, has an aggressive reaction to the person he/she considers to be the obstacle to his/her goal, displacing that aggression onto a (scapegoated) minority group that he/she holds responsible as the obstacle to the coveted goal, which is often economic advantage (John Dollard et. al. 1939, Marjorie Brierly 1944). The working middle class (white) subgroup then metes out its envy and aggression toward Negroes as a displacement from competition and envy of the upper class—a model that may have contemporary relevance.

Lillian Smith’s 1949 autobiography, Killers of the Dream, reviewed in Psychoanalytic Quarterly (William Barrett, 1951) provided an eye-opening account of the splitting, projection, and crystalized fantasy inherent in the racism of the pre- 1960s Southern culture in America. She outlined segregation, white supremacy, and how she was taught that “masturbation is wrong and segregation is right.” She explained, “The lesson on segregation was only a logical extension of the lesson on sex and white superiority and God…that…Negroes and everything dark, dangerous, evil must be pushed to the rim of one’s life…” There is no better outline in the literature of the Oedipal drama in which the roles of Southern white men, white women, Black men and Black women are defined by the white man’s defensive need to split and project aggressive and erotic conflicts while disavowing his guilt, laying the historical bedrock for American racism embedded in our collective cultural unconscious.

In The Mark of Oppression, Kardiner and Ovesey (1951) argued that the “Negroes’ wretched internal life” is evidence of the “Negro personality,” which is indelibly scarred by racism. Although thought by the authors to be an insightful consideration of the traumatic effects of prejudice based on the interviews of 12 and the psychotherapy of 13 Negro subjects, it was criticized by African-Americans as a derogatory and oversimplified caricature which led to generalizations about the Negro family that were later challenged. The literature conceptualizing the intergenerational transmission of trauma, the effects of racism on family structure and resilience came much later.

As we struggled in this era with the aftermath of World War II, many theories of prejudice focused on anti-Semitism. Gregory Zilboorg (1947), Gordon Allport (1954) and Brian Bird (1957) all wrestled with how we understand prejudice psychologically, using anti-Semitism and group psychology as a theoretical base to argue that all forms of prejudice have common psychological roots, likening “the fear of the Jew to the fear of the father and trac[ing] anti-Semitism back to an unresolved Oedipus complex.” (Lennard Loeblowitz, 1947). Interestingly, Bird’s (1957) formulation of prejudice involves the case history of a 19-year-old Jewish woman whose “attack of racial prejudice” he fruitfully analyzed along Oedipal lines. Bird interpreted his patient’s erotic hatred of Negro men as an Oedipal displacement and extrapolated, as many did, to group antagonism whereby “by projecting its own unconscious forbidden impulses onto another race, the active group allows conscious expression of those impulses but escapes responsibility from them.” In the seminal work The Authoritarian Personality (1950), Theodor Adorno and Else Frenkel-Brunswik extrapolated from their research on the roots of prejudiced ideologies to postulate that a characteristic rigid and severe parenting style set the stage for the development of extremist authoritarian thinking.

Richard Sterba’s 1947 widely quoted paper on the Detroit race riots of 1943, Some Psychological Factors in Negro Race Hatred and in Anti-Negro Riots, lent credence to the psychoanalytic framework for emphasizing Oedipal conflict and sibling rivalry. Drawing from the clinical material extracted from the analyses of 42 patients, Sterba revealed the Negro in some dreams represented a “substitute object,” for the newcomer younger sibling, while at others times “being threatened by a Negro [man was]…understood as the expression and repetition of the dreamer’s infantile fears of his father.” Negroes served as displacement objects for aggressive and Oedipal conflicts. The mob chasing the “Negro in race riots, symbolized the hunting down of the cruel powerful father by the sons as did the lynching of black men similarly symbolize the killing of the primal father by the sons. (Resnikoff 1933, Sterba 1947).

The frequently cited case report by Terry Rodgers (1960) of an “anti Negro racist” chronicled the brief analysis of a racist whose family history, obsessional behavior, and defensive splitting mirrored the classic Oedipal formulation in which the patient, a middle-class attorney who had the prototypic “Negro nurse” growing up, revealed his fantasy that the Negro man (from the analysis of a dream) was the displaced figure of his castrating father. As the patient’s unconscious incestuous wishes were revealed in the course of the analysis, his murderous fantasies toward blacks intensified, and he fled the analysis to join a hate group, later sending the analyst pamphlets on race superiority. This is one of the few case reports in the literature in which conscious racist views could be traced back to Oedipal conflict. Lillian Smith’s autobiography, taken with Sterba’s 1947 discussion of the Detroit race riots, Bird’s case (1957), and Rodgers’s case report provided compelling clinical support for the attractiveness of Oedipal theory as theoretical framework for racism—a formulation summarized with great clarity by Joel Kovel in White Racism: A Psychohistory almost 20 years later.

The wave of literature in the 1950s and 1960s on the “Negro experience” emerged, and post-colonialism as a theoretical framework blossomed. Gunnar Myrdal’s famous American Dilemma in 1942 marked this change in the field of sociology emphasizing the Negro experience. Theorizing about prejudice evolved to include literature on antiblack racism, the black experience, the challenge of American multiculturalism, the intergenerational transmission of trauma, and later works Black Skin, White Masks in 1952 and The Wretched of the Earth in 1961, which marked intersecting nodal points for both psychoanalysis and sociology. Emboldened historically by the independence of India and African nations in the 1960s and the work of the United Nations, Frantz Fanon, in his work, drew attention to the social and theoretical importance of understanding colonialism and the colonized mind. In her 1996 encyclopedic review, The Anatomy of Prejudices, Elizabeth Young-Breuhl provides an unparalleled integration of history and theory in this connection.

The Civil Rights Movement catalyzed a social and political shift, so conversations about racism in the fields of sociology, social psychology and the humanities outdistanced the analytic literature. African-American physicians were drawn disproportionately into community work (Ruth Fuller, 1999) and continued to publish in psychiatric journals articles about racism in psychiatric training and racism as a social defense (Walter Bradshaw 1978, James Comer 1969, Charles Pinderhughes 1973, Alvin Poussaint 1980), but few pursued psychoanalytic training (Jeanne Spurlock, 1999).

In his 1966 paper, James Hamilton explained the housing discrimination against Negroes in Ann Arbor as representative of the “anal components of white hostility towards Negroes,” whereby the “Negro represents feces of which money is a displacement or sublimation,” which he justified by reaching back to quote Sandor Ferenzci’s The Ontogenesis of the Interest in Money (1914) and Lawrence Kubie’s 1937 “The Fantasy of Dirt,” as a theoretical base; this was the theoretical foundation of the socalled anal theory of racism.

Personally, I was not sure that this racist “theory” influenced analytic thought until several older colleagues confirmed it, with one reporting that a supervisor had told him that “the Negro in dreams means feces, you know.” Joel Kovel in 2000 similarly reported, “I had presented a patient’s dream in which black people had figured as characters. ‘Oh, don’t you know about that?’ the supervisor had pronounced airily. ‘She means her shit. That’s what black people always mean in the unconscious. It’s the color, you know.’”

Although credited with the exposition of this “theory” in his book, White Racism: A Psychohistory, Kovel (1970) confessed struggling with this formulation, stating, “the idea was grossly reductive, subjectivistic, and, most of all, deeply offensive.” He called this theory the “thingification” of the black man and “the radical loss of humanity,” equating the black man with feces. Kovel revisited this offensive formulation in his 2000 retrospective analysis of his own work stating, “The history of slavery reduced blacks to the level of chattel, and in this way perhaps in racism, a whole category of human beings was being regarded and treated as excrement—… Could it be that the special association of blacks with feces in the racist unconscious is grounded in the historical reality of their enslavement—that they had in fact been considered property…, held as degraded things?” Even if conceding a great deal with this explanation, it is difficult to understand the clinical utility of these crude reductionistic (albeit racist) interpretations, but many analysts did not question this “theory.” Psychoanalytic writers in the 1940s, 1950s and well into the 1960s, however, conceptualized racism from this framework.

Kovel’s book brought our psychoanalytic understanding into sharper focus by artfully summarizing the psychoanalytic literature from the 1930s to the 1960s, including the three major lines of psychoanalytic thinking to explain racism: the Oedipal framework “enlarged to a cultural apparatus,” the anal theory of racism, and the race fantasies in American culture that defined African-Americans as the repositories of aggression and hatred. His insightful delineation of the “types” of racists (bigots who act out and liberals whose racism is unconscious), and the unconscious collective race fantasies operative in American culture are still useful conceptualizations and punctuated the emphasis on Oedipal theory that dominated analytic thinking for decades.

Persistence of Racism in Theory and Training

In the post-civil rights era, people of color slowly entered psychoanalytic training. The first documented African-American graduates of APsaA institutes were Margaret Lawrence in 1954 and Ellis Toney in 1958. By 1999, only 26 African-American psychoanalysts were members of the American Psychoanalytic Association (Ruth Fuller, 1999). Data from non-American Psychoanalytic Association institutes is not easy to compile. Veronica Abney (1998) located 57 African-American psychoanalysts for her dissertation study on the history of African-American psychoanalysts including non-APsaA institutes. The groundbreaking work of the African-American pioneer psychoanalysts such as June Christmas (1964, 1974), Jeanne Spurlock (1985, 1991, 1994) and Ruth Fuller (1980, 1988, 1993), all of whom had published on related issues, has not been given due attention. Their work dovetailed with activist interventions of white analysts such as Viola Bernard who had supported the application of Margaret Lawrence for training at the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center. Viola Bernard (1952), and Judith Schachter and Hugh Butts’s (1968) widely quoted papers on interracial analyses ushered in this new era of psychoanalytic inquiry into the transference-countertransference manifestations of racial difference in the analytic dyad (Andrew Curry 1964; Eugene Goldberg et al. 1974; Newell Fisher 1971) and racial difference in psychoanalytic supervision (Bradshaw, 1977, 1982) adding to the discussions already underway in the psychiatric literature (Maynard Calnek 1970; Enrico Jones 1974; Julia Mayo 1974; Peter Krant 1973; James Carter 1979; Loma Flowers 1972). Phyllis Harrison and Hugh Butts (1970) studied the difficulty of white psychiatrists in exploring racial issues, and British psychoanalysts later questioned if the lack of supervisory sophistication and the absence of training development on issues of race were contributing factors to the problematically low numbers of people of color in the field (Helen Morgan 2007 and 2008).

In the post-civil rights era, people of color slowly entered psychoanalytic training. By 1999, only 26 African-Americans were members of APsaA.

As people of color and of different cultural backgrounds sought treatment in greater numbers in the 1970s and entered analytic training, African-American psychiatrists questioned if racism was embedded in psychoanalytic theory (Alexander Thomas and Samuel Sillen, 1972). As these limitations in psychoanalytic thinking were critiqued, some white analysts persistently objected. Although known for her work on race awareness in children, Marjorie Mac-Donald in her 1974 paper, Little Black Sambo, for example, recommended that “black reader’s rejection … should be interpreted, since there “appears to be no obvious evidence of racism, and the story of Mumbo and Jumbo, and their little son Black Sambo should be seen as a charming children’s story of Oedipal conflict and childhood sexuality.

Richard Garder (1975), in his reference to Phyllis Harrison-Ross and Barbara Wyden’s The Black Child—A Parents’ Guide, objected to the expressions of the “black is beautiful movement,” calling them “the substitution of one racism for another,” rather than recognizing the valuable contribution to positive selfesteem and ego ideal, which serve a protective defensive function in countering the traumatic effects of racism and discrimination. After reviewing many of these early papers, Farhad Dalal (2000) criticized many psychoanalysts for ignoring how the real detrimental effects of racism limited their clinical understanding of patients and, further, the reformulation of psychoanalytic theory. In her 1974 classic paper, Ghosts in the Nursery, Selma Fraiberg seemed chillingly relevant as she helped us understand that when past trauma is endured but not metabolized for one generation, what is not spoken is embedded in the unconscious and enacted in disturbing ways in those generations that follow. Did the unexamined racism of how people of color were viewed and othered, even by analysts, silently stifle our development as a field?

Did the unexamined racism of how people of color were viewed and othered, even by analysts, silently stifle our development as a field?

Many African-Americans entering the field encountered prejudice. The contention that minority groups were not “analyzable,” had grown out of Clarence Obendorf’s 1954 caution against interracial analysis since the divergent cultural difference, he argued, made it untenable. Altman, in 1995, challenged this classical attitude that analytic treatments could not be used with minority groups and, in 2006, pointed out “the blind spot in the field of psychoanalysis to racism in the U.S.” due to “its troubled history of exclusion and in-group domination.” The prejudices expressed earlier in TAP 50/4 by Richard Reichbart’s colleague, who doubted that African-Americans had the abstract thinking capacity conducive to psychoanalytic training, is equaled only by Veronica Abney’s (2011) recounting how a colleague informed her, when he began his analysis, he was told that since he was African-American he did not have an unconscious. In Salman Akhtar’s The African-American Experience, Dionne Powell (2012) similarly confirmed that “Early psychoanalytic writers were circumspect as to whether African-Americans, due to their history of trauma, and white analysts’ unexamined fears, prejudices, and behaviors, could effectively be brought into treatment.”

Schools of social work in the 1990s integrated social and cultural factors into clinical psychodynamic work while mainstream psychoanalytic institutes lagged in realizing the need for diversity teaching in training programs and the need to integrate the influence of class, ethnicity and race. (Elaine Pinderhughes 1989; Michael Moskowitz 1996; Altman 2005 and 2006). Our theoretical understanding of race and transference deepened with the publication of Dorothy Holmes’s 1992 paper, “Race and Transference in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy,” and later Kimberlyn Leary’s 1997 “Race in the Psychoanalytic Space,” both representing new psychoanalytic perspectives on working with race as a container in the transference with greater nuance. Holmes demonstrated that transference can be racialized (1992), that race and class provide unique “points of engagement” to further analytic understanding (1999), and that integrating the psychodynamic conceptualization of othering, deepens our clinical understanding along these lines (2015).

The British psychoanalyst, Farhad Dalal, in 2002, integrated and expanded on how understanding the dynamic processes of othering and racialization facilitate a deeper psychoanalytic conceptualization of racist thinking although both concepts had evolved into discourse on racism in the sociological literature (Simon Clarke 2003, Robert Miles and Malcolm Brown 1989). In short, Dalal (2002) postulates that, “more useful than the notion of racism is that of racialization—the process of manufacturing and utilizing the notion of race in any capacity,” an idea mirrored in the sociological literature by Miles (1989) who “prefers to use the term ‘racialization’ where social relations between people have been structured by the signification of …[race such that]… race is a social construct at the center of the racialization process, and this becomes racism (ideologically) when there is a negative valuation.” These scholars challenge us to question our use of the terms “race” and “racism,” and suggest we refine our thinking and conceptualization as our conversations on race evolve.

Unlike early psychoanalytic formulations steeped mainly in Oedipal theory, modern conceptualizations integrate this new lexicon using the terms “racialization” (Dalal 2002, Miles and Brown 1989), and othering along with multilayered concepts including: intersectionality (Kemberle Crenshaw 1991), whiteness (Forrest Hamer 2013, Altman 2006a, Melanie Suchet 2004, 2006, Robin DiAngelo 2012, Janice Gump 2000), white privilege (James Baldwin 1993), racial melancholia (Anne Cheng 2001, David Eng and Shinhee Han 2000), hate and hating (Donald Moss 2001), being hated (Kathleen White 2002), race as an adaptive challenge (Leary 2012), intergenerational trauma (Kirkland Vaughans 2014, 2016, Maurice Apprey 2003, 2014), distinguishing racism from neuroticism in African-Americans (Cheryl Thompson 1987), anti-Semitism as contrasted with anti-black racism (Apprey 1996), relational perspectives (Altman 1996, Annie Lee Jones 2014, 2016), and the construct of dignity in a racist society (Holmes 2015). I cannot do justice in the space provided here to the recent rich extensions of theory in this regard, but I have tried to position for the reader this current TAP series, Conversations on Psychoanalysis and Race, in historical context.

At the outset, I had hoped I would find that psychoanalytic theory had explained the psychological forces underlying racist thinking, had developed a theoretical framework, had explained its developmental underpinnings, its evolution and intractability, and could serve as a foundation for social intervention and change. My sad conclusion is that racism, subtle and overt, has impeded the development of psychoanalysis as a theory and as a field of practice forestalling our further understanding of race, racialization and racism.

Alas, the psychoanalytic world has not been immune to the racism deeply embedded in our culture and experience. Although the literature grows, more work is needed. Recent calls for attention to diversity in training and education in the American Psychoanalytic Association speak to our awareness of our neglect of these challenges. Institute curricula, training analyses and supervisions have not consistently addressed issues of race in clinical work. Many institutes have no required courses on race or diversity. Most lack study groups for faculty to improve supervisory teaching on this topic. This must change especially if we are to equip ourselves for Dorothy Holmes’s “fierce urgency of now,” and Anton Hart’s “radical openness.”

How do we apply psychoanalytic understanding and theorizing to the problems of racialization and racial hatred in the modern world? Current events remind us that this work is desperately needed. Are we ready for this challenge? Terrorist attacks last summer in Europe and the Middle East, police shootings and violence on American streets with the murders in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas, and a presidential election drawing on racial division and exploiting perceived threats to white privilege remind us the ramifications of unanalyzed aggression, projection, hatred and violence can be devastating and make urgent the call for analytic voices in these conversations on race.

Ask yourself, how will you, as a psychoanalyst, now participate in this conversation on race?

President Barack Obama once said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” I hope this limited review has offered sufficient scaffolding for analytic scholars, teachers, supervisors and practitioners to build the conceptualizations and practices to make race a focus for disciplined interest and exploration. Ask yourself, how will you, as a psychoanalyst, now participate in this conversation on race?

Editor’s Note: Email reference requests to beverlystoutemd@gmail.com.

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2017 National Meeting of Members
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