Eli Zaretsky in Sidecar:
As if demonstrating that the repressed does return, politics has erupted in the supposedly apolitical world of American psychoanalysis. An advocacy group, Black Psychoanalysts Speak, and a documentary film, Psychoanalysis in El Barrio, seek to redress the racial and class biases of analysis. Unbehagen, a psychoanalytic list-serve, features a roiling debate over whether it is necessary to match the analyst’s gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation with the patient’s. The American Psychoanalytic Association itself has been shaken by political recriminations, purges, resignations and denunciations. An article by Donald Moss, published in the association’s journal, provided the catalyst in this case. According to its abstract:
Whiteness is a condition one first acquires and then one has – a malignant, parasitic-like condition to which ‘white’ people have a particular susceptibility. The condition is foundational, generating characteristic ways of being in one’s body, in one’s mind, and in one’s world. Parasitic Whiteness renders its hosts’ appetites voracious, insatiable and perverse.
The reaction to the article was sharply divided. Some saw it as a valuable extension of psychoanalytic theory, while others believed it neglected vital determining factors of racialization, such as deindustrialization, union discrimination and the inequities of the real estate market. In response to the controversy, an internal body was appointed, the Holmes Commission, to ‘investigate systemic racism and its underlying determinants embedded within APsaA, and to offer remedies for all aspects of identified racism’. Among the repercussions has been a debate over anti-Semitism precipitated by a speaking invitation to a controversial Lebanese psychoanalytic therapist, which led to the resignation of the President of the Association, Kerry Sulkowicz.
These developments are noteworthy in themselves, but they also raise wider questions about the relation between psychoanalysis and politics. What is striking about the politicization of contemporary psychoanalysis is the extent to which it conforms to the liberal identitarianism, sometimes termed ‘wokeness’, prevailing in the broader culture, which views systematic wrongs such as racism as emanating from individual psyches, along the model of sin.