Brexit, the body & the politics of splitting

‘We, as humans, are simultaneously social beings and biological organisms, the notion of ‘‘embodiment’’ advances three critical claims: (1) bodies tell stories about—and cannot be studied divorced from—the conditions of our existence; (2) bodies tell stories that often—but not always—match people’s stated accounts; and (3) bodies tell stories that people cannot or will not tell, either because they are unable, forbidden, or choose not to tell. Just as the proverbial ‘‘dead man’s bones’’’ (Kruger, 2005, p.350)

Brexit as a White man

When I think of Brexit, I think of a White man.

The day after the referendum, I woke up not quite knowing what to think or do. Vaguely worried about the future but in truth, still in a state of disbelief. Perhaps even of daze. But I had ran out of milk. So, I headed to my local Tesco, perhaps too this was an attempt at burying myself in the mundanity of everyday life, amidst the xenophobic and racist triumph that was Brexit. Once there, I got the milk and waited at the self-checkout. Someone was checking their items out. I positioned myself right behind them and, a small queue rapidly formed behind me.

Once my turn came, I took one step or two towards the machine. A White man jumped in front of me. He placed his items on the holding area and proceeded to check out. Uncharacteristically, I said nothing and I watched him in silence. I felt something violent had been done to me. The sense of stupefaction and ‘out-of-placeness’ amplified. I turned and looked around for a friendly face to connect with. Everyone in the store was White, averting my gaze and eye contact. Without a word or glance at me, the White man left. I had been disappeared. Twice. First by the White shopper, then by the White crowd.

What better representation of Brexit than this White man?

Both as a messenger of the future but also as the personification of a dormant beast awaken. This was the first time in well over 15 years in the U.K. that, I had ever experienced anything like it. I immediately linked this incident to the referendum and became even more anxious about what was to come. Of course, though I did not know it at the time, hate crimes took a hike immediately post-referendum. And, I would find myself increasingly invisibilised in queues.

Bodies, space and racism

I have always been fascinated by how bodies occupy space. How we move, how much or how little space we take. The distance and/or proximity between bodies, the relationship between our bodies and particular locations, the merging of bodily movements with socio-political and historical movements. There are various ways to assert and communicate dominance and superiority. And, the ways bodies move through space often become reflective of political discourses, social struggles and psycho-historical configurations. They are good indicators of power relations. Indeed, our embodied stories are meaningless if divorced from the ‘conditions of our existence’.

Body, space and subjectivities are intrinsically connected. It is through space that bodies express themselves, that therefore they come to be. Without space there is no subjectivity and, communication cannot exist either. This interconnection means of course each ‘entity’ has much to offer us in terms of understanding the others. Racism will thus become manifest and experienced through bodies and through space; both of which will tell us something of our subjective/psychological and, socio-political worlds.

I have observed various forms of racial bodily struggles. I have no doubt that anyone who pays attention has. Public transports are rich sites for such enactments. When a Black body and a White body bump into one another, the White body will usually stand firm on the spot; expecting to be navigated around. I have observed that when White bodies exit a train carriage and face a crowd of passengers who anxious to board, obstruct the exit door, so often they will move to push the Black or Brown bodies out of the way, if they are amongst those waiting to board.

Once, in a busy central London bus, full of White bodies with no seat available, an older White woman got on and went straight to a Black woman to ask for her to get up. The Black body she displaced was disabled. This only became apparent when she got up and struggled to stand with a walking stick. A Black woman was asked to make space for a White woman amidst the sea of White bodies. The entitlement to space also reflects the entitlement to Black bodies, particularly to Black women’s bodies. As can be observed through overfamiliarity or through physical touch without consent.

I doubt very many people of colour will be unfamiliar with the body dynamics described above and/or, would not have observed or experienced them. If you are White though, and doubt that racism manifests insidiously through bodily gestures and movements, I suggest you start paying closer attention to your body. The data is here for all those who care to pay attention. From the spreading of legs, to subtly elbowing us out of proximity, to the disregarding of physical boundaries and the invisibilisation of our bodies. It is all there for those prepared to observe. Having little or no awareness of how whiteness operates in space, of how White bodies may infringe on the space, bodies or boundaries of others (something I have previously referred to as micro-colonialism), is most likely indicative of this body-mind split.

Splitting and racial violence

No understanding of racism can ever be complete without an examination of racism’s bodily, affective, pre and para-verbal manifestations. Here, the Eurocentric split between mind and body and its associated epistemic disowning of the body, is a massive stumbling block. Despite phenomenologists like Merleau-Ponty and feminist epistemologists who have challenged the notion that bodily conduct and psychological conduct are separable; the mind–body dualism, or mind–body split which proposes that psychological phenomena are, non-physical, or that the mind and body are distinct, remains strong; reducing our apprehension of the embodiment of racism and indeed the embodiment of all socio-historical forces.

This splitting goes much further though than mind and body. It is also present in the separation of bodies from social structures, and the extraction of the past from the present. Splitting as a result does more than just sustain white ignorance. It is a vehicle for whiteness thus white violence. Once you learn to split as your primary defense when navigating the world, it becomes almost automatic not only to disconnect from your own body, your embodied experiences but also from that of others, including the pain and violence you inflict upon them. The centrality of splitting in the reproduction of racial violence cannot be overstated. Whiteness survived all historical atrocities it produced by splitting.

It is splitting that allowed White people to hang Black bodies on trees and take selfies or have picnics on lynching sites. It is splitting that enabled slave masters to cherish Black children ‘as their own’, then inflict the most horrific sexual violence and torture upon them for the most minor of ‘infractions’, seconds later. It is splitting again that meant colonialists could hold onto the bible in one hand and, a riffle in the other; say a prayer then go on mass murder sprees. And it is splitting that makes it difficult for White bodies to be aware of themselves in space.

But our bodies tell stories that we cannot or will not tell.

Understanding our body goes a long way in helping us understand the world and the contents of our thoughts. Even those thoughts we dare not think ‘aloud’ or say to ourselves. Similarly, bodily and affective experience help us understand the racism that is not only enacted through the occupation of space but also at discursive and symbolic levels, arguably evidencing the existence of an embodied racial (sub) consciousness or bodily memory which is inseparable from our social and historical consciousness. I guess there is a case to argue then that helping White people connect and reclaim their body may be an important step in reducing splitting and thus racial violence. Particularly more insidious and subtle bodily manifestations of racism.

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Neuroses of whiteness, white envy and racial violence

‘Don’t you understand that the people who do those things, who practise racism are bereft that there is something distorted about the psyche? It’s a huge waste and it’s a corruption and a distortion. It’s like it’s a profound neurosis that nobody examines for what it is’ Toni Morrison

Neuroses of blackness

‘What does the Black man want?’ In White skin, Black masks , Fanon (1952) asks, in the same way Freud had wondered earlier ‘What does a woman want?’ (Hook, 2004).

For Freud women want to be men. For Fanon, Black men (and Black people more generally) want to be White. The desire for whiteness may for example, manifest in the longing for White sexual partners or, in the mimicking of white people (e.g. assimilation or skin depigmentation). Nonetheless, rather than being the manifestation of some latent intrapsychic mechanism, as was originally postulated in ‘penis envy’, for Fanon, the wish for whiteness is the consequence of power and material inequality, of the on-going cultural and historical trauma and, its resulting alienation in Black people i.e. the using of inferiorasing racist and colonial myths as the basis for self-relating. (The same has of course been argued about penis envy, mostly post-Freud).

It is this wish for whiteness in Black groups (extended to the colonised more generally) that Fanon refers to as the neurosis of blackness. In classic psychoanalytic theory neuroses usually refer to the intense anxiety produced by repressed material that thus cannot express itself directly or consciously. Neuroses of blackness though (contrary to the prevailing Freudian formulation of neuroses at the time) are rooted in the historical and socio-political. They are still however believed to be at least partly, underscored by envy as the oppressed/colonised is theorised to want to be in the position of the oppressor, indeed, to be the oppressor. According to Fanon (1952), the wish to be White is essentially the wish to be seen, the wish to be human and, the wish to self-determine.

In essence, it is power and freedom that the colonised/oppressed envy, having come to believe that only by becoming White, will these ontological aspirations materialise.

Much has been written about the internalisation of racism, of whiteness, of the social order and, its psychological and socio-structural impact on oppressed groups. Comparatively, little has been said about the psychological worlds of White people and the sequalaes of racial oppression, for them and on them. I continue to find this absence troubling. While some may argue that by focusing on Black people’s psyche, we stand a better chance at building their/our psychological or psychic resilience and, at understanding racial oppression, my  view is that such an unbalanced attention continues to place Black people under the (colonial) white gaze at best, and at worse, actively locates the (racial) disturbance in them, arguably reproducing dynamics and discourses of scapegoating, Othering and dysfunction.

White envy

‘White folks are really jealous, and that shit could get a Black man killed’ (Davis, 2017).

A decade or so ago, a ‘mixed’ (cishet) couple was murdered in rural France. The husband was Black. He was a Doctor. He was also one of the few Doctors practising in their village and simply, one of a few Black people. His wife was White. They had, I think, two kids. Everyone was killed. When the killer, a White man was caught, he explained fairly calmly that he simply could not stand seeing the family doing so well and…that looking at the kids ‘always looking nice & well dressed’ was causing him distress.

When this tragic event occurred, I was already living in England, the affair was big news in France. I remember discussing it with my sister who was also living in rural France, whose family was similarly the only Black family around and, who was doing equally well materially. I have occasionally revisited this story as I grappled with understanding envy in racism. I think it struck a chord and had a chilling effect partly because it contained the essence of a dynamic; albeit to its extreme, we recognised and have experienced at more micro and everyday levels.

Klein defines envy as “the angry feeling that another person possesses and enjoys something desirable – the envious impulse being to take it away or to spoil it” (Klein 1984, 176).

Envy is not uniquely the domain of the colonised or the oppressed. Envious racial feelings experienced by white people vis á vis Black people, exist and are central to racism. I would argue, that the (unconscious) envy oppressor groups feel towards the people they oppress is fundamentally or qualitatively different from what has come to be described as envy in the colonised/oppressed. In fact I question the idea that the feelings the colonised experience towards colonialists, are best understood by characterising them as envy. Although it may be tempting to posit that both parties are envious of the other, and therefore set-up an equivalency; there isn’t one, for reasons I will try to explain below.

To be envious is firstly to feel an absence of something in oneself. It is secondly to feel afflicted and/or angry by the existence of that actual or fantasised something in someone else. Thirdly, it is to experience a drive to destroy that something or that someone possessing that something. In other words, it is feeling deeply disturbed that another entity possesses something one desires for oneself, but one that cannot be obtained. Thus envy, at least analytically is more than wanting for oneself a something we identify in others. It is the impulse to obtain it (at all cost) and failing this, to destroy it in the other. One may say it is to seek retribution for that sense of lacking.

To me, the murderous wish to kill an ex-partner who has moved on under the twisted yet common patriarchal thinking ‘if I can’t have you, no one will’ best illustrates the crux of envy. As does the example given above. Therefore, I do not believe this drive to destroy the goodness in others one so desires for oneself, best conceptualises racially oppressed groups’ relationship with White people. Historically and contemporeanously, this cannot be sustained. Not according to a Kleinian definition of envy. This is thus a point upon which I depart from Fanon’s scholarship.

There is an important although subtle distinction between envy and jealousy. If I experience jealousy, I experience a fear of loss or a sense of deprivation which I cannot tolerate, I therefore seek to possess the object triggering the jealous feelings. If one experiences envy on the other hand, there is a sense of being bereft rather than deprived. I am not sure one can obtain what is envied or at least that one thinks one can obtain it, not without doing harm. One therefore makes no move to possess but, to spoil. To destroy. To kill whatever or whomever contains the object of one’s envy. In doing so, one seeks to rid themselves of any trace of that feeling of lacking or absence and, the sense of inadequacy it produces.

This is an important distinction when it comes to racial and colonial dynamics. It is the difference between possession and annihilation.

Neuroses of whiteness

To posit that White people and by extension people with more power can be envious of those they oppress/those with less power may seem counter-intuitive. It is also counter-cultural for, it challenges taken for granted notions of white superiority. In addition, it shifts the location of disturbance onto white bodies by constructing them as lacking or at least as experiencing themselves, at some level, as lacking. This challenges whiteness.

White envy is underscored by the basic psychological defence of projection upon which colonial constructions of the racial Other and of blackness rely. Projection entails splitting off unwanted and intolerable aspects of oneself and, inputting them onto others. Here, the racial Other or the Black body. Projection is therefore a way of sanitising the self by ridding it of those aspects that clash with it’s sense of goodness. ( For those less familiar with this defense mechanism, it may be helpful for them to think about an unfaithful party in a relationship becoming preoccupied with their partner’s ‘inevitable’ infidelity).

In relation to race dynamics and at group level, in a society where ‘rationality’ and reason as the only or superior ways to know and access truth, are overvalued, the emotional and more embodied self will naturally be difficult to tolerate, so… the Black body will serve as a convenient repository of irrationality and bodily impulses. Similarly, if aggression and sexual impulses clash with white (Puritan-Christian) constructions of innocence, purity and bodily mastery then of course, Black and colonised groups will become the carriers of sexual depravity, aggression and impulsivity in the White imagination. White ego structures require these constructions to maintain their consistency and equilibrium.

For Fanon too, Black bodies act as repositories of white groups’ unacceptable desires, drives and wishes, particularly their disowned or repressed sexual urges. According to him, the fear of the constructed unbounded sexual power of Black bodies lead to neuroses in the White man which are rooted in a fear of sexual inadequacy/impotency.

This envy Fanon posits, lays at the centre of colonial relations. In other words, the White man despite claims and behaviours to the contrary, is envious of the Black man’s fantasised ‘primitivism’ and its associated constructed sexual potency. According to Fanon, this envy breeds racial paranoia. Exaggerations and deformations of the Other (and particularly here of his alleged monstrous sexuality) not only lead to sexual anxieties but, to fears of persecution in White groups (e.g. fantasised risks of rape and other sexual violence) which perpetually legitimise the need for violence against Black men (Hook, 2004).

Feeling the absence of what is projected

Using Klein’s conceptualisation of envy, I would propose an alternative but not so distant formulation to that of Fanon. Having so discarded aspects of itself it could not tolerate via projection, the White ego comes to experience the lack and, the absence of these parts; which do indeed belong to it. At this juncture, a psychic conflict or dilemma arise.  White people cannot tolerate or integrate those parts…Thus they cannot allow themselves to ‘take’ or re-claim them yet, simultaneously, long for them. What to do? Destroy them and/or kill the object of envy.

Contrary to White peoples’ ego structure and self-esteem which are to a large extent dependent on colonial constructions and thus, the disowning of part of themselves, Black people have not located at least not at collective or group level, unwanted parts of who they/we are onto White people. I do not believe that they/we are threatened ontologically by the dismantling or reclaiming of colonial projections. If anything such dismantling would free them/us. This is why I do not believe there is really bi-directionality or equivalency in racial envy and why I do not speak of racial envy but of white envy. 

The key difference here I think, is the drive to be the white Other vs the drive to annihilate the Black Other, because being the Black other would entail reclaiming parts of the self that simply remain too intolerable. In other words, when it comes to formulating colonised-colonisers relational configurations, it may be helpful to remember the distinction between jealousy and envy as proposed above. The colonised’ s yearning is primarily rooted in the material and unequal social arrangements, it is a yearning for power. On the other hand one may argue, the colonialist’s yearning is primarily rooted in a self-inflicted intrapsychic dispossession and, the fear of themselves.

Concluding thoughts

Inversing racial configurations in the original tragedy recounted, it may be easier to imagine that the motive for such a hateful crime had the murderer been Black, (and the victims a White family) would well have been robbery or theft. It seems less likely that simply seeing two White children dressed well would have been material in triggering a murderous envious rage, in the absence of material interest. There are other factors of course and other ways to conceptualise white envy. One may think about it more discursively and consider that social resources’ allocation is the raison d’etre of whiteness and neo/colonialism so that white entitlement is a function the racial hierarchisation/stratification. In that sense, one may see the contemporaneous rise in racial hatred, in neo-nazism and the normalisation of racist and xenophobic discourses (under placating expressions such as ‘economic anxiety’) as simply a cover story for white envy. And, as White groups feel collectively challenged in their sense of superiority and entitlement, they are attempting to reclaim power through more socially sanctioned ways of saying, how dare you be above me? My comfort and success should always come first. I am entitled to what you have. And, if I cannot take it from you, I will destroy you. Or at least spoil it for you…

Let’s end on a few important questions raised by Morrison (1993):

‘What are you without racism ? Are you any good? Are you still strong? Are you still smart? Do you still like yourself? If you can only be tall when someone is on their knees, you have a serious problem’

Thank you for reading

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Learning from Group Analysis: PART 1 The reproduction of whiteness in the personal matrix

Group Analysis

I have recently been awarded Group Practitioner Status by the Institute of Group Analysis.

It took the equivalent of two years of study to gain the diploma. This has included sacrificing many week-ends to attend seminars, personal group therapy and; reading those infamously dense and, often tear producing psychoanalytical and group analytic papers. Academically, this has possibly been one of my hardest undertakings to date, but nonetheless, the most rewarding. I have described it as home coming, as I feel group analysis has allowed me to unify and integrate different aspects of my scholarship, at least it’s theory…

Group analysis is still a relatively marginalised discipline within the field of mental health and within the social sciences. Contrary to what many may assume, it is not only about studying the dynamics, communication and processes that happen within groups/organisations or about fostering the healing powers of groups though of course, this is part of it. It is equally about how the configurations that exist or have existed in the wider socio-political and historical contexts get reproduced within groups, between groups, and crucially inside our minds/psyches.

Group analysis thus has a much more political dimension which is perhaps less well known. I think the discipline offers some of the most powerful conceptual tools to formulate the links between the socio-economic, the political, the historical, the institutional, the relational and the psychological and consequently, the reproduction of whiteness, something I am, as previously written keen to do. That does not mean group analysis is not white, let’s be clear. I was this year, the only black person in the UK to be awarded the diploma…a story for another article.

The plan for now, is to present some of the key concepts of group analysis and, to demonstrate how they could be used to better understand whiteness, power and, oppression. I will start with the concept of the analytic group matrix. This is a fairly complex concept. I will try to make this post and the series, as accessible as I can.

The group matrix

Foulkes, the founder of group analysis, was amongst the first Western scholars to study the link between the social on the psychological and; to locate the psychic within all material and institutional contexts. The group analytic concept of the matrix, a core tennet of group analysis is attributed to him. It is defined as the intersubjective field within which groups operate. As a ‘field effect’ which is primarily unconscious and, which interconnects all people in a network, within which we ‘meet, communicate and interact.’ (Foulkes & Anthony, 2003). The group matrix is believed to encompass all communications, conscious and unconscious, internal and external, past and present (Foulkes, 1973).

Nowadays, the group matrix is though os of as a tri-partite communicational field incorporating 1) the personal matrix (the personal matrix is intended to highlight the more idiosyncratic aspects of our selves such as our psychological traits, relational history and possible interpersonal traumas); 2) the dynamic matrix and, 3) the foundation matrix; as specified above (Nitsun, 2018; Hopper 2017). Whiteness is of course, I propose, reproduced within each of those ‘levels’ of communication. The present post explores the reproduction of whiteness at the level of the personal matrix (of people of colour).

Whiteness

Whiteness as a system encompasses the production and reproduction of the dominance, and privilege of people racialised as white (Green et al, 2007) and is believed to be the enduring cause for race based inequality, injustice and power differentials. It is also the basis for specific patterns of social relations (Neely and Samura; 2011). Whiteness as a system of dominance is so normalised it has become woven into the fabric of societies.

Whiteness is the assumption and the default. It is the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured (Dyer, 1997). Whiteness operates in state of unconsciousness, as such is it not consciously known to people with racial privilege who do not as a result understand their racialised self, or how whiteness is experienced by non-white groups.

Yet, at times of threat, attempts to reassert the dominance of whiteness can be observed and more silent (and denied) configurations, become manifest. The rise in hate crimes and in neo-Nazism; the normalisation of racist and xenophobic discourses within many western nations constitute, it has been argued, more overt attempts at protecting/re-asserting whiteness.

Whiteness is a complex multidimensional system designed to structure and hierarchise the social thus, I will try to illustrate (over several posts) the socio-economic, the political, the historical, the institutional, the relational and the psychological. Blindness to whiteness (sometimes referred to as white ignorance or innocence) is one of its central feature. Whiteness is therefore a fundamental factor in understanding the psychological as socially and historically located.

The reproduction of whiteness in the personal matrix

Vignette 1:

The vignette below is a composite of various people I have worked with rather than a specific individual.  

Sarah is a British woman of middle Eastern descent in her early 30s. Sarah struggled with depression for most of her adult life, most episodes were triggered by a racist encounter. Sarah felt alienated from her family and, had a stormy relationship with her parents. She refused to conform to the family’s cultural and religious expectations. During a group session where another (Black) group member discussed their struggle with internalised racism Sarah became tearful for the first time in the group. She came to the realisation that the anger she had experienced towards her parents, came from a deep sense of shame that had troubled her most of her life. A shame she experienced because her parents were not white.

Sarah’s shame in relation to her parents demonstrates how whiteness can come to invade our internal worlds. Sarah’s distress and sense of alienation manifested in a troubled relationship with her parents (we might say analytically, that Sarah had located a disturbance in her parents).  Fanon (1970) referred to this, as the epidermalization of racism or, the way in which the formerly colonised, often saw their internal worlds inhabited and governed (by design) by whiteness leading to a sense of internalised Otherness (today we generally refer to this dynamic as internalised racism).

The drive to assimilate led Sarah to a lifelong quest to be accepted by white people and to her feeling alienated both from herself and from her culture of origin, desirable aspects of herself were projected onto the white British culture/norms (the social/dominant group) and the undesirable parts, into her middle Eastern parents (the family group/’cultural’ group). Sarah’s internal arrangements in relation to her parents (analytically, we may say her object relations) had clearly been shaped by whiteness.

The sense of alienation Sarah felt was a manifestation of the sense of alienation she felt towards her non-white self. This came about because Sarah had internalised social discourses/configurations located in the foundation matrix. One may say, Sarah’s personal matrix and the foundation matrix became mirrors of one another evidencing the reproduction of whiteness within her personal matrix.

I hope this piece has started to demonstrate how group analysis can be utilised to map how the social (and specifically here, group & power relations) can get reproduced internally. This is a first step in formulating how we can and must move well beyond individualistic lenses when attempting to grasp the human psyche and, the psychology of people of colour, in particular.

The next posts will explore the reproduction of whiteness within the dynamic matrix, the foundation matrix and the social unconscious and the series will end with an integrated, inter-subjective formulatory framework.

References 

DiAngelo, R. (2011) White Fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Vol 3 (3) 54-70

Dyer, R. (1997) Matter of whiteness: Essays on race and culture. London: Routledge

Fanon, F. (1970) Black Skin White Masks, London: Paladin

Foulkes, S.H. (1973) The Group as a Matrix of the Individual’s Mental Life. In Foulkes, E. (ed) (1990): Selected Papers, 223-233. London: Karnac Books

Foulkes, S.H. & Anthony, E.J. (2003) Group Psychotherapy: The psychoanalytical approach

Green, M.J., Sonn, C.C. and Matsebula, J. (2007) “Reviewing whiteness: theory, research, and possibilities”, South African Journal of Psychology, Vol. 37 No. 3, pp. 389-419

Hopper and Weinberg (2017) The Social Unconscious in Persons, Groups, and Societies: Volume 3: The Foundation Matrix Extended and Re-configured, London: Karnac Books

Neely, B. and Samura, M. (2011) “Social geographies of race: connecting race and space”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 34 No. 11, pp. 1933-1952

Nitsun, M. (2018) The Group Matrix: Presentation at NLE York

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Reflections on being a black client & black therapist: PART 1 Mind the Gap

For about three years now, I have been holding a private psychotherapy and psychology practice where I see almost exclusively women and non-binary people of colour; in one to ones, in groups and in the community. This is one of my most cherished personal and professional accomplishments.

I have carved my practice out of my struggles and hopes as I continue to battle through the whiteness of clinical psychology and of psychotherapy. A whiteness I felt all the more sharply because as an inner-city child, I have grown up within communities of colour and, because the bulk of my clinical experience pre-doctorate was supporting black people and other communities of colour.

I have carved my practice out of my struggles and hopes as I continue to resist and exist within a society that still does not know how to treat people who look like me equally and decently regardless of its proclamations, and within which finding a therapeutic space where collusion is not reproduced; is in my experience the exception rather than the rule.

I have carved it out of the thousands of ‘personal’ micro and macro experiences of discrimination and Othering I had to navigate. I have refused to ignore this rich data and the intellectual gifts contained therein. Exploring and reflecting on my own lived experience, my lived evidence, has been central to understanding patterns of harm and domination, but also patterns of resistance at various levels of functioning. As I have come to be more and more familiar with the relevant empirical evidence bases, I have found very little, if anything, that has contradicted, what I already knew.

As women and more so as black women, we are socialised to minimise and distrust what we know and often times we stop ourselves from using our gifts or, we wait for someone to give us the go ahead or to tell us how to start. I had little support or direction when I decided to set-up, simply a strong will or perhaps a strong need to have a space where as a black woman psychologist/therapist and mental health professional, I could engage with mental health and psychology from the vantage point of being a black female body in the world.

Where I could make selective use of what psychology has to offer in a way that did not extract it from sociology or from history. Where I could think deeply and complexly about intersectional violence, about intergenerational trauma, about everyday resistance, about cultural homelessness and about structural violence and all the intersections of the socio-economic, the political, the historical, the institutional, the relational and the psychological.

This is the stuff that does not reach clinical psychology or psychotherapy ‘teaching’ in the UK but, the stuff that colours and shapes the existence of many whose needs simply cannot be adequately served within mainstream mental health provisions without doing much damage, and I knew, I knew enough to start.

The motivation was also born out both of an unsatiated intellectual appetite for a deep understanding of the psychological and mental health needs of marginalised people and my own psychological need to practise in a way that was more consistent with my personal ethics, politics and epistemology. Many mental health professionals still believe politics belong outside of our therapy rooms. That therapy is not political. The whiteness of this position is still to be accepted as a fact. Let alone as a problem.

But I did need to practise in a way that could sustain my place in this white space that is psychology. I am forever grateful to the hundreds of people of colour who have trusted that I knew enough and entrusted me with their stories and experiences adding to the evidence I already had, to further help others.

To a large degree I have grown with them. And to a large degree this is not right. But the truth is this work is still in its infancy, particularly in the UK, there are so few of us who aspire or are willing to hold that space.

I often say I have become the therapist I needed, when I needed therapy. A few years ago, I was myself in therapy. This experience has been damaging and enlightening in equal measures. I had sought to be with a therapist of colour to manage whiteness related violence as I struggled with experiences of race discrimination. In all fairness, she struggled too. I don’t know that she knew or knows she did. I knew.

Still, it took me a while to accept it and see her need to create in me, a version of what she felt being a well-adjusted person of colour in the world looked like. Her. Someone who despite all her proclamations; continued to define maturity as acceptance of the status-quo. As assimilation. Someone who typically as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, considered structures distractions from the real issues or a vehicle to the real issues.

And, the real issues for way too many psychotherapists and psychologists still lay in our relationship with our mother. Or to a lesser extent with our father. So, unless you get to a place of anger then grief, for some often grossly exaggerated failure in your primary caregiver, the healing cannot take place. You are simply too ‘resistant’ or perhaps lack psychological mindedness, another fluffy psychological term which has been used for centuries to exclude and pathologise those primarily damaged by social structures.

Imagine a slave in distress at their condition, being asked to reflect on their relationship with their mother, to get to the real issues.

I have drawn support from my former therapist but I have also obviously had many what the fuck moments with her. I am grateful for each of them, they provided additional and priceless sources of data and evidence to me. Often, there was nowhere to go but an impasse. There is very little by way of theoretical knowledge that links the socio-economic to the political, the historical, the institutional, the relational and the psychological. And so I found myself recurrently in that gap, while sitting in that chair, in her room. In that gap trying to reach out. In that gap, aware this was the best psychotherapy could do for me as a political black body. In that gap, voiceless.

But of course, it is because I am defensive. Not being angry at my mother because her capacity to be a mother was affected by the structures within which she mothered me, the abject xenophobia, the racism, the patriarchy, the poverty, is defensive. I clearly cannot face my anger at her. I should be angry at her, this is what good therapy clients do.

Showing love and compassion to my mother for the pain this society has put her through and doubting I could have done a better job, all things being equal, is defensive too. It is not because I know nor because I struggle too, under the same structures. I cannot possibly know. And so, it is because I cannot face some failings in her, obviously. 

My mother did ok. I think she did the best she could. She is not in the best of health. All the battles she had to fight for her eight daughters over the years have taken their toll. Imagine having eight black daughters within a white patriarchal society. And imagine not wanting to stay in your place and raising your daughters to not stay in theirs either. With social transgressions always comes violence. It is not the transgressing that is the problem, it is the systems that seek to convince us that demanding the same rights and opportunities as others, is a transgression. That is the violence. 

My mother’s back is pretty much broken out of the hard physical labour she had to do for decades as a nursing assistant and a carer, the second job she needed to keep us just above the abject poverty line.  The social symbolism of a black woman with a broken back is such a powerful one. So many of the first generation migrant women I know have broken backs. Being the mules of society does carry a heavy price.  And, so many of their daughters have sore throats or are losing their voices trying to speak, this is what being silenced can do.

This is why I set up.                                                                                                                           To kiss rather than flog or add loads to those broken backs. To help some of us find our voice. And, to bridge that gap between the socio-economic, the political, the historical, the institutional, the relational and the psychological. That gap, I had to sit in so many times.

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RACIAL MICRO-AGGRESSIONS & MACRO/MICRO VIOLENCE IN THE WORKPLACE: AN INFOGRAPHIC

2018-06-09 (2)

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Formulating racial conflicts at work: PART 1, adapting Malan’s triangles

Formulation

As human beings we are constantly engaged in sense making. We make hypotheses about the world, others and ourselves. We revise them. We seek to connect the… dots. Partly, this helps us achieve a sense of mastery in the world. Psychological formulations follow these same principles. They essentially aim to derive meaning from a client’s material in a way that allows a shared understanding, usually of a situation that might have led someone to experiencing psychological distress.

Formulating includes reflecting on what might have brought a situation, problem or crisis into being and, what may keep it going. At their most fundamental, formulations are therefore explanatory narratives about the stuckness we may come to experience, at certain moments in our lives. There are various types of formulations dependent on theoretical models and orientations. The present is concerned with a psychodynamic formulation (of racial conflicts in the workplace) and the dangers of exclusively applying individualistic lenses to structural issues. The following vignette will be used as illustration.

Vignette

The vignette below is a composite of various people I have worked with rather than a specific individual. 

Sara, is a Black British woman (of Caribbean  heritage) in her early thirties who works as a manager in the civil service. Sara had been experiencing severe anxiety, debilitating shame and difficulties working with her manager, a white man towards whom she seemed to have developed a ‘phobic’ response/extreme fear. Sara was frequently finding herself advocating for less senior employees of colour facing discrimination or other racial slights. This added much tension in her relationship with management. She essentially became the voice of racism, thus the ‘troublemaker’, was treated with hostility and regularly covertly disrespected. Sara was finding the workplace increasingly oppressive and presented as tearful, hopeless and overwhelmed in the assessment. Exploring the transferential relationship between Sara, and her manager and the workplace as a structure; formed a significant part of the intervention. Of particular note, Sara had a history of bullying, including racial harassment in her childhood, and had been the carer for her widowed father, who spent most of her life in and out of severe depression.

Malan’s two triangles formulation

Malan finalMalan (1995) posited a ‘universal principle of psychodynamic psychotherapy’ which he illustrated using two triangles to organise defensive and relationships patterns: the triangle of conflict and the triangle of person. This schema allows ideas and concepts derived from a client’s material to be organised in a formulation. The triangle of conflict proposes that the expression of feelings (F) is kept at bay by various defences (D) and anxieties (A). The triangle of person considers interpersonal factors and, aims to represent how conflicted relational patterns in the client’s past relationships (P) are enacted within current relationships (C) and, transferred onto a therapist (T).

Paying close attention to their response to the client (countertransference) is central to the triangle of persons. This is posited to provide an important source of data about the client’s mental state and difficulties e.g. the way the client may be experienced by others or how they may more generally function relationally. Countertransference though, is just one source of hypothetical information which may or may not be supported. And, because countertransference taps onto the therapist’s own unconscious conflicts, it is vital that the therapist attempts to find within the client’s material and/or other evidence, corroboration for their reactions.

Sara’s formulation using Malan’s (1995) two triangles.

Disclaimer: some may find this initial formulation, written to examplify how individualistic approaches to distress have the potential to victim blame, pathologise and re-traumatise; difficult to read. 

Using the above vignette, the triangle of conflict may formulate that Sara becomes overinvolved in (racial) conflicts and projects onto the white manager or workplace abusive feelings (D) to block herself from attending to her sense of badness, the (hidden) feeling (F) and; to manage feelings of worthlessness and shame (A). The triangle of persons on the other hand, should Sara trigger feelings of safeness in the therapist (T), could propose that she saw the therapist as a mother figure to protect/save or impress. Perhaps, others in Sara’s current relationships (C) may have similarly been protected (such as the employees of colour in the workplace) or feared (such as the white manager) and; this splitting pattern may potentially reflect unresolved grief over the loss of her mother (which she could not protect), the caring role towards her father she fulfilled most of her life and, the terror she experienced towards the perpetrators of her racial abuse as a child (P).

This basic formulation is naturally one of a number of possible options and, would only hold true so long as it made sense and was helpful to Sara. As demonstrated, the formulation entailed attempting to triangulate relational data in order to draw a meta-theory (of relationships and ego functioning) for the client. Thus, at the core of Malan’s formulation is 1) the therapist’s reactions (countertransference) to Sara, 2) the mechanisms/defenses which may be employed by Sara to avoid pain, 3) Sara’s relational history.

A proposed reformulation: Malan’s adapted triangles

The above conceptualisation would be of limited use in organisational settings indeed, one may argue it may be weaponised to further position Sara as the problem, locate the disturbance in her and/or absolve the workplace from considering its contributions to the conflictual situation.  Doing so reproduce racial tropes and unequal social configurations. This is very problematic. Whilst it is important to consider the employee’s relational history and defenses as this will undoubtedly influence the nature and outcome of any conflict, it is equally crucial, if not more so; given power differentials and thus the unequal capacity to harm and do violence, to consider the organisation’s defense patterns.

An organisational triangle of conflict and of person

adapted finalIn this reformulation, which makes proposed adaptations to the classic two triangles, the organisation’s functioning is centred, rather than Sara’s. One may consider hostility and acts of shaming as organisational defences (D) enacted towards the issues Sara wishes to bring, as attempts by the organisation at keeping race and racism unspoken or silent. This may be hypothesised to be a means by the organisation of managing its anxiety around the legitimacy of Sara’s concerns or in other words, that it may well be racist (A) and; that the underlying impulses are shame and, an overwhelming fear that racism cannot be contained and/or that it may annihilate the organisational structure (hidden) feeling (F). The organisational triangle of conflict would focus on the employee’s response to the Organisation (O) (which thus replaces the T of Malan’s model) and, would of course relate to the organisational defenses. We may propose that Sara’s experiences of shame and distress in the workplace are appropriate responses to real acts of exclusion and marginalisation enacted towards her in her current relationships at work (C).

And finally, posit that current organisational acts are particularly injurious to Sara due to her past, including her history of bullying and racism, the death of her mother (P) and thus, her likely vulnerability to loss and rejection. In other words, we may formulate that Sara is being re-traumatised within an organisational context that has put up violent defenses to protect itself structurally and thus psychically, from its fear of racism. 

Concluding thoughts 

Conflicts are co-created; often intersubjectivity and unconsciously. They serve multiple needs and functions for organisations, teams and individuals and indeed for the macro society at large. This is true of racial conflicts as well. Sara may well have a propensity or valency to be victimised due to her early victimisation and/or for standing for race equality, a role that socially invites violence within white supremacist structures. We may also even interpret that Sara’s activism in the workplace amount to a sublimation of the impulses created by her unmet needs as a bullied and bereaved child and/or that by seeking justice for others, Sara may vicariously be attempting to obtain justice for herself. And to a large extent; none of this matters. These are simply hypothetical interpretations which cannot really be put to test. We will never know, for sure. 

What we do know though, is where we choose to lay our attention as psychologists and therapists, can have significant implications and consequences for individuals particularly, for those with less social power and, for the social order. Our focus may well mean the difference between a marginalised employee unfairly losing their job, being re-traumatised (thus a reproduction of social inequality) or an organisation shifting its gaze onto itself. Consequently, while the adapted model by no means holds more (or less) truth than the initial formulation, it provides a level of analysis which is all too often absent from the conversations people of colour have in therapy and at work. Formulations do not seek to impose particular meanings or truths onto experiences, but do have the potential to amplify more marginalised and silenced truths and thefore shift the balance of power. The present is an invitation to reformulate; wherever we can. And of course, this too is political. 

I welcome feedback and alternative formulations.

Thank you for reading.

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WHITENESS AT WORK FORMULATION

Support for people experiencing racism at work

When working with people experiencing racism at work, I have been frustrated that no formulation model centred on whiteness related violence, exists. Part of my clinical work has involved supporting people in racially oppressive/toxic work environments and as such, I have had to try to develop some tools to help ensure their lived experience of racism was validated and centred in the therapeutic conversation; so that a sense of agency and mastery could be fostered.

I have learnt that experiences of racism at work usually revolve around a main trope/story. The story often sounds like ‘one of these stories’ you have heard many times before and, will likely have a firm déjà vu quality. One might in fact, have heard the story so often, that they become incredulous it is actually happening to them. Many start to doubt their experience. If racism is not externalised, confidence and self-esteem can be significantly hit and, more serious psychological distress may ensue.

The whiteness at work formulation: rationale

The whiteness at work formulation is a basic tool anyone experiencing racism at work may use. It is questions based and, designed to be simple and accessible. The aims of the tool are to:

1) Derive meaning from racially oppressive situations by making connections, links and seeing patterns. Formulating and conceptualisating racism/oppression is one of the most powerful methods to retain a sense of agency and power when we experience racism.

2) Promote some psychological distance and increase our capacity to see the situation in its entirety/from above thus, helping us strategise. Racism is a significant stressor. When under stress, our capacity to plan, think clearly and problem solve is often significantly impaired. Taking a meta-cognitive or helicopter view of the situation can help us problem solve more effectively and, stops us from becoming too emotionally embroiled as this also increases the likelihood of psychological injury/trauma. 

3) Externalise the problem. There are strong structural (and ego centred) drivers that promote victim-blaming in situations of abuse of power. Further, experiences of racism can quickly hook onto past trauma/abuse and/or psychological ‘vulnerabilities’ increasing their wounding potential. Our best defence here is to externalise. 

A basic formulation may thus be useful when both navigating and making sense of whiteness at work. The framework is not designed to promote any particular course of action but, aims to encourage reflection and self-care. 

You choose your strategies. 

The tool may be useful to both those affected by racism and those working to support victims/targets.

The framework: basic questions

1. What is the main narrative/discourse?
Ask yourself…
What is going on here that sounds typical/predictable?
What is causing me distress/discomfort?
(trust your experience)
What seems beyond the individuals concerned?

2. How is whiteness being reproduced here?
Ask yourself…
What tropes can I recognise?
What stereotypes are being used?
What structural inequalities are engaged/perpetuated?

3. Who are the agents of whiteness?
Ask yourself…
Who is actively reproducing whiteness?
Who is passively/inadvertently reproducing whiteness?
Are there any agents that may be/appear unwilling? (consider using them in question 5)

4. Tactics/devices in use
Ask yourself…
What devices are being used to exclude/Other?
What is/are the function(s) of those tactics/devices?
What is the impact of any tactic used (on me and on others)?

5. Navigational and resistance strategies
Ask yourself…
In relation to the functions(s) of the devices in use, what strategies are available to me to buffer/counteract?
What support is available to me – internally and externally?
What/who do I already know, that I could summon to help me navigate here?  

You may want to organise this information in a table. I will aim to produce a diagram (psychologists love diagrams).

Reflect on your answers.

Discuss them with others you trust and more importantly, derive a plan of action based on what you want to achieve in your current situation and, the support you have.

Remember white supremacy is beyond you and it is beyond me too.

Look after yourself.

Experiencing racism or racial injustice is no reflection on your character or lack of skills/talents.

Feel free to pass this post around 🙂 

Happy resisting!

A reflective group for people facing racism and race related challenges at work

Why this group?

PLEASE NOTE THIS GROUP IS NOW FULL AND NO LONGER RECRUITING. 

Few spaces exist where we can reflect on race related challenges and on experiences of racism many of us face at work. Yet, such the experiences can deeply affect our psychological well-being and career trajectories. This group has been set-up to help fill this gap. 

What are the aims of the group?

The group has the following aims:

  1. To aid the formulation of racism related challenges in the workplace using psychological theory
  2. To increase our repertoire of navigational, resistance and/or coping strategies 
  3. To promote our well-being, self-care and psychological resilience at work  

Who is the group for? 

This group is for anyone experiencing racism, or race related challenges at work. There are no additional criteria. 

When is the group meeting?

The group will generally meet fortnightly on a Friday evening from 17h30 to 19h30. The date for the first meeting has now been set-up for Friday May 25. 

How long will the group meet?

This group as a pilot, is intended to last until December 2018. 

What is the duration of each meeting? 

Each group meeting will last 2 hours. 

What is the group format?                    

There is no set structure as of yet.  Nonetheless, the group will meet fortnightly for 2 hours. Terms of reference and ‘ground rules’ will be agreed with members in the first meeting as will the eventual structure. 

Who will facilitate/conduct the group?

I will be facilitating/conducting the group but I hope that the space itself and the presence of others in the group, will be similarly supportive. 

Where will the meetings take place?

The meetings are scheduled to take place in London Euston. 

What if I am not sure I can attend every meeting or I am not sure I am suitable? 

Please contact me and we can have a chat.

Is there a cost?
                                                                               At present it is likely that there will be a small fee (£10.00 per group) but, as the group is being carried out as part of my clinical psychology doctorate, this is to cover costs.  If meeting the fee proves difficult for you, please contact me. Payments will be expected on the day of the meeting, before the meeting. 

Are places limited? 
                                                                           Yes. Places are limited to 15 people maximum. They will be allocated on a first come, first served basis and, a waiting list may be held. 

How can I join/find out more?

To manifest your interest please email me with either your Skype ID or a mobile number (bookings.selfcare@gmail.com) so we can arrange a brief chat. You can also contact me on Twitter @Kguilaine.

I will arrange a chat with everyone one wishing to join.

Thank you.

Silencing, trauma and whiteness

‘I’m no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race. Not all white people, just the clear majority who refuse to accept the existence of structural racism and its symptoms. I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience. You can see their eyes shut down and harden. It’s like treacle is poured into their ears, blocking up their ear canals. It’s like they can no longer hear us […] your voice is snatched away
(Eddo-Lodge, 2017)

As a black woman, I have recurrently found myself in situations where as the only person of colour, speaking of my experience of the world led to hostility; occasionally to violence; more frequently, to disorientating silencing attempts. Often, this silencing has felt more distressing than the discriminatory acts I was trying to share. Similarly, in therapy  people  of colour have approached me, ashamed, often terrified; describing what seems like a wall of impenetrable defensiveness bolstered by gagging manoeuvres; their voices meet when articulating racism. Eddo-Lodge (2017) captures something of this collective experience. My resolve here is to avoid reproducing this silence and, to aid its psychological understanding. Using the concept of the social uncounscious (Foulkes, 1948); I posit this: 1) the social unconscious is a major vehicle for this silencing, 2) that silencing is a remnant of intergenerational racial trauma and 3) that silencing both reproduces and is borne out of historical power configurations.

The social uncounscious 

The social unconscious at its most fundamental, refers to internalised social configurations and; to the properties of the social world that evade our conscious awareness (Hopper, 2003). It essentially posits that our behaviour is not only shaped by unconscious drives in the Freudian sense, but that interpersonal and social forces equally exert powerful influence; this notion is central to Foulkes’ thesis (Hopper and Weinberg, 2011; Dalal, 2003) and the discipline of group analysis.

Despite emphasising that groups lend themselves particularly well to the exploration of the social unconscious, Foulkes (whom the concept is usually attributed to) did not theorise it much beyond this, nor did he provide guidance on how the concept may be employed to formulate group relations and processes in society or therapy (Hopper and Weinberg, 2011).

Others have provided further elaboration. Hopper (2003) posits that the social unconscious is central to the formation of the collective identity of societies and other social systems. Weinberg (2008: 150) conceptualises it as ‘the co-constructed shared unconscious of members of a particular social system such as community, society, nation or culture’. Of particular note, Nitzgen (2002) proposes that the social unconscious offers a tool to consider collective defences against shared anxieties that have been caused by historical trauma.

Trauma and its transmission

The American Psychological Association (APA), defines trauma as:

‘An emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms…’ APA (2018)

The above definition focuses on individualised trauma responses and is thus of limited use to consider collective trauma. Definitions of historical trauma (or of inter/trans-generational trauma — terms  used interchangeably) address these limitations. One such definition sees historical trauma as ‘the cumulative emotional and psychological wounding across generations, including the lifespan, which emanates from massive group trauma’ Brave Heart (1999).

This definition though is not without problems for example, how should ‘massive group trauma’ be operationalised? And, is it even a necessary or desirable criterion? Still, it is much more useful to the study of social groups and of culture as it highlights the intergenerational transmission potential of trauma and; its collective consequences.

Integenerational trauma

Empirical evidence suggests that trauma may be passed down generations not only epigenetically (Kellermann, 2013) but also through unconscious mechanisms. Ritter (2014), in her investigation of the phenomenon in Holocaust survivors; found that projective identification was a core mechanism by which trauma was transmitted; parents often projected Holocaust-related feelings and anxieties into children which became introjected and, led to children behaving as though they had themselves experienced concentration camps.

Contrary to Eurocentric notions of individualism, human beings and groups  may continue to be shaped by phenomena and experiences distant by time and place. The social unconscious allows us to make sense of this transmission. Indeed, the role of history in the structuring of the social world and, in the transmission of trauma has long been recognised (Stobo, 2005).

The social unconscious and intergenerational racial trauma

Stobo (2005) proposes that silence serves to regulate and maintain a psychic equilibrium and; that the space between black and white people holds the fear of something which cannot be spoken. Specifically, shared histories of imperialism, colonialism and enslavement. She suggests that what is feared and difficult to articulate interpersonally, is a discovery or acknowledgement of racism. This unexpressed conflict manifests as disturbance which is located within people of colour in whom difference is fixed.

One way to develop her thesis is to shift the focus from difficulty with articulation, to group difficulties with hearing thus containing and; link these to an intersubjective intergenerational trauma framework. Something I have repeatedly attempted to do. Our attention in relation to intergenerational trauma, often exclusively focuses on the victims of atrocities and their descendants. For example, Alleyne (2004) posits the existence of an ‘internal oppressor’ in black people, a post-traumatic ‘syndrome’ centred on the activation of memory imprints from the legacy of our painful historical past, re-opened in the present, with the occurrence of oppression.

Similarly, Fletchman-Smith (2011) has highlighted how particular cruelties central to slavery such as separating infants from their mothers and; loving parents from one another, continue to affect attachment (and Oedipal patterns) in people of Caribbean backgrounds. Nevertheless, trauma simply did not end at the boundaries of slaves’ quarters. Nor does it remain neatly confined within former colonies/colonial subjects or their descendants. Terror has historically existed on both sides of the power divide. Writing so by no means implies equivalence in suffering.

It is a fact that slave masters were terrorised of slaves. Similarly, the collapse of Apartheid led to collective phobias of retaliatory genocide in white groups. These anxieties continue to reverberate today. Of particular relevance here, some evidence suggests that those who commit violent crimes have a much higher incidence of ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’ (PTSD) irrespective of trauma histories prior to offending (Crisford, Dare & Evangeli, 2008). In other words, subjecting others to trauma often traumatises.

Silence and power

Silence is often denial. It is the wilful or unconscious desire to avoid distressing material. Denial is a common psychological defense against trauma. And, like many responses to trauma, it is not limited to individual survivors; their family members or to direct witnesses. Social/cultural groups also share trauma and cultural wounds; those are believed to form the building blocks of the social unconscious (Volkan, 2001).

Evidence of racial denial at societal level may be found in the abysmal success rates of race discrimination complaints in court and in other public institutions (Renter, 2003) and/or in the discursive devices used to describe those who speak of racism e.g. having a chip on the shoulder, playing the race card. Shame is employed to force people of colour into silence. Silencing is thus a potent form of social control.

Silencing serves the avoidance of shame-based feelings in the racially dominant group which are projected onto people of colour who may introject them. It is no coincidence, that it is through shaming that silencing often operates. But, if what human beings struggle to contain of their experience; what is overwhelming, unbearable, unthinkable, falls out of social discourses to burden next generations (Fromm; 2014), silencing through interpersonal or discursive means, may well foster the transmission of intergenerational or historical racial trauma.

Silencing as historical reproduction

When people of colour are silenced; echoes of the past loom very near. Colonial systems and arrangements resound. Strongly. Contemporary reactions and interactions operate at differing levels of consciousness and; are often rooted in the social unconscious (Stobo; 2005).

Legacies evoked here include the belief that black pain is non-existent or inconsequential; the social expectation that black people must show white people socio-economic and thus psychological servitude; that we must centre white feelings/experience or protect white people’s psychological comfort (DiAngelo, 2001). Ultimately historical sacrificial demands are placed upon the black body, all over again.

Individuals tend to recreate past situations, particularly those within which they have been traumatised. Social groups are equally compelled to unconsciously transfer past social configurations onto present situations and thus create equivalences — group transferences (Hopper, 2003). Silencing it is thus proposed, recreate our oppressive, colonial and imperial history.

Concluding thoughts

Racial silencing, both originates from and, transmits whiteness related trauma. The distress black people (or indeed people of colour) feel when shut down, may not simply come about because white individuals unconsciously (or otherwise) compelled to demand silence, represent or even embody figures from our personal, proximal past. Perhaps too, silencing and responses to it, betray identification with the original silencer/coloniser and/or silenced/colonised and thus; the reproduction or co-reconstruction of this shared intersubjective traumatic history.

If so, relevant social configurations, may not only reignite past cultural or historical wounds and their corresponding affective states or motives; believed to be buried in the social unconscious (Volkan, 2001), they may well recreate a more distal and brutal past, which may become acted out and re-enacted, interpersonally and socially.

Silencing as a discursive act links the (social) unconscious to the socio-political. If the ultimate power is the power to define; silencing  does not only strip us of our voice; it strips us of power and; thus keeps us in subservience. Silencing consequently, may not only harm specific individuals, but entire social/marginalised groups by reproducing the unequal social order psychologically, epistemically and thus structurally and…by helping ensure, history simply never becomes history.

Thank you for reading.

If you have found this article useful or interesting, please spread the word. All work published on Race Reflections is the intellectual property of its writers. Please do not reproduce, republish or repost any content from this site without express written permission from Race Reflections. If you wish to repost this article, please see the contact section for further details.

References:

Alleyne, A. (2004). Black identity and workplace oppression. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 4 (1): 4–8.

American Psychological Association (2018). Trauma. Available from: http://www.apa.org/topics/trauma/ [Accessed 10 March 2018].

Brave Heart, M.Y.H. (1999). Gender differences in the historical trauma response among the Lakota. Journal of Health and Social Policy, 10 (4):1-21.

Crisford, H., Dare, H., & Evangeli, M. (2008). Offence-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomatology and guilt in mentally disordered violent and sexual offenders. Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 19(1), 86-107.

DiAngelo, R. (2011). White Fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Vol 3 (3) pp 54-70.

Eddo-Lodge (2017). Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race. London: Bloomsberg.

Foulkes, S. H. (1948). Introduction to Group Analytic Psychotherapy, London: Karnac.

Fletchman Smith (2011). Transcending the Legacies of Slavery: A Psychoanalytic View. Karnac: London.

Fromm, E. (2014). Lost in Transmission: Studies of Trauma Across Generations. Karnac: London.

Hopper, E. (2003). The Social Unconscious: Selected Papers. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Hopper, E., & Weinberg, H. (Eds.) (2011). The Social Unconscious in Persons, Groups, and Societies. Volume 1: Mainly Theory. Karnac: London.

Kellermann (2013). Epigenetic transmission of Holocaust trauma: can nightmares be inherited? Isr J Psychiatry Relation Sci. 50 (1): 33-9.

Nitzgen, (2002). From Context to Content: Retrieving the Social in Group Analytic Practice. Group Analysis 35(3): 411-423.

Renton, D. 24 January 2013. Culture of disbelief? Why race discrimination claims fail in the Employment Tribunal. Available from; http://www.irr.org.uk/news/culture-of-disbelief-why-race-discrimination-claims-fail-in-the-employment-tribunal/ [Accessed 10 March 2018].

Ritter (2014). Silence as the Voice of Trauma. The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 74 (2): 176–194.

Stobo, B. (2005). Location of disturbance with a focus on race, difference and culture. Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the Masters in Group Analysis, Birkbeck College: London.

Volkan, V.D. (2001). Transgenerational transmissions and chosen traumas: An aspect of large-group identity. Group Analysis, 34: 79-97.

Self-care as Resistance for Black women: Learning, healing, organising.


                                                       On 24 FEBRUARY 2018, London E3                                                   09h00-16h30

What can we practically do to help safeguard our emotional wellbeing?                                     What actions can we take individually and collectively, to support the wellbeing of our loved ones and community?                                                                                                           How do you even begin to practise self-care when you are facing bullying, discrimination and/or harassment at work?                                                                                                                How can we cope with so much systemic and geopolitical violence and, should we?

These are some of the questions many of us grapple with…

As Black women and femmes; there are few opportunities that exist where we can ask them openly, where we can come together, learn from one another and discuss oppression related distress and stress. Yet, there is no doubt that experiencing misogynoir, institutional racism, everyday injustice, micro and macro-aggressions; can have a deep impact on our wellbeing and sense of safety in the world.

‘Self-care as resistance’ is a programme designed to start a conversation centred on our wellbeing and wellness. This event which is the first in the series is specifically for Black women and femmes and non-binary black people. It will offer an opportunity to examine our socio-political reality, its related traumas and their impact on us. ‘Self-care as resistance’ has a strong practical focus. There will be several opportunities to practise self-care using evidence based and culturally adapted models. There will also be the chance to seek collective support, to share and to draw from the experience of others in navigating oppression.

The programme* will include:

PROGRAMME

09h00-09h30 Registration  

09h30-09h40 Welcome and experiencing silence together

09h40-10h00 Introductions & Saying Hello

10h00-10h30 Healing Words by Hodan Yusuf

10h30-11h15 Hoes does the law see me and what can I do? The legal visibility of Black women, intersectionality and the law: an interactive presentation by Kemi Labinjo

11h15-11h30 Break

11h30-12h00 Behavioural activation, why experiencing joy & pleasure matters: Guilaine Kinouani

12h00-12h30 Self-care, religion and spirituality: Samara Linton

12h30-13h00 Lunch and networking

13h00-13h30 Lifting for wellness and healing: A personal testimony by Andrea Corbett

13h30-14h00 Healing Words by Siana Bangura

14h00-14h15 Break 

 14h15-14h45 Self-compassion & Blackness Centred Self-compassion: self-kindness as a revolutionary act Guilaine Kinouani 

14h45-15h30 Strategies for managing oppression at work: collective reflections 15h30-16h15 A panel on Black Excellence: Oppression or liberation?

16h15-16h30 Close and Saying goodbye

Panel members to include:

Kiri Kankhwende; journalist,TEDx speaker and political commentator.

Marsha Gosho-Oakes; writer & Founder of Soul Culture.

Marai Larasi is a Black Feminist Activist and executive director of Imkaan; a UK-based, black feminist organisation and the only national second-tier women’s organisation dedicated to addressing violence against Black and ‘Minority Ethnic’ (BME) women and girls.

The brochure can now be downloaded here (please note it is still subject to change).

Who is the event for?                                                                                                                   

For the February event; we are inviting Cis Black women, Trans Black women and Femmes and non-binary Black people to attend. The next event, planned for April 2018 will be open to ALL Women (and non binary people) of colour.

The Venue

The event will take place at We Heart Mondays; Dace Road, Tower Hamlet E3.

We Heart Mondays is a generous collective of influential women committed to supporting other …influential women; by providing them with (beautiful) physical & efficient virtual spaces together with a range of services to help them grow their venture.



Tickets                                                                                                                                                 

The cost of a place for the whole day has NOW been reduced to £20.00 (due to generous donations).

If you can pay more than £20.00 we would greatly appreciate. The excess will go towards funding places for those who may struggle financially.

We are continuing to raise funds to help with travelling and to support those who cannot afford to pay the full fee but; could benefit from attending.

If you cannot afford to pay or would struggle with travelling costs; please get in touch via email bookings.selfcare@gmail.com; we will try to help. We have several FREE places! Please claim them and help spread the word.

Catering    

Light snacks and finger food will be provided.

Accessibility      

Unfortunately the venue; kindly provided to us at no cost courtesy of We Heart Mondays; is not fully accessible for wheelchair users. Please contact us for additional information about access and ways in which we may assist.

BOOKING A PLACE

To book a place, please make your payment via PayPal: paypal.me/guilainekinouani, indicating as a reference your first initial and surname (e.g. B Knowles).
We will confirm that your place has been booked shortly after payment has been made.

If you wish to request a FREE place, please email bookings.selfcare@gmail.com.

If you do not wish to take part; but simply wish to donate (thank you), do use the PayPal account above (paypal.me/guilainekinouani). Please note, places are likely to go fast and will be allocated on a first come first served basis.

*The Final Programme will be available to download shortly from here.