Eyes Wide Shut: Dominating the Other/Ravaging the Self—Parasitic Whiteness at Work

Donald B. Moss

Donald B. Moss, M.D., is the chair of the National Program Committee. His new book, co-edited with Lynne Zeavin, Hating, Abhorring and Wishing to Destroy—Psychoanalytic Essays on the Contemporary Moment, is forthcoming in the New Library of Psychoanalysis (Routledge).


Donald B. Moss

“I will focus on Whiteness as a condition one first acquires and then one has-a malignant, parasitic-like, condition to which “white” people have a particular susceptibility. The condition is foundational, generating characteristic ways of being in one’s body, in one’s mind, and in one’s world. Parasitic Whiteness renders its hosts’ appetites voracious, insatiable, and perverse. These deformed appetites particularly target non-white peoples. Once established, these appetites are nearly impossible to eliminate. Effective treatment consists of a combination of psychic and social-historical interventions. Such interventions can reasonably aim only to reshape Whiteness’s infiltrated appetites—to reduce their intensities, to redistribute their aims, and to occasionally turn those aims toward the work of reparation. When remembered and represented, the ravages wreaked by the chronic condition can function either as warning (’never again’) or as temptation (’great again’). Memorialization alone, therefore, is no guarantee against regression. There is not yet a permanent cure.“ (An excerpt from my article ”On Having Whiteness” forthcoming in JAPA).

Of course, Whiteness confers what is commonly called “privilege” on white people, and privilege indeed it is— no demographic measure can serve to contest that. Fueled by Whiteness’s insatiable appetites, affected white people have found biblical sanction as they seek to achieve dominion over other peoples. The resulting affliction engenders a Midas-like state—all non-white humans treated as currency, as a kind of gold—to be taken, possessed, owned, commemorated, dominated, and finally passed on, one generation to the next, forever and ever, into perpetuity.

The appetite for dominion has spawned an entire cultural apparatus that serves as its rationale and justification. This cultural apparatus, the Western canon, is at least as old as the ironically named “Enlightenment” and both envision and incarnate a Ptolemylike mechanism to describe life on Earth. Whiteness occupies the center of this apparatus, while the rest of the non-white world revolves around it, as though on a massive lazy susan, providing that center with what it takes as an endless feast of serviceable items.

From the beginning, all the people who have ever been positioned on this lazy susan have been in constant and steady revolt against their placement there. That resistance seems now, as it may often have seemed before, to be rising to an irresistible and irreversible pitch. Here, offering himself as witness to this reasonable and always justified resistance, is Freud in 1927: “It goes without saying that a civilization which leaves so large a number of its participants unsatisfied and drives them into revolt neither has nor deserves the prospect of a lasting existence.” (“Future of an Illusion”)

Nonetheless, it also goes without saying that in the face of that continuous resistance, and in the face of their own deeply uncertain future, the insatiable and malignant appetites of affected white people persist.

How to think of this affliction— how to think of what happens to people when infiltrated by appetites of this sort— what deformations result, what reductions, what losses, what limitations, what blindnesses when all peoples except those designated one’s own, are violently forced to constitute a servant class, a servant category?

Whiteness promises and delivers “privilege” but fails to disclose the deforming afflictions it also delivers. These afflictions are grounded in truncated and defiled relations to a huge swath of our fellow humans, our surrounding “objects.” In order for the lazy susan to keep operating, in order that it be constantly filled with objects placed there to serve, its putative masters must repudiate identificatory access to all of those objects, must replace the magic and enchantment of identification with the objectifications and manipulations of disidentification. They must, in effect, replace the possibility of love, incorporation, and development with the certainty of indifference, repudiation, and stasis. The objects placed on the lazy susan have necessarily been taken out of their native contexts--taken. They are placed there in postures of mandatory submission—whether to the bullwhip or to the gun, whether to written or to unwritten law. Whiteness generates a state of mind that aims to turn these human “objects,” sources of appetitive satisfaction, into mere objects. Hoping to find support for this unsupportable illusion, affected people are drawn to believe these living beings are, in fact, gutted of real life, and as such naturally suited to serve.

Deprived of the possibilities of identification with a large part of the universe of living things and living people, people afflicted with Whiteness are proportionately diminished. They are then able to identify only with their familiars, a kind of unwitting inbreeding that treats variety and difference as invasion rather than as fertility.

The shadow of the object falls upon the ego, says Freud. So, then, turn that object into a diminished thing, there to serve and service you, and the diminishing shadow of that diminished thing will fall upon your ego. Deprive the object-to-be-internalized of its vitality and you will indirectly and eventually be depriving yourself of that same lost vitality. Structure the object as a thing to be dominated and you will necessarily be dominated by the internalized shadow of that very thing. Dominate and target your object, and your impulse will necessarily boomerang, you yourself targeted and dominated by the now internalized object. Given the workings of this dominated/dominating internalized object, a profound melancholia necessarily haunts and infiltrates the deadening project of Whiteness. Hatred intended toward the targeted object takes up permanent and hidden residence in the hating subject. Perhaps this presence makes a gratuitous and never-remarked-upon contribution to what Freud, (who himself conflated “civilization” with “white” and “Christian”) called our “common human unhappiness.”

Whiteness leaves its afflicted hosts eviscerated. They are then blindly driven to deny this evisceration by collecting trophies. These trophies, excitedly displayed as the products of dominion, are meant as evidence of a fictive vitality. Whiteness, in effect, plants this evidence by way of a false equation: domination=vitality and goodness. Within the framework of this false equation, trophies of domination work in the same way that fetishes do, filling the gap created by an unspeakable absence. The real equation, the non-false one, is more like domination=loss. Whiteness’s hosts cannot bear this loss, a loss that “dare not speak its name.” In effect, then, Whiteness creates a closeted people who, in order to remain in the closet, inflict loss on others in the hope that the others’ losses (of dignity, of life, of possibility) will cover over their own.

This hope, forever dashed, fuels a frenzied mission of disavowal. “It isn’t, it cannot be,” a loud voice shouts, while, as in the mind of any fetishist, a quiet countervoice persists: It can be, it is.

Centuries of domination, centuries of apparent triumph, and still we can sense in Whiteness-afflicted white people the unresolvable persistence of both of those voices. That dreadful mix—malignant domination outside, malignant evisceration inside— marks the sickly pathognomonic core of parasitic Whiteness at work.