#SWAAYthenarrative

Blackness, White Fear, and a Sizzling Oedipal Complex

11 min read
Culture

As a psychologist — i.e. one who studies the mind and human motivations — my mind periodically returns to Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist who is lovingly known as the father of psychoanalysis, which is the foundation of psychology and the basis of many of the psychological treatments that we use today.

As part of his theory explains, the Oedipus complex is a childhood psychosexual stage, wherein children harbor unconscious sexual desires that fuel their anxiety and/or frustrations that may, or may not, appear negatively in life — depending upon the successful resolution of this puzzling, internal conflict. I have periodically come back to this tenet of psychoanalysis, always with the nagging inclination that this somehow explains America's issues with racism.

Freud believed that boys harbor an unconscious hatred for their fathers while harboring a sexual desire for their mothers. He noted that, over time, people who begin to attach lovingly to their same-sex parent will successfully resolve this internal conflict and grow up to be healthy human beings. Whereas unsuccessful resolutions — i.e., taking their unhealthy, repressed desires into adulthood — will lead to neuroses and other mental disorders. Freud coined the terms "penis envy" and "castration anxiety," to identify the respective complexes that people experience as part of this complex.

I have periodically come back to this tenet of psychoanalysis, always with the nagging inclination that this somehow explains America's issues with racism

Freud goes a little further to differentiate the male and the female experiences of this complex; he noted that girls' penis envy results in feelings of inferiority and fear that come from a belief that they had a penis and then it was lost — i.e., castrated — which leads to a complex set of processes that eventually form the female psyche, identity, and attachment patterns. He noted that it is through this complex that women develop jealousy and resentment towards their mothers, and a general devaluation of them because they failed to furnish them with said, desired penis. The process of maturity involves them abandoning their penis envy and instead desiring a child — which allows them to choose their father as a love object and reserve their jealousy for their mother — and I would even further say — for women alike.

For the male, Freud noted that "It is only in the male child that we find the fateful combination of love for the one parent and simultaneous hatred of the other as a rival." Castration anxiety involves the overwhelming fear of the loss of the penis and/or its function; the infantile male becomes conscious of the differing female genitalia and he harbors a fear that his penis will be cut off by his rival, the father, as a result of his sexual desires towards the mother. Freud noted that castration anxiety can last a lifetime and further psychoanalytic theory posits that it can be symbolic, as well, as the fear of insignificance and/or loss of virility or life may continue to haunt the male character.

To Freud, penis envy and castration anxiety are the results of the nascent male and female psyches grappling with their perceived physical differences — and a reflexive desire to maintain their own wholeness or safety — all the while, shielding themselves from the harm that they think will come to them as a result of their complicated sexual desires. It is important to note that this is a healthy process, as it allows for the development of the male and female sexuality while observing and maintaining our innate, societal norms. To put it simply, it is the psyche's way of splitting to reform itself, the same way that the zygote and other biological processes split during development.

I recognize inherent feelings of inferiority in the white male that seeks to redefine, remonstrate, and/or control the Black male into a being of his liking — so as to safeguard his own psyche from said inferiority and (possibly) insignificance.

As I think about the dehumanization and the constant assault and threat on the Black man in America and around the world — no doubt designed and purported by the white male, and consequently his household — I cannot help but notice the same complexities playing out before our eyes in this American society.

I recognize inherent feelings of inferiority in the white male that seeks to redefine, remonstrate, and/or control the Black male into a being of his liking — so as to safeguard his own psyche from said inferiority and (possibly) insignificance. Furthermore, there is something inherently sexual in the act of policing, as it involves the subjugation and/or dominance of another human being — very often by force—which may or may not involve placing one's body on the individual, wrestling with the individual and/or readily intruding upon the individual's private parts.

America's obsession with policing and its insistence that it is necessary for safety is an obvious result of the white man's conscious and unconscious fears, his repressed sexual desires, his feelings of inadequacy and his overall ignorance; just like a child who experiences these complexes is obviously uninformed and is just discovering the world around him, similarly, racism was born and is maintained out of ignorance and fear. The psychological complexes that Freud talks about are furthermore resolved through acceptance and the reworking of perceptions, which occurs over time and through personal growth. Likewise, racism is going to end when proponents of white dominance cease their violence, accept the Black man as a whole and allow him his dignified reception into this society.

Furthermore, there is something inherently sexual in the act of policing, as it involves the subjugation and/or dominance of another human being — very often by force—which may or may not involve placing one's body on the individual, wrestling with the individual and/or readily intruding upon the individual's private parts.

These thoughts were stirred when I read an article on NPR yesterday, which is entitled "The Limits of Empathy." It was a synopsis of an episode of the podcast, Code Switch, and the article documents the efforts by a white journalist, Grace Halsell, who used vitiligo treatment and pills to work and pass as a Black woman, in 1968. She was not the first, as the article notes that it was done before by John Howard Griffin and Ray Sprigle, also a journalist. Both Halsell and Griffin wrote books about their experiences, as is touched upon by the article. Their efforts were used to discuss issues of Blackness, and the limits of empathy for solving racial injustice in America.

Apart from the bizarreness of operating from the mindset that assuming an outward characteristic is a useful step for developing empathy (consider wanting to dress up like to dog just to learn empathy for the dog), I was struck by the oddness of the activity itself, which is an obvious step into madness and its destructive constructs.

What else possesses another person to devote so much time and energy into pretending to be someone else, just to know how to treat that person? Such effort shows a sense of incompleteness with the self and it boasts a level of inquisitiveness that is not useful in understanding how to treat someone else. Rather, it is an encroachment into the African race, as it is a coded effort to assume dominance upon that race — and a reflexive effort to garner protection against conscious and unconscious fears and subtle feelings of inferiority.

I feel that it demonstrates the unsuccessful resolution of a psychological complex akin to the ones Freud talks about, except in the matters of race and race relationships. Rather than demonstrating the acceptance of racial differences and their inherent, inalienable rights — a healthy behavior — this behavior elucidates an awkward obsession with Blackness to the tune of wanting to assume Blackness, upon the false notion that it would somehow enlighten their perceptions and change their minds towards Blackness. Obviously, the title of the article is sufficient to note that their efforts were not helpful to that purported cause. The article quotes Haskell as saying, "I hope the book will have meaning, but I don't think I'll change any attitudes. Prejudice and discrimination have been with mankind all through history, and it exists in every country in the world in some form or another," a defeated perspective, which gives a sense that she tried to achieve something and failed. John Howard Griffin, who did this experiment before Halsell, felt worried that his wife would be sleeping with a Black man and he developed "pathologized" ideas of Black, male sexuality, a telling sign of his repression.

Apart from the bizarreness of operating from the mindset that assuming an outward characteristic is a useful step for developing empathy (consider wanting to dress up like to dog just to learn empathy for the dog), I was struck by the oddness of the activity itself, which is an obvious step into madness and its destructive constructs.

As America, somewhat amusingly, tries to change its racist clothes, like a thief rushes to do in the tiny bathroom of a gas station without the recognition that they are doing so in plain sight (think Aunt Jemima's and Uncle Ben's sudden rush to abandon their branding), efforts to deny the Black man his God-given excellence continue to surface and lay bare the American discomfort with the Black male identity. The Rolling Stone magazine's latest cover remains a sharp testament to this fact. While attempting to display solidarity with the African-American community by depicting marchers and raised fists, this cover is most notable for its deliberate absence of a prominent, unadulterated, ferociously demanding, Black, male figure. The only prominent Black man is the one featured on the Black woman's t-shirt, the dead, publicly disgraced George Floyd — signaling that white, male America remains only willing to uplift the Black man only after he has been publicly disgraced and killed.

Furthermore, it does not feature a picket sign that says, "Black Lives Matter" the rousing slogan of the movement. Rather, it simmers down to an "Our Lives Matter," sign, which is a clear nod to the feeling that to talk about the Black man is to talk around him — as there is major discomfort in the direct public acknowledgement of his sovereignty and his undeniable rights.

Similarly, efforts by many to champion Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent mentality today are only on the rise in his absence — and Dr. King's own daughter, Bernice King, questions if her father would still be accepted today had he been alive.


It has been hurtful to watch the way the current American president publicly demeans Barack Obama and continually tries to resist his legacy, and we are in fact witnessing the societal breakdown that has been looming with the continued denial of the Black man's honor and the disarmament of his ideals.

As America, somewhat amusingly, tries to change its racist clothes, like a thief rushes to do in the tiny bathroom of a gas station without the recognition that they are doing so in plain sight (think Aunt Jemima's and Uncle Ben's sudden rush to abandon their branding), efforts to deny the Black man his God-given excellence continue to surface and lay bare the American discomfort with the Black male identity.

The fact is, the African male's virility and dominance have been under attack for centuries, which exposes the unhealthy psyche of the attackers and the need for them to collectively resolve their repressed anxieties and desires through acceptance, revising their perceptions and adjusting their footprints accordingly.

In the video that features Rayshard Brooks' arrest — the man that was recently killed in Atlanta after being found asleep in his car at a Wendy's drive-through — we can see the instant when the officer is talking to Brooks and he suddenly grabs Brooks by his left arm (mid-speech) and proceeds to put him in handcuffs. Brooks freezes for an instant but then he begins to resist the officer's arrest shortly thereafter.

Today, the officer is being charged with the failure to notify Brooks of his arrest and the related crime, an important step that would have served to prepare Brooks for what was coming next; it would have been a safeguard against the fatal outcome. However, the officer's assumption that it was his right to assume control of Brooks' body at random is toxic and vicious in nature; furthermore, their subsequent assault on his body after he was shot was even more heinous, as the shooting officer kicked him, while the other officer stepped onto his shoulder, all in an attempt to punish him for taking charge of his own body.

This American society is guilty of overreach in all aspects of Black lives, from policing to many of the social service arenas that are really fueled by fear and a misunderstanding of the African culture. I am convinced that as a society, enough knowledge exists for us to rightly judge the appropriate steps that need to be taken for us to repair the injustices that have permeated so many Black lives. After reading the NPR article, I am persuaded that white society is aware of its feelings of inadequacy in response to Blackness and that all along, its efforts have been to castrate said Blackness.

However, I am also convinced that societal health is inevitable and long overdue, and I know that we are approaching that day when the African male will see his kingdom reigned, his family whole, and his demons slain and laid at his feet. It starts with now.

3 min read
Lifestyle

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.

-Sadsies

Dear Sadsies,

I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.



I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!



- The Armchair Psychologist

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