M. Fakhry DavidsMar 16, 2021
A Psychoanalytic Approach to Race and Difference
Red Globe Press 2011
What makes racist feelings and ideas objectionable? In his book Internal Racism: A Psychoanalytic Approach to Race and Difference (Red Globe, 2011), M. Fakhry Davids, a member of the British Psychoanalytical Society, argues that racism, like the impulse to destroy or act on hatred, is an ineluctable part of us all. Borrowing, but also augmenting the work of his fellow neo-Kleinians (particularly John Steiner and Herbert Rosenfeld) on “psychic retreats” and “defensive organizations”, he names the “internal racist organization” as a normal part of the mind, deeming it a non-pathological component of psychic structure.
Davids' thinking has a decidedly hopeful tinge. If accepted, it promises to help open up the kinds of conversations clinically and otherwise that can be had about racist feelings. After all, if they are average and expectable, they are human. And what is accepted as human can potentially be talked through and about, which promises to constrain harmful action.
What I love about Davids' thinking is that in updating a psychoanalytic model of mind that accounts for racism, he wipes political correctness and the super ego off the table. By placing the “internal racist organization” as an equal player inside of us, alongside the Oedipal, the ego and the id, it becomes something that you just can’t wish away.
That said, if we accept his argument, we do find ourselves contending with the age old problem of the drives, or the paranoid schizoid, wherein managing ourselves in relation to the lure of destructiveness (of which racist feelings play their part) is a life long project. The hope is that if we can come to accept racist thinking as a response to overwhelming and primitive anxieties, (rather than a moral failing), we can see it as a warning sign that internally we are askew. Following Davids, racism can never be expunged (as seems to be the neoliberal fantasy) from the self. In fact, and truly this is the last word, it follows us to the grave.
Tracy D. Morgan: Psychoanalyst, LCSW-R, M.Phil., Editor, New Books in Psychoanalysis.