Re-imagining Ourselves: What Does It Mean to Be

Re-Imagining Ourselves: What Does It Mean To Be?

By: Micheal Vannoy Adams

American Jungians might well ponder the results of Andrew Samuels' international survey (The Political Psyche, 1993) conducted to ascertain the frequency with which social and political issues occur as themes in the therapeutic dialogue (both Freudian and Jungian). According to Samuels, only one-eighth of American Jungian analysts listed "racial" or ethnic issues as a theme. How are we to account for this fact? Are "race" and ethnicity of little or no interest to both American Jungian patients and analysts? Are these patients and analysts more or less oblivious or indifferent to what, in the culture at large, is such a dominant, pervasive social and political concern? Are "racial" and ethnic issues in fact quite ubiquitous but patients and analysts simply unconscious of them? Do patients and analysts ignore, neglect, dismiss them, or just not recognize them for what they really are?

For Freud, the unconscious was primarily if not exclusively a sexual unconscious. By now we know--and we should explicitly acknowledge--that there is (as Jung knew) far more to the unconscious than sex. As decisive as sex is (and who denies that fact?), it is not the only content of the unconscious, and other contents, such as "race," are no less serious than sex. In addition to the sexuality of the unconscious, there is what I call the "raciality" of the unconscious. I should state emphatically that I do not mean that there is a "racial" instinct, in the sense that some analysts assert that there is a sexual instinct. Nor do I mean that different "races" have, by nature, different psyches. Such notions would be patently racist. Contrary to what some biologists and physical anthropologists still maintain, I do not believe that races, as such, even exist. (Racism, of course, does exist—as does ethnicity, which is an artifact of culture.) I mean that for many people, and for many patients, "race" is an issue, an unconscious content, just as important as, or even more important than, sex or any other issue.

Freud only occasionally addressed the issue of "race" in the white-black sense. In discussing group psychology, he notes that in "almost every intimate emotional relation"--not only between individuals but also between groups--"aversion and hostility" are present. "Closely related races," he says, "keep one another at arm's length." In the case of races with "greater differences," there is often "an almost insuperable repugnance" that one group feels for another group--for example, "the Aryan for the Semite" or "the white races for the colored." According to Freud, racism is an expression of "self-love," or "narcissism," which tends to constellate what I would call "other-hatred."

For Jung, "race" in the white-black sense was continually an issue of keen personal and theoretical interest. In the 1920s, he traveled twice to Africa. In the 1930s, he reminisced about analyzing fifteen African-American patients at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, DC, in 1912, and wondering whether the contents of the unconscious might vary by "race." Ultimately, he concluded that such contents "have nothing to do with so-called blood or racial inheritance." The experience proved to Jung that on the level of the collective psyche there are not several "racial unconsciouses" but only a single "human unconscious." Addressing whites, Jung says: "In the collective unconscious you are the same as a man of another race, you have the same archetypes, just as you have, like him, eyes, a heart, a liver, and so on. It does not matter that his skin is black." Immediately, however, he relativizes this archetypal equality: "It matters to a certain extent, sure enough--he has probably a whole historical layer less than you. The different strata of the mind correspond to the history of the races." According to Jung, skin color matters only insofar as it happens to coincide with a mental stratification that is strictly a consequence of a difference in (that is, the presence or absence of) a certain historical experience.

Jung did, however, also state in the 1930s, in a defense against accusations of anti-Semitism, that "racial unconsciouses" do exist. Although he acknowledges that on an early, deep level, "where it is still impossible to distinguish between an Aryan, Semitic, Hamitic, or Mongolian mentality, all human races have a common collective psyche," he asserts that "with the beginning of racial differentiation essential differences are developed in the collective psyche as well." In this instance, Jung contends that on a relatively late, surface level of the collective psyche the contents of the unconscious do vary by "race." There is, he argues, a white, European, "Aryan" mentality that is quite distinct from a black, African, or "Hamitic" mentality.

There are thus "two Jungs," one who argues that we are all archetypally the same, however historically different we may be, and another who argues that we are all essentially different. One Jung declares that whatever differences may exist between us are cultural or ethnic differences; the other Jung insists that these differences are natural or racial. In contrast to the "second Jung," the "first Jung" may have a historicist bias (which maintains that black, African, "primitive" peoples have experienced certain stages of history but not—that is, not yet—other stages, which white, European, "civilized" peoples have presumably experienced), but at least it is not a racist bias.

What interests me is not whether Jung, Freud, or any other analysts in the past were racists, but whether analysts and therapists in the present and future are and will be effective multiculturalists. In this respect, it seems to me that Jungians need to redefine the "collective unconscious" explicitly to include a "cultural unconscious." In Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon argues that "the collective unconscious is cultural." I would say that the collective unconscious is partly but not wholly cultural. In Shadow and Self, Joseph Henderson has recently attempted to introduce the term "cultural unconscious" into Jungian discourse. Henderson situates the cultural unconscious topographically between the collective unconscious and the personal unconscious. He notes that much of "what Jung called personal was actually always culturally conditioned." I would add that much of what Jung called collective was also culturally conditioned. Henderson, however, reserves the term "collective unconscious" for archetypal factors. In contrast, as I regard the cultural unconscious, it is an aspect of the collective unconscious.

As I redefine the "collective unconscious," it comprises not only archetypal factors but also stereotypical factors, which include apparently "racial" factors (collective attitudes and behaviors that are really ethnic factors) that may have prejudicial and discriminatory consequences. I would note that Joseph Campbell mentions with approval the distinction that the anthropologist Adolf Bastian (whom Jung also cites) articulates between Elementargedanken and Volkergedanken, which Campbell translates, respectively, as "elementary ideas" and "ethnic" or "folk ideas" (1986: 11). In the redefinition that I propose, the elementary ideas would correspond to the archetypal factors in the collective unconscious, while the ethnic ideas would correspond to the stereotypical factors in the collective unconscious.

Such a redefinition of the "collective unconscious" is a necessary condition of any attempt by Jungians to begin adequately to address issues of "race" in the white-black sense, but it is not sufficient. As a practical program to begin to address this issue, I propose that:

(1) as Polly Young-Eisendrath remarks in "The Absence of Black Americans as Jungian Analysts," there is a need for affirmative action. For that to occur, it seems to me that Jungian analysts would have to reconsider the shibboleth that candidates are "called" to be trained at Jung institutes and that they should not be "recruited." Such an effort should include financial aid incentives for applicants who demonstrate actual need. (By "affirmative action," I do not mean any "preferences" in the admissions process. I merely mean that institutes should engage in "outreach" to groups that historically have been under represented in Jungian analysis.)

(2) Jungian analysts consider providing affordable therapy—even pro bono therapy—for members of "racial" or ethnic groups that are economically underprivileged or disadvantaged.

(3) Jung institutes consider developing and offering courses in the content of specific contemporary cultures, such as "Cultural Sources of the African-American Psyche."

(4) Jung institutes consider establishing an annual public lecture on the topic of cultural differences. The Postgraduate Center for Mental Health, a Freudian institute in New York City, already sponsors the "Frantz Fanon Memorial Lecture." A Jung institute might establish a comparable lecture in honor of, say, Sir Laurens van der Post, friend and biographer of Jung, active opponent of apartheid in South Africa, and author of many books on Africa.

(5) Jung Institutes initiate a conversation with prominent African-Americans, such as Alice Walker and Stanley Crouch, who already have an interest in Jung and invite them to enter into dialogue, in some public forum, about what attracts them to Jungian psychology. Walker has published a novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy, that includes a fictional "Jung" as one of the characters. In the acknowledgements to that book, she expresses gratitude to Jung: "I thank Carl Jung for becoming so real in my own self-therapy (by reading) that I could imagine him as alive." She has also published a memoir, Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism, in which she describes visiting Bollingen and affectionately touching the alchemical stone that Jung carved. In The All-American Skin Game, or The Decoy of Race, Crouch mentions with approval the observations that Jung made about how the behavioral style of African-Americans has unconsciously influenced the way that white Americans walk, talk, and laugh.

(6) Jungian analysts reconsider the practice of immediately interpreting on the "subjective level" blacks who appear in dreams (especially in the dreams of whites) simply as the "shadow"—that is, merely as derivative personifications of "dark," ostensibly negative or inferior aspects of the dreamer. This practice uncritically assumes that , although such dreams are apparently about "racial" blackness, they are really about "psychical" darkness. The effect is to deny the specific reality of "race" as a content of the unconscious and to deflect attention from it as a serious social and political issue for the dreamer.

(7) Jungian analysts reconsider the tendency to regard blackness, or nigredo, in alchemy as merely an initial stage that should be superseded by a subsequent stage of whiteness, or albedo. If Jungian analysts were to theorize nigredo and albedo not as stages but as states, they would relativize blackness and whiteness. They would regard "blackening" or "whitening" not as absolute but as relative to the state of the ego. If an ego were too "black," it would need compensatory whitening; if it were too "white," it would need compensatory blackening. Such a revision of the traditional sequentiality of alchemical transformation would be perfectly consistent with the Jungian theory of compensation.

How might Jungian analysis help us to reimagine ourselves multiculturally? One important contribution that it could make would be what I call the "desegregation of the ego." As Freud defines the "ego," it is "reason" in relation to the "reality principle." In contrast, Jung defines it simply as "identity" - that is, whatever "I" happen to be identified with at any time. As both Freud and Jung note, the ego is only a part, not the whole, of the psyche. The ego exists by virtue of a certain segregation from other aspects of the psyche through such defenses as repression and dissociation. That is, the ego is identified with certain aspects and disidentified from others. This segregation of the ego is a form of "psychical apartheid." Jungian analysis attempts to desegregate the ego by bringing it into relation with aspects that it has previously excluded from consideration and relegated to the unconscious. What Jungian analysis has to offer is an expansive, inclusive vision of the psyche. From this perspective, the ego is simply a "self-image" in contrast to a variety of "other-images." A truly multicultural Jungian analysis would foster a non-defensive (or at least a much less defensive) ego, or self-image, that would be more receptive to other-images--including a multiplicity of other-cultural-images. What I call the "multicultural imagination" is thus a project by which we might desegregate our racist (or "ethnicist") ego and in the process reimagine our very identity.

Copyright Michael Vannoy Adams 1997. All rights reserved.

Suggested Reading List

Adams, M.V. (1996) The Multicultural Imagination: "Race," Color, and the Unconscious, London and New York: Routledge.

Campbell, J. (1986) The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion, New York: Alfred van der Marck.

Crouch, S. (1995) The All American Skin Game, or, The Decoy of Race, New York: Pantheon.

Fanon, F. (1967) Black Skin, White Masks, trans. C.L. Markmann, New York: Grove.

Freud, S. All references are to the Standard Edition (SE), by volume and page number.

Henderson, J.L. (1990) Shadow and Self: Selected Papers in Analytical Psychology, Wilmette, IL: Chiron.

Herron, W.G. (1995) "Development of the Ethnic Unconscious," Psychoanalytic Psychology, 12,4: 521-32.

Javier, R.A., and Rendon, M. (1995) "The Ethnic Unconscious and Its Role in Transference, Resistance, and Countertransference: An Introduction," Psychoanalytic Psychology, 12,4: 513-20.

Jung, C.G. All references are to the Collected Works (CW), by volume, page number, and paragraph.

Samuels, A. (1993) The Political Psyche, London and New York: Routledge.

Walker, A. (1992) Possessing the Secret of Joy, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Walker, A. (1997) Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism, New York: Random House.

Young-Eisendrath, P. (1987) "The Absence of Black Americans as Jungian Analysts," Quadrant, 20,2: 41-53.

About the Author

Michael Vannoy Adams is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. He is a candidate at the C.G. Jung Institute and a faculty member and supervisor at the Object Relations Institute. He is author of The Multicultural Imagination: "Race," Color, and the Unconscious (Routledge 1996).