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IPSS - Institute of Psychotherapy & Social Studies UKCP Accreditation, IPSS Membership, CPD Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy within Contemporary Cultures, Languages and Social Identities

"Owning Racism" by David Jones

As a white psychotherapist I’ve wanted recently to inform myself more about the experience and effect of racism and its sources. The Black Lives Matter movement demands structural change, political repair and ethical renewal to account for the impact of 400 years of slavery against Black African people “Black Atlantic people”. It also demands of the white populations to examine and repudiate as individuals the psychological and socially engrained advantage taken from that enslavement; an advantage that acts as a false support and resonance in our lives and which continues to harm and alienate the black members of our society. White psychotherapists are doubly required to see their own place in the transferred trauma of slavery and to know the pain of black colleagues and clients coming out of its legacy of brutality through the slave/slave-master relationship and the objectification of the slave psyche and the commodification of the slave body[1]. A colleague referred to the campaign as leading us to a potential truth in the therapeutic experience of black clients at this moment in black history. “Get that knee off my neck”….
in her words.. “Which has become a powerful analogy that represents the voice that speaks compassionately to a highly self-critical self, and an inner drive that gives permission to remove oneself from oppressive and damaging situations. (The keywords here are compassion and permission).”[2]
There are what I call relational moments in a therapy with a client for which only the deepest truth can be enough. It’s a take it or leave it moment where the other in that relationship is acknowledged to have the power to embrace, overpower or walk away. I accept the will of the other in the presence of who I am. A simple question, “What makes you do this work?” ( that is psychoanalytic therapy). My immediate response is, “because I believe in it”. The rest is to be unpacked in the therapeutic relationship with whatever joy or grief that process presents to us. The moment can give enough for us to nourish that work until the next moment as the client finds more of their own self.
I didn’t start to find myself until my early 20’s when I came to sense a new germ of self-worth. I did this through reading whole authors, music and risk taking as I unknowingly forged an identity for myself. Thinking of that time, I recall huge attachments to Kerouac, Ginsberg, Sartre, Genet, Gide and Baldwin. James Baldwin moved me in the deepest of places and I can still feel that close connection to him, more so than to the others. I don’t know why I say … and Baldwin. On consideration I’d say that placing Baldwin last was my “whiteness” at work emerging all these years later unfiltered and unsuspected. That is a simple reflection. There are many others which are much, much harder to know let alone acknowledge. So much so this coming to know needs to be in areas of public reflection such as we have at IPSS and CPJA; that is the civic arena.
The colleague I mentioned, I consider has secured her psychoanalytic and existential understanding from a place of personal meaning and belief like me; so I discussed the need to address racism’s roots in the denial of its underpinning pain and moral injustice as the racial legacy within whiteness. I have worked on and led campaigns to affect change for the homeless in the past along with other campaigners[3] . What you did was to pick up the ball and run with it for as far you could take it. There were the rewards also of group solidarity, most often in the face of some or other institutionalised prejudice. The campaign we see here is different. Here we must hold onto the ball despite ourselves, regardless of the pain and resistance it may produce in us. Otherwise Black people such as George Floyd bear the weight of the determining flow of racial trauma and its denial. The Black communities should not have to bear that trauma even though they have to struggle to make sense of it and to survive it.

“It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate.”
― James Baldwin[4]

David Jones. 14/09/2020



[1] I acknowledge in producing this paper the work of all those involved in the Confer conference “Post slavery syndrome” 2020. I would recommend it to all psychotherapists. It is available online as a CPD module at the Confer website.
[2]Dr. Aileen Alleyn, Psychotherapist and friend.
[3]I wish to acknowledge here my old friend, flat mate and campaigner Nick Beacock, from my 20’s , who died October 9th. 2020. By the time I met him he had already co- founded Crisis and had fervently set about changing the laws to accommodate the single homeless; significantly so in the Housing Homeless Persons Act 1977 and Houses in Multiple Occupation Act 2004. His aim was to give people dignity and to save lives. He did.
[4] James Baldwin. The Fire Next Time Publisher, Dial Press. Publication date. 1963.


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