As Freud taught us, in my free interpretation: what the heart does not feel, the eyes do not see. I think about this when I look at the challenges of racial literacy. Without putting affection into the account of raising awareness about racism, we have little to advance.
If it is difficult to think about what is still needed for all people to be treated fairly, it is inspiring to look at the achievements in recent years. Black bodies proud of their characteristics, soap operas and advertisements starring black people, college benches being occupied by them, the omnipresent racial agenda in any domain of knowledge, the rescue of black authors and stories, many are examples that were unthinkable until recently . The alarming violence is ongoing, but the situation is not the same as it was a decade ago.
Common ground for any anti-racist action, education that informs about structural racism has as its limit the narcissism of its target audience. And if we ignore the affective issue, we will continue to reproduce the worst. There is no gentle path guide, the literacy that matters is more like boldo tea: bitter and healing.
The term narcissism, which in common sense has been labeled selfishness, is, for psychoanalysis, the condition of subjective constitution. It hurts our ears when a concept that is so dear to us is hammered as a vulgar and poorly applied adjective. Narcissism, a word imported from the myth of Narcissus, which needs no introduction, refers to the fascinating process through which we recognize ourselves as a unit separate from our caregivers. It occurs with the baby until approximately one and a half years of age and culminates in the formation of the Self. Without it, we would barely be able to speak in our own name. Lacan is the author who has the best insights into this instance that is symptomatically formed to defend us from others and from what we prefer not to know about ourselves. Hence the Self is complex in its mission to sell us the best image of ourselves, avoiding hurting our fragile narcissism. Racial literacy, like the recognition of machismo, is salt in the narcissistic wound.
As a white woman, I find myself caught in the double bind of being oppressed by my gender, while being oppressed by my color. I don’t need to do anything special to oppress/be oppressed, because my body is already the passport that determines where I have power and where I don’t. In the presence of other bodies, the hierarchy is immediately established, with or without my consent. Will I be followed as a suspect in an expensive store, will I be harassed when I enter a bar alone at night? A woman can accuse a man of mansplaining, but what if he is a black man? What if this black man is rich and this white woman is poor? Literacy puts us before essential ethical dilemmas. In general, they only become clear afterwards, leading us to realize that we will only do better — if that is the intention — the more we delve into the intersectional issue and recognize its holes.
Schools, companies, institutions in general have mobilized in search of information about racism, classism, misogyny and transphobia due to laws and social pressures. After the transmission of initial and unavoidable knowledge, they begin to realize that something is missing. Mistakes happen and violence is repeated, perpetrated by well-intentioned people who know the anti-racist manual by heart.
The point is that the anti-racist fight — and other forms of oppression — does not go without the bitter taste of seeing our narcissism injured. It doesn’t go without embarrassment, without the feeling of guilt. Otherwise, we are faced with a rationalization as beautiful and innocuous as iceberg lettuce. It also doesn’t go away without facing the paranoia of mistakenly thinking that it’s about swapping places between the oppressor and the oppressed.
The process of literacy and awareness is a painful process, but infinitely less difficult than being the target of violence. A narcissistic wound is not a bullet wound.
LINK PRESENT: Did you like this text? Subscribers can access five free accesses from any link per day. Just click the blue F below.