Object Fear: The National Dissociation of Race and Racism in the Era of Obama

This paper furthers the use of psychoanalysis as a lens for reading the contemporary political and social world and explores the ongoing reproduction of the racial unconscious in the United States. In applying a psychoanalytic lens to interpersonal violence and legal and political discourse during Obama’s presidency, we attempt to explore how internal fear of blackness prevents America and psychoanalysis from accessing non-destructive relational psychological spaces. We argue that the violent responses to racial blackness and power are not second-hand effects of racial and economic disparity, but rather intimate parts of our psychodynamics that involve an intersubjective process we term “object fear.” We discuss relational theories that help us negotiate object fear as a location for often ignored racialized group and dyadic psychodynamics, looking at specific examples of object fear, interpersonal violence and the limits of relational psychoanalysis to address these types of object relations. We end by turning to a series of recent Supreme Court decisions to look at the ways in which object fear has been triggered at this historical moment in relation to the presence of a black president and the threat to the maintenance of white supremacy in the United States. These legal decisions and their corresponding rationales, the visibility of racial violence and the acquittal of those perpetrating it, and the extreme reactions to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, to his acknowledgment of his own blackness, and to the ways in which race works in the United States, point to an impasse in moving from object fear to truly intersubjective relationality. The combination of “neutral” legal language and physical violence is the way in which the racial contract and racial oppression have been historically maintained. And both stem from a type of psychosis in relation to the ability to recognize the black-coded object as capable of full subjectivity. They are two different expressions of the same deep terrors. Before we can move towards a true ethical third in which we can face and accept the internal national violence that constitutes all American selves, we need to recognize and change the way these dissociative processes function in our everyday lives, in our professional practices, at the level of national law, and in the operations of psychoanalytic theorizing about the human condition.

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Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society

Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society is the official journal of the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture & Society. ISSN: 1088-0763 EISSN: 1543-3390

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