Challenging the Uncritical Acceptance of Whiteness Studies in Psychoanalysis

Readers are probably familiar with two recent scandals in psychoanalysis. In the first, Dr Aruna Khilanani, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, gave a speech at the Yale Medical college in which she fantasised about shooting white people. In the second, the prestigious Journal of the American Psychoanal;ytic Association published an article by the psychoanalyst, Dr Donald Moss, wherein he argued that ‘whiteness’ is a malignant parasitic condition. Both events prompted wide spread condemnation. It has also prompted more indepth critical examination of the way that psychoanalysis appears to be importing contested concepts from Whiteness Studies – see Professor Jon Mills talk.

Here is a very recent article by Dr Daniel Burston, a prominent theorist and writer on psychoanalysis who is concerned that the ideas of Khilanani and Moss are closely aligned with a regressive overarching trend to resegregate society both in theory as well as in practice. See the extract below:

‘Sadly, given our diminishing attention spans, our growing appetite for sound bites and slogans, and our collective anguish over the long-standing injustices faced by non-white citizens in the USA, the pernicious nonsense Dr. Khilanani spouted will probably have a strong appeal to many activists on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, to many of them, it probably seems far more “authentic” or “real” than genuine scholarship, given their anti-intellectual biases. Furthermore, it is unfortunate that psychoanalysts (like Donald Moss), who express their views in a more temperate fashion, still espouse a kind of racial essentialism to explain extremely complex social realities. The stark, Manichean simplicity of binaries like these afford people a false sense of moral clarity, multiple opportunities for virtue signaling and a sense of pride for being on what they imagine is “the right side of history”. But clinical experience demonstrates that simple binaries often belie much that lies beneath the surface, and psychoanalysis was designed to wrestle with ambiguity, contradictions and complexity in the individual psyche and society at large.’

It is very important to follow the example given here and develop clear arguments within all the therapy schools in order to defend the whole field from being captured by Critical Social Justice.

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