We can all—or most of us—agree on the existence of a thing called structural racism. But can structures have a life of their own, independent of the people inside them?
It had been an unseasonably hot day in July. The news said—improbably, I felt—that it didn’t break a record. The fifteen chickens in the coop next to me panted through their open beaks, spread their wings to create shade, or moved within the stingy shadows, one pecking the neck of another to get a place to scratch down to cooler earth.
Early in January 2020, while anxiously speaking to a colleague, I was thinking about how I have become dysfunctional. I obsessively read everything. My panic-stricken and recurring thoughts about the state of my country, my home, were haunting me like a waking nightmare. My colleague at the time responded and said, “That’s how everyone is. Panic and dysfunction are not a pathology of the individual anymore. You are not alone.”
Karachi is underwater. They say the flooding is devastating. They speak as though it is constitutive of the people of Karachi to suffer, that they just can’t imagine another way of being: hardship, plight, poverty. 1948 is all that comes to mind. Partition. Colonialism. But nineteen years and counting: Afghanistan, that is how Pakistan exists to them, a mere association.
So, what happens when an analytic institute invites in a galaxy of Black analysts? How will the very structures that kept them out change to allow these folks to facilitate the needed and desired transformation… if that was the intent?
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been seismic in its exposure of systemic cracks and flaws across the spectrum. Assumptions about what once felt relatively predictable in terms of health and economic safety, job and educational security, and expectations for the future have been upended by the destructive course of the virus. And at the national level, in the equally unpredictable convergence of events that determine historical moments, the fault lines of foundational and transgenerational racism that undergird our country have been highlighted.
I am not yet an analyst. I am a pediatrician for urban public schools and state-regulated behavioral health facilities. In my current capacity, I address the medical needs of hundreds of minority kids and families who are excluded from traditional psychoanalytic culture but who could deeply benefit from this healing art. Every day, I witness both the need for psychodynamic applications on a programmatic scale and imagine possibilities for public health partnerships to enable this process.
I feel as if I’ve been punched in the throat. Being treated like a person is scary here. One must then recognize that one is indeed a person, which then makes one aware of the inhumane realities of this place. I thought I understood then. But as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, I got an even better understanding…
Danger during the war in Aleppo was marked with sound and smoke. During the pandemic, danger is boundless. It can be everywhere and anywhere. The most fashionable and well-off person can carry the virus and pass it on to me, while on the other hand, an armed person walking next to me on the sidewalk could be harmless. The invisible danger is what makes the virus lethal. In war, if the sound is far away, then I can assume I am safe.
Portland protesters armed with leaf blowers and cardboard signs face off with masked federal agents sporting fatigues and riot gear—guns, truncheons, and shields. Orange tear-gas clouds plume up from the tarmac as the agents grab protesters and hurl them into unmarked cars. These are images typically associated with far-off, war-torn countries ruled by authoritarian regimes—not democratic governments. But in less than six months, some of the most toxic elements of the US national psyche have risen to the surface, denuded by the global pandemic and bull-horned across the country by the divisive and belligerent rhetoric of the White House.