I am the white Jewish mother of Black sons. My older child was called “the N word” for the first time in Fire Island, New York, when he was three years old. The younger one was called “the N word” for the first time in Massachusetts when he was six.
It is Tuesday at 4:00 pm, and it is time for Ben, a white man in his early thirties. He often refers to himself as “strange” for feeling out of step in not holding popular, mainstream views like most of his friends. He feels like that is due to a lack in him, and this lack makes him feel on the outside of things. He does not feel lacking or strange to me but familiar. I find myself holding him in warmth and fondness.
“I was thinking to myself, I can’t wait to tell them. They’re going to be so excited!” Or maybe the patient didn’t say excited—maybe they used a different word. I can’t exactly remember because my mind got stuck on them/they’re. It took a moment before I realized the patient was referring to me. They referenced me not as her/she but them/they. My preferred pronouns. I was moved, for a moment, out of the shared space of the session, out of the patient’s experience and into my own. Something caught in my throat, my eyes watered just a fraction, and my heart skipped a beat. I felt fear; I felt gratitude. I slowly settled back into attunement with my patient, and though they remained on the screen, many miles away, I felt closer to them than before.
Many of us have had the experience of standing in front of the window of a hospital’s newborn nursery, a partition that simultaneously protects and allows visitors to gaze at the variety of human life displayed within. The tiny creatures, hatted in little ski caps, are only hours to days old, yet how distinct they are from one another as they sleep, squirm, smile, grimace, and cry. It’s fascinating in those early weeks, especially if the infant is a familial one, to watch the play of expressions that crosses its face and then shifts, calling to mind now the contemplative gaze of one relative and then the loopy smile of another—features that over time will coalesce into a more stable facial configuration.
Linda Hillringhouse holds an MFA from Columbia University. She was a first-place winner of the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award (2014), a second-place winner of Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry (2012), and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize (2020). Her work has appeared in Lips, New Ohio Review, Paterson Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from the Macdowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her recent book of poetry, The Things I Didn’t Know to Wish for (New York Quarterly Press) was shortlisted for the Eric Hoffer Book Award Grand Prize in 2021.
Even though a virus is blind, we have learned, yet again, that like so many oppressive things, it disproportionately finds its way to those who are already suffering. I feel privileged that, during the coronavirus pandemic
On The Pleasures of Owning Persons: The Hidden Face of American Slavery by Volney Gay. On the Pleasures of Owning Persons by Volney Gay (IP Books, 2016) is a book written for white Americans. The author is a professor in the Departments of Religious Studies, Psychiatry, and Anthropology at Vanderbilt University and is a training and supervising analyst at the St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute.
I started my psychoanalytic learning and political activism in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was the spring of 1981, a time of turmoil and search for personal and collective freedom. I migrated from Brazil to the United States in 1990 with my husband, daughter, and all twenty-four volumes of the Brazilian edition of the works of Sigmund Freud.