Whiteness and the Psychoanalytic Imagination, Michael O’Loughlin

Abstract. In this essay I seek to interrogate the specialized language of psycho- analysis and the implicit role unexamined racialization—and hence White hegem- ony—play in the American psychoanalytic imagination. I begin with a discussion of Eng & Han writing on racial melancholia, a work that offers a thoughtful expos- ition of the power of Whiteness to induce racial melancholia in its "Others." I then turn the inquiry toward my own life story, seeking to illuminate the role of Whiteness and racial othering in my own racial formation. Given our field's core interest in subject formation, notions of racialization and the dominant discourses of Whiteness would appear to be ideal grist for the mill of psychoanalysis. This could only be true, however, if psychoanalysis were self-reflexive about the dynamics of race and the hegemony of Whiteness in U.S. society. There is consid- erable literature suggesting that psychoanalysis may embody potential for such critical work. However, because the theory and practices of conventional psycho- analysis are racialized through and through, psychoanalysts—as currently trained—are ill-equipped to address the hegemony of Whiteness or the dynamics of racial difference. If, as Claudia Tate suggests, psychoanalysis functions "as a writing of the ethnicity of the White western psyche," we have much work to do to unconceal these processes and work toward a more emancipatory and inclu- sive psychoanalysis


he title of this article is an homage to Toni Morrison's (1992)
Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. In this work, Morrison seeks to shift the focus from the object of the racial gaze to its subject. Her study does not seek to indict canonical American writers as racists. Rather, she uses their work to illuminate  how racialization is deeply embedded in literary language and in the everyday language we use, "a language that can powerfully evoke and enforce hidden signs of racial superiority, cultural hegemony, and dis- missive 'othering' of people and language ... " (p. x). Her goal is to free up the language "from its sometimes sinister, frequently lazy, almost always predictable employment of racially informed and deter- mined chains" (p. xi). I will argue that psychoanalysis suffers from a similar difficulty, namely the deeply embedded residue of colonization and racialization that leads to an unexamined Whiteness at the center of our work.

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