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The Writings of Professor Robert M. Young
by Robert M. Young
| Contents | Preface | Acknowledgements | Chapter: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | Bibliography |
PROJECTIVE SPACE: THE RACIAL OTHER
The analytic space is designed to be containing and enabling, but much of life is not so constructive and safe. Racism and associated forms of institutionalised hatred - nationalism, certain forms of virulent tribalism - strike me as the most obvious areas of the internal worlds of humans which do not seem amenable to the forces of enlightenment. Alas, although psychoanalysis has addressed itself to other forms of being less than fully and constructively human - for example, psychosis, psychopathy, autism, mental handicap - the psychoanalytic literature is relatively silent on the subject of racism. My aim in this chapter is to explore the issues and the literature as something of a 'worst-case' study of what we are up against in the understanding of human nature and the horrid, destructive contents of a distressingly large portion of most people's mental space. The psychological characteristics of racism are splitting, violent projective identification, stereotyping and scapegoating. I will attempt to bring these psychoanalytic categories to bear on the contingencies of the social, historical, economic and ideological phenomena of organised hatred.
I want to begin with two quotations. The first is from a U.N.E.S.C.O. publication entitled The Race Question in Modern Science: '...among the Dakota Sioux Indians in the state of South Dakota it is regarded as incorrect to answer a question in the presence of others who do not know the answer; this might be interpreted as showing off, or as bringing shame to others, and is consequently condemned by the whole group' (quoted in Levidow, 1978, p.29). Is it surprising, then, that these people don't do well on IQ tests?
The second quotation is from an eminent scientist, C. D. Darlington, Fellow of the Royal Society and a Professor of Genetics at Oxford. In his book on The Evolution of Man and Society, he wrote, 'All advanced societies, as we have seen, arise from a stratification of social classes whose genetic differences and mutual dependence are the permanent foundation of their advance.' (Darlington, 1969, p. 366). 'Indeed, class differences ultimately all derive from genetic and, usually, racial differences' (p. 547). Colonised and genetically stratified societies are, as always, advancing faster than the uncolonized or decolonized and unstratified societies (e. g., p. 675). 'In short, racial discrimination has a genetic basis with a large instinctive and irrational component. Its action may be modified by education or by economic processes. But it cannot be suppressed by law' (p. 606).
According to Darlington, who turns out to be both a racist and a Social Darwinist, science tells us that segregation and apartheid are not to be lightly dismissed. The principle of subordinating one racial group to another 'has governed the evolution of all advancing societies since soon after the beginning of agriculture. And it has been the means of their advancement' (p. 607). Similarly, 'All the great races of man differ in smell; they dislike one another's smell and are kept apart by it. But in the nostrils of all other races the pygmies positively stink. It is a property which has arisen from their genetic and ecological isolation' (p. 645). The Irish, the working class and black people do not fare much better in Darlington's account, though their supposed genetic deficiencies are different ones.
I began with those quotations - one rather touching and edifying, showing why the Sioux consider IQ tests impolite, the other obviously racist, even though written by an authoritative scientist - to illustrate a premise of what I want to say: that there are, in truth, very striking cultural differences, ones which are likely to evoke strong reactions between different identifiable groups, and experts who write about them can do so in progressive and reactionary ways.
All the differences which lead to racialist oppression are not based on obvious and easily observable features. I am told that the untouchables of Japan are simply not physically identifiable as different from other Japanese, yet they are banished from polite society and are confined to certain areas and certain trades, especially work with leather. When there are identifiable differences, there are forms of discrimination within so-called races. Garveyism in the West Indies and United States had as its first battle the need to fight the hierarchy extending from light-skinned to dark-skinned blacks, before it could address the problem of black/white racism. It remains true in both countries that light skin is widely admired, and light-skinned leaders have predominated in the West Indies. Similarly, the (East) Indian caste system is a powerful racist structure within a larger culture, a culture which is in some other contexts perceived as a relatively homogeneous racial minority which merits a uniform degree of racial oppression. Franz Fanon (1967) makes a similar point about shades of black as perceived by blacks themselves. In South Africa, blacks resent Indians, regard their role as small shopkeepers as oppressive and stereotype them as cheats.
It should be obvious by now that I could easily - or fairly easily - so muddle up the putatively natural or ethnic basis of concepts of race that it won't wash to try to base racism on any clear-cut real or biological types. Indeed, there is a large and sophisticated literature in the social sciences which has sought to delineate the concept of race from those of class and nation. This literature has been critically canvassed by Floya Anthias in 'Race and Class Revisited - Conceptualising Race and Racism' (1990). She sees nationhood and ethnicity 'as central organising principles of social relations in the modern era' and locates the concept of race in relation to those notions (p. 38). However, as Benedict Anderson has eloquently shown, nationhood is itself an historically contingent social construct; a nation is an Imagined Community with no natural basis and, in most cases, a rather arbitrary and recent origin (1983).
Anthias' summary is terminologically dense but provides a useful reminder of the complexity of the terrain of race: 'Race has no analytical validity in its own right but is a social construction with its own representational, organisational and experiential forms linking it ontologically to the wider category of ethnos which provides its analytical axis. Race denotes a particular way in which communal or collective differences come to be constructed and understood. Its placement within the category of ethnos, that is nation and ethnicity, is not in terms of cultures of difference but in terms of the specific positing of boundaries. These involve mechanisms of both inclusion and exclusion of individuals on the basis of the categorisation of human subjects into those that can belong and those that cannot. From this point of view, race is a particular articulation of where and how the boundary is to be constructed. In the case it is on the basis of an immutable fixed biologically or physiognomically based difference. This may be seen to be expressed in culture or life-style but is always grounded in some notion of stock, involving the collective heredity of traits' (p. 22).
Fortunately, the putative biological difference, the notion of 'stock' and 'the collective heredity of traits' have not stood up to scientific scrutiny. The close study of blood groups has shown a continuum, not a clear boundary, at the points where racial differentiation is claimed by the racists. Claimed racial differences are not natural; they are naturalised. Some close students of the issue have argued that no serious natural phenomenon can be identified as 'race' and relegate the term to being merely a 'category of everyday life' (p. 32). If that is taken to mean that it is an ideological rather than a natural category, I would agree. However, like all ideological categories, it is certainly real and deeply embedded in human psychology - more deeply and intractably than we often suppose, as I shall attempt to show. For the moment, my point is that we have here a psychological and ideological phenomenon which is firmly rooted in the society. It is not a disease to be identified, diagnosed and treated. Rather, it is a mediation of an amalgam of economic, ethnic, class and nationalist forces which engender splitting off taboo or feared aspects of the self; projection of them onto the Other, who usually reprojects a version of them; scapegoating and stereotyping a particular social group. The mechanisms are primitive and universal, but their deployment is learned in tacit ways, imbibed with the culture, expressed as second nature, without deliberation.
My second point takes us to the loud silence in the psychoanalytic literature. Joel Kovel says somewhere that the main barrier to getting the psychoanalytic community to address social, much less radical, issues lies in the social location of its practitioners. An allied observation - my own - is that a racist society will have a racist science (Young, 1987a). The problem of racism and psychoanalysis is a special case of an issue in recent studies in the social construction of knowledge, i. e., that groups seek legitimacy in nature, including the allegedly biologically 'given', for their social views and beliefs. The social process of scientific research and writing involves naturalisation, the embodiment of belief systems in the agendas and 'findings' of science. I have argued above that there is a growing consensus among those who think about science as a social and cultural process that conceptions of nature, including human nature, are made, not found. Once such naturalisations get legitimated, they find their way into individuals and are deeply - unconsciously - sedimented and become routine: second nature (Young, 1981a, 1988a).
The unbearable and unacceptable parts of the group and the individual may be wishes, fears, idealisations, denigrations. When they get split off and projected into others, anxiety in the self and the group is diminished. When the others take them up and behave according to the stereotype, the projection is vindicated: in the 'lazy nigger', the 'cunning yid', the 'crazy Indian', the 'fanatical Arab'. Both sides then live on in a set of mutual projections and reprojections, rather like those I described in chapter four with respect to the members of a couple. Those involved in racism are among the most virulent in human nature. They rank with, and often combine with, torture, murder, foetocide, genocide - the most violent and snarling expressions of spite, perversity and cruel depravity. I am thinking of rape, castration, bayoneting, lynching, gassing, extermination and related forms of behaviour toward inferiorised peoples such as blacks, Tamils, Jews, Indians, Palestinians, Protestants, Catholics, Kurds, Armenians, Bosnians, Muslims, Croatians.
These are not facts about correctable biases in society or in the literature on human nature; they are facts about the sociology of knowledge and of the unconscious. The culture's values and a professional group's values will determine the value systems that get lived out in history and the questions that get asked, what counts as an acceptable answer, what research is prestigious, what work gets funded and published or - as the fundamental particle physicists say - what is 'sexy'. In this and the previous paragraphs I have juxtaposed the virulence and ubiquity of racism with the blinkered social location of those who ponder and write and edit and publish in the psychoanalytic world. There is a loud silence in the psychoanalytic literature about racism. Why? Because it is not a topic affecting the institutions, the careers, the prestige, the patronage networks and the incomes of by far the majority of psychoanalysts and psychotherapists. Ask yourself how many black patients get treated or even heard of or how many black or brown psychotherapists or psychoanalysts you know or know about. I can think of only a handful and know of only a small number of inquiries which are attempting to understand the gap between blacks and Asians in the population and the number of patients and therapists from these minority groups in Britain (Ilahi, 1988).
Of course, black/white racism is not the only kind. This explains the small amount of literature which I have found in the psychoanalytic journals. It is about anti-semitism, with particular reference to the Holocaust and work with survivors of Hitler's camps (Kren, 1987; Faimberg, 1988; Kogan, 1989). It would be silly to think that psychoanalysis is free from racism, and I don't only mean anti-gentile attitudes. I recently read the autobiography of an eminent psychoanalyst who has held the highest offices in his profession, and it was patently anti-semitic. I asked him about this in the presence of his Jewish (actually his second Jewish) wife, and he acknowledged that it was so. He said, rather wistfully, that they just feel somehow alien to him. Lest it be thought that I am making a cheap shot here, read on to the end of the chapter, where the near-inevitability of something like his - and my - racism will be made apparent.
There are, of course, some notable exceptions to this bleak picture, this loud silence - the writings of Fanon. Kovel and Wolfenstein - and I shall revert to these. Even so, given the role of racism in the various societies where the largest number of psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic psychotherapists live and work, the silence is resounding. As I was writing this chapter, I read a review by the eminent socialist historian, Gwyn Williams, in which he said that a good historian learns how to listen for the silences. I'd like to think I am a good historian, and I want to make a noise about this silence. It's not acceptable.
In the period with which my own historical research has been mainly concerned there is a readily apparent truism which also applies to the present, as I shall argue below. People of good will, people of great intelligence and liberality, people (I am referring to the mid-nineteenth century) who were deeply opposed to slavery, could nevertheless be straightforwardly and profoundly racist. Charles Darwin and T. H. Huxley - pre-eminent in their age for shining the light of science and fighting superstition, prejudice and obscurantism - are striking examples. Here is Huxley from an essay entitled 'Emancipation: Black and White', written in 1865: 'It may be quite true that some negroes are better than some white men; but no rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the average white man. And, if this be true, it is simply incredible that, when all his disabilities are removed, and our prognathous [projecting jaw] relative has a fair field and no favour, as well as no oppressor, he will be able to compete successfully with his bigger-brained and smaller-jawed rival, in a contest which is to be carried on by thoughts and not by bites. The highest places in the hierarchy of civilisation will assuredly not be within the reach of our dusky cousins, though it is by no means necessary that they should be restricted to the lowest. But whatever the position of stable equilibrium into which the laws of social gravitation may bring the negro, all responsibility for the result will henceforward lie between nature and him. The white man may wash his hands of it, and the Caucasian conscience be void of reproach for evermore. And this, if we look to the bottom of the matter, is the real justification for the abolition policy' (Huxley, l865, pp. 17-18).
Huxley's argument then turns to the subject of women, who receive the same treatment: it is illiberal to add social inequality to their obvious biological inferiority. He concludes with respect to both sorts of inferior creatures: 'The duty of man is to see that not a grain is piled upon that load beyond what nature imposes; that injustice is not added to inequality' (p. 23).
In The Descent of Man, Darwin's second most important book and the one in which he spelled out the implications of his theory of evolution for humankind, he wrote, 'But the inheritance of property by itself is very far from evil; for without the accumulation of capital the arts could not progress; and it is chiefly through their power that the civilised races have extended and are now everywhere extending their range, so as to take the place of the lower races' (Darwin, 1874, p. 135; see also Young, 1985, 1994d).
It could be argued that these men were not directly enough concerned with the race question to be subjected to this scrutiny. In fact, both were seriously involved in the abolitionist movement. Even so, let's look at Abraham Lincoln, the man who freed the American slaves and who vies with Nelson Mandela in my mind for the position of dwelling most consistently in the depressive position and thinking under fire in the midst of an impossible set of contending forces. He wrote, 'What next? Free them and make them politically and socially our equals? Our feelings will not admit of this, and if mine would, we know that those of the great mass of whites will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgement is not the sole question, if indeed it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well or ill founded, cannot be safely disregarded. We cannot then make them equals' (quoted in Sandberg, vol. 2, p. 14). On another occasion, Lincoln said, 'All I ask for the negro is that, if you do not like him, let him alone. If God gave him little, that little let him enjoy' (p. 131). And again, as to all men being born equal: 'Certainly the negro is not our equal in colour perhaps not in many other respects; still, in the right to put in his mouth the bread that his own hands have earned, he is equal to every other man, white or black. In pointing out that more has been given you, you cannot be justified in taking away the little which has been given him' (ibid.).
You may say that it is easy to patronise people who lived before our enlightened times. Let's look, then, at a recent Nobel Prize-winner, that nice man, Konrad Lorenz, who wrote King Soloman's Ring (1961) and had the little greylag goslings running after him, believing him to be their mother as a result of biological 'imprinting'. Lorenz was one of the founders of ethology, the scientific study of animal behaviour, the gentlest of the behavioural sciences. He won a Nobel Prize for his pioneering scientific work. I turn to the Austrian scientist's contribution to the Sixteenth Congress of the German Psychological Association in 1938. He is addressing the section on 'Character', subsection 'Heredity': 'This high valuation of our species-specific and innate social behavior patterns is of the greatest biological importance. In it as in nothing else lies directly the backbone of all racial health and power. Nothing is so important for the health of a whole Volk as the elimination of "invirent types": those which, in the most dangerous, virulent increase, like the cells of a malignant tumor, threaten to penetrate the body of a Volk' (quoted in Kalikow, 1978, p.174).
Two years later, he wrote, 'If there should be mutagenic factors. their recognition and elimination would be the most important task of those who protect the race, because the continuing possibility of the novel appearance of people with deficiencies in species-specific social behavior patterns constitutes a danger to Volk and race which is more serious than that of a mixture with foreign races. The latter is at least knowable as such and, after a one-time elimination of breeding, is no longer to be feared. If it should turn out, on the other hand, that under the conditions of domestication no increase in mutations takes place, but the mere removal of natural selection causes the increase in the number of existing mutants and the imbalance of the race, then race-care must consider an even more stringent elimination of the ethically less valuable than is done today, because it would, in this case, literally have to replace all selection factors that operate in the natural environment' (p. 176). Once one penetrates the verbiage, one finds oneself in the midst of fascist ideology, linked to ominous social measures to achieve racial purity by eugenic means.
Where have we got to? First, racism has no natural basis in biological science, except to the extent that racist biologists put it there. It is social, economic, ideological and psychological, with its proximate roots deeply sedimented in the unconscious. Second, psychoanalysis in a racist society will be racist, or at least very selective in the aspects of racism its writers are likely to take up. Third, being enlightened and scientific is no guarantee against racism in the past or present. It is embedded in the culture.
I shall now revert to the literature. Over the years I have developed some skill in finding my way around the literature on topics which interest me. It takes time, but one can get, from footnotes and references and scanning runs of journals, more than one needs to provide a basis for reflecting on a topic in the light of the best writings. Never, never before have I come up with so little, and much of what I've found isn't much use. I am referring to the psychoanalytic literature. As I've said, it's pathetic. If one turns to novels, oral tradition, cultural studies, films and music, it's another story.
I want to touch now on certain themes - tools my reading has given me for further work. I won't presume to outline Franz Fanon's Black Skin, White Mask, John Dollard's Caste and Class in a Southern Town, Rae Sherwood's The Psychodynamics of Race, Michael Banton's Racial Theories, Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma: the Negro Problem and Modern Democracy or the useful collections, Anatomy of Racism, edited by David Goldberg and Theories of Race and Ethnic Relations, edited by John Rex and David Mason. There is a growing literature on the psychology of blacks and various accounts of the holocaust and holocaust victims. There is also a very helpful literature on Native American 'Indians' in which Dee Brown's account from inside the Indian experience, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, is complemented by a fascinating historical account of white projections - The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present by Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr. A small number of books - mostly fiction have done as much as my own experience to provide what understanding I do have of these matters: Lillian Smith's Strange Fruit and Killers of the Dream, Alan Paton's Too Late the Phalarope, Alice Walker's The Color Purple and Toni Morrison's practically unbearably moving Beloved, as well as her more recent novel, Jazz..
There are lessons to be learned from the prehistory of racism. Basil Davidson says this: 'What did Europeans think about black people before the rise of racism? How did they estimate the values of black humanity? There are countless indications in the pictorial arts. Think only of the noble portraits of the black monarch among the three kings who journeyed to salute the birth of Christ. Think of the work of the great masters of the Renaissance who painted black persons. Think of Rembrandt, Velasquez, many more. Each of them, without exception, painted black persons from the same standpoint as they painted white persons, whether either of these, white or black, were kings or merchants or ambassadors or servants' (Davidson, 1987, p. 12). Davidson makes these observations in the context of favourably reviewing a remarkable tour de force, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization by Martin Bernal (1987), in which the author draws on a wide range of classes of evidence to show that the very notion of Aryan purity contained in our idea of the classical Greeks was a social construct, created by late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century scholars to provide a pedigree for their notions of European racial superiority. In fact, he argues, ancient Greek society was contributed to by numerous African and Asiatic strains and was far from 'pure'. Here is a striking instance of the rewriting of history for racist purposes, which is rebutted by a scholar who is dedicated to a different vision of humanity: racist versus anti-racist scholarship.
The two writers on racism whom I have found most helpful are Joel Kovel and Eugene Victor Wolfenstein. Both are Marxists, and both say again and again that we must never lose sight of the economic and social interests being served and mediated by racism. They see racism as false consciousness at the social level, scapegoating and rationalisation at the individual level. It is not sui generis and is always a mediation of socio-economic issues. What is unique about it is its virulence - the sheer psychotic permissiveness of racist feelings and the actions to which they lead. Kovel uses the same argument about splitting and the scapegoated role of the largely projected Other in his writings on nuclear terror in the service of virulent nationalism (1983). I'll sketch some of the fruits of their analyses.
The key to any attempt to keep economic and social interests in the forefront of our understanding is to try to think dialectically. Things do not only interact: they mutually interpenetrate at many levels; they are mutually constitutive. According to Wolfenstein the key to the dialectic in this matter is a version of Harold Lasswell's formula for understanding the inner and the outer. Lasswell argued that private motives get displaced onto public objects and are then rationalised in terms of the public interest. Wolfenstein is a political scientist and historian as well as a psychoanalyst and wants to start the story at an earlier point. He says that 'Political interests are first reflected into the public sphere, then internalised as character structure and only subsequently displaced into the public realm' (Wolfenstein, 1981, pp. 17-18).
For Wolfenstein, the concept of race manages to obscure both the genuine public issues and the mediation of them through unconscious processes. Hence, racial conflict precludes and obscures class issues and class conflict. Potentially subversive or revolutionary energies get deflected by the lightning rod of the racial object (Wolfenstein, 1977, p. 178). Racism itself is an illusion of a naturally determined social differentiation between racial collectives which serves to justify a particularly violent relationship of domination and subordination. If we adopt his position it becomes clear that slavery was not born of racism but that racism was the consequence of slavery and its sequellae: brown, white, black, yellow, Italian, Chinese, Irish and so on. The economic and social relationship comes first and finds plenty of scope for mediation through human psychic processes. According to Banton (1987), the first evidence of English racism lay in the eighteenth century among Barbados planters who found it convenient to describe their slave workers as beasts without souls. Slavery came first; racism was its rationalisation.
As Kovel tells it, those dark-skinned Africans were treated as descendants of Ham, the son of Noah. According to the Bible, Ham looked upon his father naked and had failed to cover the old man, though his brothers had done so. Ham's punishment was that his son Chus (or Canaan) and all his descendants would be black and would be banished from his sight. The crime of Ham - as the Hebraic and early Christian commentators understood perfectly well - was not merely disrespect. It was the castration of the father - the violent rejection of paternal authority and the acquisition of the father's sexual choice. The blackening and banishing of Ham's progeny is the retaliatory castration by the higher Father, God. The transgression which is used to rationalise racism was putatively an Oedipal one.
What is black and banished cannot be seen. The long-term consequence of this was, according to Fanon, that in Europe, that is to say, in every civilised and civilising country, the Negro is the symbol of sin. Whatever is forbidden and horrifying in human nature gets designated as black and projected onto a man whose dark skin and oppressed past fit him to receive the symbols. The id becomes the referent of blackness within the personality, and the various trends within the id make themselves realised in the world as the forms of blackness embodied in the fantasies of race (Kovel, 1970, pp. 63-66).
Once again, Wolfenstein points out that the relationship remains dialectical. It grips the oppressor and the oppressed. In his excellent biography of Malcolm X (the best book on racism I have read), Wolfenstein spells out the relationship as follows: 'Stating the point more generally, we may say the Negro identity (like any other externally imposed and therefore stereotypically limited identity) is a character-form of group-emotion, determined through the mediation of identification with the oppressor. Conscience and consciousness are both whitened out, and blackness becomes firmly attached to unacceptable, predominantly aggressive, infantile emotional impulses. Black people and white people alike come to have a character-structure in which the I, including the moral I, is white, and the It is black. Within this relationship, black people can think of themselves as fully human only by denying their true racial identity, while white people secure their humanity only at the price of black dehumanisation. Thus the concept of the emotional-group here emerges in the form of a dominating-dominated intergroup relationship. In this relationship the repressed sadistic tendencies of the dominating group become the self-hatred, the masochistic tendency, of the dominated group. Conversely, the alienated self-esteem of the dominated group becomes the narcissism of the dominating one. And through the work of secondary elaboration or rationalisation, the members of both groups are held firmly in the grip of a stereotypical false consciousness' (Wolfenstein, 1981, p. 145). (Please note, once again, that, mutatis mutandis, this set of mutual projections exactly parallels those described by Tom Main as characteristic of a bad but stable marriage. above, chapter four).
Wolfenstein reminds us that this emotional process is determined by the political and economic power of the ruling class and that 'Emotional alienation is determined by and is the reproductive mediation of alienated labour'. Thus, by becoming a Negro, 'Malcolm X was learning to play his part in capitalism's dumb show of racial stereotypes, its dialectic of self-preservation' (p. 146).
Kovel says that racism, 'far from being a simple delusion of a bigoted and ignorant minority, is a set of beliefs whose structure arises from the deepest levels of our lives - from the fabric of assumptions we make about the world, ourselves and others and from the patterns of fundamental social activities' (Kovel, l970, p. 3). The racial Other is the negation of the socially-affirmed self (p. xxix). We reduce the racial object to an alien Other - not me, not human, not clean, not inhibited, not civilised, not whatever I cannot bear or allow in myself.
He breaks racism into a number of subdivisions. Dominative racism is the direct oppressive relationship of the southern American states. Aversive racism is the exclusion and cold-shouldering of blacks in the northern states. Metaracism is the product of an economic and technocratic society. He describes the historical transitions from dominative to aversive to metaracism as parallel to development from slavery to feudalism to industrialisation.
The end of slavery and the arrival of nominal desegregation has not improved certain aspects of the lot of blacks in America. In the decades after the American Civil War, there were 4000 recorded lynchings of black people, who were often hung in groups on festive occasions. Lynchings were ritual occasions, community festivals with magical associations: the fingers, toes and private parts of the victims were highly-prized, as were the links of the chains which bound them and the ropes which strangled them (Buckser, 1992, pp. 18, 22, 23). It was a respectable thing to belong to the Ku Klux Klan. It was celebrated in the first feature film, 'Birth of A Nation', Woodrow Wilson admired it, and a Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court was at one time a member.
Moving ahead to recent times, black incomes fell relatively between 1970 and 1980, and unemployment rose relatively by five per cent, while that of young people reached fifty per cent. The chances of a black person dying of alcoholism are three times that of a white person. The number of homicides is five times that of whites. The number of blacks in prison is a multiple of their percentage of the population. One quarter of young black men is in jail, on probation or otherwise under the control of the law. A black man in Harlem has less chance of living to fifty than the inhabitants of Bangladesh (Sunday Times 4 March 1990, p. A18). Similar misfortunes apply to the relationship between black people and the British mental health services. A black person is twice as likely as a white to be diagnosed psychotic, to be locked away against his or her will ('sectioned') and to be given drugs forcibly. The chance of being hospitalised is three times that of a white person ('Hear Say', BBC2, 28 August 1991).
The plight of the Native American 'Indian' is worse and has been dreadful from the moment of 'discovery' of America. (The inverted commas refer to recent recognition that non-European explorers had reached the Western World long before Columbus did in 1492. See Carew, 1988. Moreover, since the country was inhabited, it didn't need to be discovered.). Colonialism and racism were integrally related from the start and decimated red and black and then other peoples: 'Modern colonialism, which began with the European rediscovery of the Americas de-civilised vast areas of the world. It began with a holocaust against Native Americans, twelve million of whom died in the first forty years of the Colombian era, continued against Africans, two hundred million of whom were estimated to have died in the Atlantic slave trade (nine million perished on the ships alone), and then there were countless deaths of Asian peoples as colonialism gained momentum' (Carew, 1988, p.38). These figures do not include the march West of the American Frontier, which completed the devastation of the Native American way of life. This has been called the longest undeclared war in history. The scale of the carnage was unprecedented in world history and remains unparalleled.
Learned Catholic theologians decreed in 1503 that the permission of Queen Isabella should be given for slavery in the New World, and a degraded view of the natives was a prerequisite to this trade, as was a promise of salvation: 'Being as they are hardened in their hard habits of idolatry and cannibalism, it was agreed that I should issue this decree... I hereby give licence and permission... to capture them... paying us the share that belongs to us, and to sell them and utilise their services, without incurring any penalty thereby, because if the Christians bring them to these lands and make use of their service, they will be more easily converted and attracted to our Holy Faith' (Carew, 1988., p. 48). The European charge of cannibalism was unfounded. Harmless and helpful natives were badmouthed as wild and bestial, thus legitimating the activities of a master race. The savagery of the conquistadors was projected onto their victims, who could then be seen as subhuman and could be treated in subhuman ways - which they extravagantly were.
The ensuing carnage was chronicled by a contemporary observer, Bartolomé de Las Casas, a Catholic cleric who observed that the Indians 'had a greater disposition towards civility than the European people', yet it was 'upon such people that the Spaniards fell as tigers, wolves and lions fall upon lambs and kids. Forty years they ranged those lands, massacring the wretched Indians until in the land of Espanola, which in 1492 had a population estimated at three millions of people, scarcely three hundred Indians remained to be counted. The history of Espanola is the history of Cuba, San Juan [Puerto Rico], and Jamaica. Thirty islands in the neighbourhood of San Juan were entirely depopulated. On the side of the continent, kingdom after kingdom was desolated, tribe after tribe exterminated. Twelve millions of Indians in those continental lands perished under the barbarous handling of the Spaniards. Their property was no more secure than their lives. For greed of gold, ornaments were torn from neck and ear, and as the masked burglar threatens his victim until he reveals the hiding-place of this store, the Indians were subjected to the most cruel tortures to compel the disclosure of mines which never existed and the location of gold in streams and fields in which the Almighty has never planted it. Obedience secured no better treatment than sullenness, faithful service no better reward than that which followed treachery. The meanest Spaniard might violate the family of the most exalted chief, and home had no sanctity in the bestial eyes of the soldier. The courtiers rode proudly through the streets of the New Isabella, their horses terrifying the poor Indians while their riders shook their plumed heads and waved their glistening swords. As they rode along, their lances were passed into women and children, and no greater pastime was practised by them than wagering as to a cavalier's ability to completely cleave a man with one dextrous blow of his sword. A score would fall before one would drop in the divided parts essential to winning the wager. No card or dice afforded equal sport. Another knight from Spain must sever his victim's head from the shoulder at the first sweep of his sword. Fortunes were lost on the ability of a swordsman to run an Indian through the body at a designated spot. Children were snatched from their mother's arms and dashed against the rocks as they passed. Other children they threw into the water that the mothers might witness their drowning struggles. Babes were snatched from their mothers' breasts, and a brave Spaniard's strength was tested by his ability to tear an infant into two pieces by pulling apart its tiny legs. And the pieces of the babe were then given to the hounds that in their hunting they might be the more eager to catch their prey. The pedigree of a Spanish bloodhound had nothing prouder in its record than the credit of half a thousand dead or mangled Indians. Some natives they hung on gibbets, and it was their reverential custom to gather at a time sufficient victims to hang thirteen in a row, and thus piously to commemorate Christ and the Twelve Apostles. Moloch must have been in the skies... I have been an eye-witness of all these cruelties, and an infinite number of others which I pass over in silence' (quoted in Carew, 1988, pp. 48-9).
Las Casas gives his account island by island, and in practically every case friendly overtures on the part of the natives were repaid with decimation. It was only in the wake of this that the natives became hostile. (It is easy to adopt the other side of the split and ignore the wars between tribes and the human sacrifice involved, for example, in some Central American rituals.) But even then we find a long history of honourable negotiations and treaties, cynically broken and overturned, as Dee Brown's account chronicles. Consequently, the condition of the Indian scarcely improved in the centuries subsequent to the sixteenth, and in the nineteenth century the Americans all but completed their extermination, only to wreak upon them another humiliation in making the dime novel and the film western vehicles for symbolising the onward march of the white man's Frontier and the trials of American manhood. Once again, they treated the 'Noble Savage' as wholly ignoble and rapacious, thoroughly deserving diabolisation at the hands of endless paperback cowboys and cinematic John Waynes which echoed, in long marches to alien reservations and at the massacre of Indians at Wounded Knee (which wreaked revenge for the slaughter of US Cavalry at Custer's Last Stand at the Little Big Horn), the behaviour of the Spaniards chronicled by Las Casas three centuries earlier (Slatta, 1990, ch. 12; Buscombe, 1988).
In the wake of physical slaughter, there has been cultural denigration. Offensive terms have found their way into common parlance. For example, the word 'redskin' is derived from bounty hunters who found it burdensome to bring in whole bodies. They were allowed to flay their victims and deliver their bloody skins in order to receive $60 for a man's and $40 for a woman's. Similarly, Indian names - including Redskins, Indians and Braves - are attached to white sports teams, whose cheerleaders and fans dress up in ways that offend the Native Americans and reduce their heritage to foolish garb and frenetic caricatures of war dances. Contemptuous racist terms were also transferable: Indians were called 'prairie niggers', hipsters who adopted black ways of behaving were 'white niggers' and civil rights liberals were 'nigger lovers'.
In addition to cultural degradation there is an erosion of the taboos at the foundation of civilization. I recently visited Manitoba and met the white doctor who is responsible for the welfare of Native Canadian children. He told me that there are whole communities where every member has been sexually abused by whites or natives or both and that the practice can be traced through many generations.
The rampant racism of cowboy films is particularly ironic in its portrayal of blacks and Mexicans as pawns, lazy or bad.. Historical research provides a very different picture of the cowboy: 'In the myth and in the movies he is always a white Anglo-Saxon. In reality, he was often black or brown. Texas, the source of so many cowboys, was a slave state, and the coastal counties where the cattle were raised in Texas before the Civil War had large slave populations, which in a few of them made up as much as 70 or 80 percent of the total population of the county. Slaves worked cattle, broke horses, and acquired all the skills exhibited in the movies by white cowboys. After the war, they were joined by freedmen from all over the South who went West. Virtually all Texas trail outfits included black cowboys, and a few, like the one Jim Ellison took to Kansas in the spring of 1874, were all black. In the 1920s George Saunders estimated that a third of all hands were either black or Mexican, and numerous cowboy memoirs and a few surviving photographs of trail outfits bear him out' (Taylor, 1983, p. 20).
There have been a few films which have sought to redress some of these historical injustices. For example, 'Broken Arrow' (1950), made a stand against racism by portraying the hero, James Stewart, as sympathetic to the Indians. He lived among them and married one. (It is no accident that the scriptwriter, Albert Maltz, was jailed for refusing to testify to his political affiliations before the McCarthyite, witch-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee. Maltz was blacklisted for his communist beliefs, so a friend put his name to the script, which won many prizes.) In 'Hombre' (1966), Paul Newman's Indian values, hard as they are, are seen to show up the hypocrisy of those who were supposed to care for Indians on reservations but who ruthlessly stole food and supplies from them. More recently, Kevin Cosner's 'Dances with Wolves' (1991) provides homage to Native American culture, albeit at the expense of making the white soldiers into wooden baddies, even though the reality would have been bad enough. There is an irony in the number of Oscars the picture won, for the film perpetuates the split and presents its mirror image. In 'Lonesome Dove' (1989), one of the most admirable figures - after the two white Texas Ranger heroes - is black, and his death is one of the most poignant moments. He is felled while rescuing a blind Indian baby.
The connection between the Indians portrayed in 'Dances with Wolves' and their present-day descendants is spelled out in an article about the film: 'Imagine you were a Native American, living on a reservation in Shannon County, South Dakota where a century ago, your forbears were mown down by the Seventh Cavalry at Wounded Knee. Firstly, you would be poor. Really ground down by poverty. Your place would be on the bottom-most rung of the richest nation in the world. Blacks in Harlem slums and Mississippi shanties would be better off than you. You would have had a substandard education. You would be unlikely to have a job because your race faces a 75 per cent unemployment rate. Much of your meagre welfare benefit probably goes on gambling and drink. Your children are likely to be born crippled because their mother is an alcoholic. Life expectancy would be below 50, the lowest in the United States' (Perry, 199l, p. 19). Indeed, life expectancy of an Indian on a reservation is even lower - 45 years. Alcoholism is the commonest cause of death, and Indians have the highest infant mortality, unemployment and rate of drop-out from education of any group in America. The suicide rate is twice the national average, and one sixth of Indian teenagers have attempted suicide. Jobless and despondent Native Americans in Alaska tend to drink themselves into a numb state and wander out into the sub-zero winter.
These historical data help us to grasp the real human suffering which lies behind Kovel's description of a rationalising process which he calls radical dehumanisation. He describes the 'tracings of a primitive fantasy of dirt upon the more advanced fantasy of Ham and Oedipus' (Kovel, 1970, p. 91). In the history from slavery to the present, the black man moves from being father to child to body to penis to faeces to inanimate thing and finally to nothing - the invisible man of Ralph Ellison's novel. Along with the debasement goes abstraction, until the final point of nothingness is reached. Once again, the black person ceases to be considered as a human being. Kovel reminds us that when Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn accounted for his lateness to his Aunt Sally he invented an accident aboard a riverboat: 'It wasn't the grounding - that didn't keep us back but a little. We blowed out a cylinder head.' 'Good gracious: anybody hurt?' asked his aunt. 'No'm. Killed a nigger.' 'Well, it's lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt' (p. 92).
The first appearance of the term 'race' in the English language occurred in 1508 and linked it with unconscious forces. It appeared in a poem on the seven deadly sins by a Scot named Dunbar who referred to those who followed envy as including 'bakbyttaris of sindry recis' (backbiters of sundry races; Banton, 1987, p. 1). If we look at treatises on racism, we find them full of very primitive, Kleinian language. Here is a list of terms I have extracted from a book on the psychoanalysis of racism which stresses the projection of intrapsychic phenomena into the political and treats them largely in terms of diseased or malignant internal objects: foreign bodies, germs, pollutants, contaminants, malignancies, poisonous infections, gangrened limbs, dirty, suppurating, verminous (Koenigsberg, 1977). This brings to mind the representation of Jews as gutter rats in Nazi propaganda films and the rhetoric of competing political tendencies discussed by Martin Thom in an article on projection in left sectarian rhetoric, in which opponents were characterised as shitty, nauseating and their ideas as spew, vomit, etc. (Thom, l978).
At a seminar I gave on racism, I read out the long passage by Las Casas quoted above which described in excruciating detail the genocide of the conquistadors. A colleague who irritatingly tends to split off compassion from sharp insight said, 'I can see why you are upset, but why are you surprised? That's what happens in the unconscious. The question is what allows it to get acted out'. He was right, of course. That is the whole point of Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents and of his theory of civilization. What allows it to get acted out at the supra-familial level is outgrouping, which is most devastating in racism and virulent nationalism. That's not quite adequate, however, since Freud's account makes no distinction between the intrapsychic, the family and groups of different sizes. As I've said, I think he is partly right and partly badly in need of some social thinkers and historians to help him out of his swingeing reductionism. Freud's model begins with the rapaciousness and polymorphous perversity of the patriarch. This evokes the creation of civilization by means of the incest taboo, which leads to the Oedipus complex which, in turn, gives us the superego - our only hope when primitive urges are upon us.
What happens in racism and nationalism is that we give our superegos over to the leader, the organisation or group or gang or nation or 'the cause'. The leaders then sanction destructive acting out and selectively remove the veneer of civilisation. As the Indian cultist puts it in 'Gunga Din' (1939), we 'kill for the love of Kali'. We kill in the name of a cause, often a putatively pure cause. This is captured perfectly in that ghastly phrase of the moment - 'ethnic cleansing'. It is easy to make a long and distressing list of situations in which some version of that rationalisation was or is operative. My son recently made a television documentary about Yugoslavia during and after the Second World War (D. Young, 1990). The Croatians set up a fascist republic. During its reign soldiers would go up to children and get them to make the sign of the cross. If they made it in the Russian Orthodox way they were shot then and there. At the end of the war the leaders of the fascist group were protected and smuggled abroad by the Vatican. The priest who organised this escape route later became Pope. The documentary has not been shown in any Catholic country and cannot be re-shown here. It says to me that the church and the military are tied for first place in sanctioning genocide in the name of a higher cause.
Sue and Ray Holland (1984) discuss racism inside interracial couples. They draw on Fairbairn's concept of splitting, whereby good or accepted representations remain in the conscious after bad or rejected part-objects and their affiliated bad part-self-representations are relegated to the unconscious. 'The trouble with the rejected part-objects and part self-representations is that, although relegated to the unconscious, they continue to find expression in the behaviour and experience of the adult' (Holland & Holland, 1984, p. 95). These problems can erupt in the couple relationship, as many of us know to our cost. The Hollands adapt this model for describing the depressions of white women in sexual relations with black men from certain colonial cultures. One has here a microcosm of a racist society in the projections, degradations and self-denigrations of these couples, which are inevitably passed on to their children so that attempts at integration at an individual level also perpetuate dimensions of racism in the very process of seeking to overcome it.
Wolfenstein develops his model into the wider group and applies it to situations in which racism involves a leader. Hitler is the obvious example, but Wolfenstein explores the interesting case of the leader of the Black Muslims, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Here he adapts Freud's work on group psychology and describes how the member of the sect projects unconscious hostility, felt towards the parents, onto the leader, who authorises its displacement from himself and group members and onto the designated racial enemy. This model is repression leading to projection leading to displacement. He describes racist organisations as dreams, outlets or modes of escape for repressed longings and for specifically irrational unconscious desires (Wolfenstein, 1977, p. l72).
The alien group is perceived as a sexual as well as an aggressive threat. The alien male is a rapacious devil, the female a seductive witch. 'Thus, the image of the racial enemy as a crystallisation of aggressively dominated or limited sexual tendencies. It is formed through the projection and displacement of the group member's infantile self, of the sadistic child who survives within even the most compassionate adult. From which it follows that intra-group life is freed from the pressures of unwelcome infantile sexuality, so that it takes on the character of a relatively aim-inhibited relationship. And if we now translate this conception into the somewhat slippery structural language of psychoanalysis, we may state that the group is to the enemy as ego is to id (as potentially conscious self is to the alienated or unconscious-repressed self), while the group itself is the "number of individuals who have put the same object in the place of their ego ideal and have consequently identified themselves with one another in their ego"' (Wolfenstein, 1977, p. 173, quoting Freud's Group Psychology).
In Killers of the Dream, Lillian Smith offers a fantasy bargain between the rich owner and the white 'redneck' (the neck gets sunburned from working with heads bowed down in the cotton fields). Let us exploit you, and we will give you the black to dominate, scapegoat, sexually exploit and murder. Mr. Rich White said to Mr. Poor White, 'If you ever get restless when you don't have a job or your roof leaks, or the children look puny and shoulder blades stick out more than natural, all you need to do is remember you're a sight better off than the black man... But if you get nervous sometimes anyway, and don't have much to do, and begin to get worried up inside and mad with folks, and you think it'll make you feel a little better to lynch a nigger occasionally, that's OK by me, too; and I'll fix it with the sheriff and the judge and the court and the newspapers so you won't have any trouble afterwards... If you once let yourself believe he's human, then you'd have to admit you'd done things to him you can't admit you've done to a human. You'd have to know you'd done things that God would send you to hell for doing... And sometimes it was like this: You just hated him. Hated and dreaded and feared him, for you could never forget, there was no way to forget, what you'd done to his women and to those women's children; there was no way of forgetting your dreams of those women... No way of forgetting...Yes... they thought they had a good bargain' (Smith, 1950, pp. 162-65). Once again, we are racist along lines laid down by economic and social stratifications. That's what makes it racism - stereotyping and scapegoating of people as members of groups, rather than treating people as individuals.
I want to turn from those theoretical explorations to current and personal experience. Racism is all around us and in all of us. I once read that spy thrillers chose East Germans as villains, because they were both Krauts and Commies and North Koreans, because they are both slant-eyed and Commies. The final twist to all this, of course, is racist mocking of anti-racism. Race and Class has provided analyses of racist writings in the Sun newspaper, including stories about London boroughs. Haringey is supposed to have proscribed black dustbin liners and to have spent 50,000 pounds on superloos for gypsy travellers, while Brent and Islington are said to have banned the children's rhyme 'Baa Baa Black Sheep'. Of course, none of these stories was accurate, some were conjured out of thin air, all were misleading and the 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' one began life as a tall tale in a pub. All of this mockingly juxtaposes the ludicrous aliens and their silly do-gooder supporters, on the one hand, with the idealised, homogeneous, organic and otherwise idyllic indigenous white culture, on the other. Alfred Sherman (who was criticised for wanting to bring a French fascist to a Tory conference) feared 'a Procrustean pidgin culture' might 'be imposed on majorities and minorities alike' and deemed this a recipe for 'cultural genocide', which 'in effect outlawed the concept of the English nation'. Mary Kenny thought certain anti-racist proposals would turn 'mild British people into resentful misanthropes... as they see everything native to their own traditions scuttled' (Murray, 1986, p.12).
These quotations bring racism out of the realm of high theory and into our own immediate culture. It is also much in the news as a result of the demise of the Soviet empire. Removal of Soviet hegemony has led to a flowering of nationalism, including persecution of local and adjacent minorities, as well as Jews, who are emigrating to Israel in large numbers, only to become part of a Middle East which is itself immersed in the hatreds and degradations of mutual projections and attempted decimation. And then there is former Yugoslavia.
I turn now to my own experience. I cannot say how I learned to persecute Jews and find Catholics oddly different. The first and only person I was caught in bed with (aged five) was a Catholic, and the same was true of my sister (as a teenager). Both of us were criticised in ways that intertwined our sexual misbehaviour with an accusation that, looking back, made us feel as though we'd committed miscegenation. I later had a Catholic girlfriend in my own neighbourhood but was threatened with violence by boys from the local parochial school. The same thing happened when I was a life guard at a working class swimming pool, where I was threatened with maiming by local Catholic boys. In each case the girlfriend broke off the relationship to protect me. I am sure that my sister's eventual conversion to Catholicism was partly a rebellion, as was my marrying a Jew.
I had a close Catholic friend, though, and we were part of the neighbourhood persecution of a boy whose only discernible deviance was going to Hebrew School. He, like others after him, was called 'hebe' and chased home, just as they were called 'kike' and mocked behind their backs and imitated in funny accents. Any sign of meanness led to a nose being stroked and an accusation of being a member of 'the Tribe'. Jewish girls came to our teenage dances; one was elected a Company Queen for an R.O.T.C. (cadet corp) dance, but that led to lots of teasing. Jewish girls, no matter how wealthy or eminent their parents, disappeared from the dances as soon as it was time for debuts to be made into polite society, and no Jews were members of the 'best' country clubs.
There were other retrospectively notable silences and absences. I recall only one working class child in my suburb and school, and he did not stay long. No Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, East or Red. And especially no blacks. I never swam in a pool or attended school with a black person until I was eighteen. I never slept under the same roof with one until I was twenty and involved in a Quaker summer project in a mental hospital in another state. I never had a black adult friend until I was in my mid-thirties.
Even so, I think I can date my first awareness of racism. When I was five, my mother simply told me one day that I was no longer to play with my best friend. He was black, lived in the servants' quarters of a neighbour's house, and he and I pranced up and down the local alleyways playing drums (mine was an Indian tom-tom). I asked why and was told that it was because he was a Negro. I protested and cried and felt terrible, but I obeyed - after a relatively small number of spankings - with an astonishing deference that did not apply to other aspects of my parents' authoritarianism.
One particularly cruel irony in all this - and it is true of many a southern American and southern African white - is that I received the only reliable security in my childhood and youth from black women. This extends from my earliest memories until I left home to go to university - deep, abiding, patient, enfolding, caring. Always there and always clear, whereas my parents were either not there or preoccupied with depression, disappointment, bitterness and bigotry. Ask me about childhood care, and you will hear about Odalee, Jessie, Ella May, Sadie (whose surnames I never knew) and Lucy Wilkerson. Stout and loving, neglecting their own children for my sister and me. Lucy worked for my family for nearly forty years and died their servant.
And yet - here is how deep racism cuts - she played practically no part in many years of daily psychoanalysis. Nor have I properly mourned her death. When my mother died, her black nurse, Linda Roberts, was not invited back to the customary family gathering after the funeral. It was she who had been reliably there in Mother's worst period, after my father died.
Where I grew up in Texas in the 1950s, the Ku Klux Klan was still active, as it is again. I unknowingly worked with members - sharecroppers whose farms were uneconomic and who had gone to work in a Ford factory in order to hold onto their homes. They seemed decent people, and I had no idea that they were members, until one of them saw me in friendly conversation with a black janitor, a preacher with a Masters degree who was trying to keep his church going, a situation parallel to the sharecroppers. The man who worked most closely with me carefully lowering car bodies onto chassis said, 'Don't never speak to me again. I don't want to have nothing to do with no nigger-lover'. And he never uttered another word to me. A sympathetic co-worker explained that many of the people who worked alongside us were Klansmen.
These people, like racists everywhere, acquired their horrid social attitudes by a process of tacit social learning, whereby their infantile psychotic anxieties, feelings all babies have, got channelled into particular forms of projective identification. I do not think that those rednecks working at the Ford factory were mad or psychopathic, any more than I think my racist father and (rather more genteel) racist mother and sister were evil. As Hannah Arendt has shown us in the case of Adolf Eichmann, it is more banal than that (Arendt, 1963). They were just socialised into the values of that part of the world - just as I was.
I suppose that it is inevitable that this recitation may be found self-indulgent, even offensive. I am raising the question of what enlightenment my own decades of anti-racist work have brought. The answer is practically none at the deeper levels, although I can claim, on the whole, to behave well. What I am trying to establish, using the only example I know well, is something about another area of silence - the racism of the inner world of supposedly decent people, even and especially the inner worlds of active anti-racists, whose principled activities are usually, in my experience, born of guilt and an impulse toward reparation. I continue to think that black men are blessed with enviable sexual endowments, have greater potency and make better lovers, that black women are more generous and voluptuous. I have at one time or another - almost always silently in my adult years - despised 'Japs', hated Germans, thought of Latin Americans as unreliable, been embarrassed by Mediterranean wailing, thought of Arabs as fanatics, smiled at Mexicans, regarded Asians as children, and (just as the racist Professor Darlington says) noticed the smells of other cultural groups and found them alien. I have found myself thinking of friends, respected colleagues and lovedones as 'behaving in a Jewish way'. I have reactions to Italians, Pakistanis, Irish people... there is no end to it. I could go on and on about all of this - all contrary to my beliefs, efforts and practices. It is still there, layered over by principle and civility but pristine and unreconstructedly primitive. My Jewish mother-in-law once told my wife that 'He will always think of you as a little Jewess'. She was perfectly right. The fact that there were also idealisations mixed in with anti-semitism only makes the problem more complex, as does the fact that two of my children are Jews.
What can we do about all of this? I don't think it would suffice to despise me and notice that by ventilating I am trying to assuage my guilt as well as indulge my racism. I venture to say that, allowing for different cultural experiences, I speak for a great many people, including members of oppressed groups, whose racism I am not competent to explore. My point is that it is second nature, and there's the rub. Second nature is history, culture and personal experience disguised as first nature or biology. Indeed, as we have seen, the intellectual racist calls it biology. But it is not first nature or biology. I said above that racism cuts deep. I'd now like to change the image. It is that deeply sedimented by the culture, so deeply embedded that it is not amenable to excision, no matter how enlightened one's subsequent beliefs and practices may be.
My father - with whom I had a terrible relationship - held most of the available forms of bigotry characteristic of the regions he lived in, Alabama, Washington and Texas: toward blacks (though he was called a kind master), toward Jews (some of his best friends were), toward Catholics (ditto, though he never forgave my sister for marrying and becoming one), toward Latin Americans (he was honorary consul for two South American countries). But he was a howling bigot. He once told me that all priests are homosexuals and all nuns are lesbians and that there are tunnels between the monasteries and convents. When I pointed out that he could hold any two of those beliefs but not all three, he said, 'Oh, yeah, you went to college' (so did he and taught in one). When I told the story to my sister, she burst out crying and said that the awful thing is that he really believed what he'd said, no matter how patently absurd it was.
My point in telling this anecdote is that there is only a difference in embedding and surface behaviour between his racism and mine. If this is the case, and if I am not merely an unreconstructed racist who is trying to pass as a decent person and rationalise my bad parts, then what are we to do? The insight that says we accuse others of that which we fear in ourselves, while true, is only a small beginning. It is, I suppose, progress to move from being an active racist to being a less active one and even to work on anti-racist projects. But how can the deep embedding of second nature be scraped away, even if this has to be done millimetre by millimetre?
No amount of 'race awareness training' will cathart away something that is so deeply set in the foundations of cultures. This makes the erection and enforcement of laws and conventions of good behaviour all the more important, because what is bad and underneath will not easily go away. We must be liberal in the public sphere and radical in our knowledge of the deeper issue. This brings us back to the dialectic - the deep, mutually constitutive interrelations between the racist and the oppressed. What binds them together is not only the worst aspects of human nature - aspects that may well be ineradicable.
What makes these destructive aspects take the specific form of racism is historically contingent, and at the root of that contingency is the social and economic organisation of the world that gives order to consent along the lines of economic and nationalistic relationships which are specific to our own age. These are not set in unchippable stone. They are solid but mutable. When we seek to address racism psychoanalytically, we will get nowhere (nor will we with respect to any other matter) unless we grasp and seek to redirect the social, cultural, economic and geopolitical forces which lead our nastiness to take this particularly horrid form. Then, perhaps, we can replace the loud silence with the sounds of scraping and chipping away at our own ways of shaping the destructive side of human nature.
All of this takes me back to the subject of chapter two, in particular, to Freud's pessimism. He pointed out - and Kleinians have been even more sombre about this - that the psychotic and rapacious parts of human nature are kept at bay only by constant effort and that they are omnipresent in phantasy and ever-ready to erupt if sublimation and guilt fail in their work. Racism, then, is not something alien, a throwback. It is the omnipresence of primitive processes, let out of their cage by destructive social, cultural, political, ideological and related forces in nominally civilised communities.
My family lived in a highly-cultured, dropsically wealthy, suburb (the very one where the 'Dallas' television soap opera was set), but it was racist throughout, with a black and Mexican servant class. The emotions and actions we find in racism are part of our own mental worlds, relatively unaltered by the history of the civil rights movement. What has altered, however, is the frequency of violently acting out such feelings, and the means of legal redress have also grown.
Even so, as I write the Sunday paper reports a race riot in Crown Heights, Brooklyn between blacks and orthodox, Lubavitcher Jews (whose world headquarters are in this neighbourhood; see Rayner, 1993). 'The Rev. Al Sharpton, a veteran of these occasions, demanded the arrest of the driver of the car', a Hasidic Jew who had struck and killed a black child, 'and the appointment of a special prosecutor. The rotund preacher denounced the Hasidic Jews as "diamond merchants" and held several of his trademark "Day of Outrage" demonstrations.
'For once, though, Sharpton - who was immortalised as The Rev. Bacon in Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities - found himself outflanked by more radical voices. Sonny Carson, a self-styled urban guerrilla, who leads a group called X-clan [after Malcolm X], demanded more action on the streets...
'At the funeral of the black child last week, Carson talked of a white plot to destroy black America. "The conspiracy is widespread. I've just come back from Milwaukee. In Milwaukee, they are eating us," he declared in an apparent reference to white serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, most of whose victims were black' (Sunday Times 1 Sept. 1991).
We have here an accident, involving an innocent child, interpreted by two opposing forms of highly-articulated sectarian, separatist groups, one calling it deliberate, a fat charismatic leader, a self-styled guerrilla, imputed diamond-based wealth, allegations of a genocidal conspiracy and the cannibalism of blacks by a self-confessed white serial killer. Projective identification of split-off primitive parts are here run riot but based on oppressive inequalities in the heat of summer. As I shall argue in the next chapter, being a Lubavitcher Jew and being a black in that ghetto in this period means that one's identity, one's membership in the group, involves acquiring sets of mutually-stereotyping projective identifications. That is a defining characteristic of belonging, and it is hugely difficult to dismantle, a process which the Israelis and Palestinians and the South African blacks and whites are attempting with great courage to negotiate .
I do not have any wish to claim that life is better for the racially oppressed in economic and social terms. I do say, however, that it is that veneer of civilization we must attend to and not pretend that we can wish or liberalise the feelings away. They are part of what dwells in our inner worlds, inhabitants of our mental space - part of everyday human nature, just below the surface, awaiting the appropriate social and economic conditions to erupt again, with undimmed virulence. That is the lesson of the riot and of recent international relations. Eternal vigilance is the price of civilization. If you take the army away, you'd better have some civil forces at the ready, or humanity will revert to its primitive projective and scapegoating mechanisms. A pity, but I say again that it's best to know what we are up against. Derepression is utterly dangerous unless civil society is strong.
The Human Nature Review © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM