Growing up in America with immigrant parents, you’re often on your own navigating your future, and so institutions like elementary school become more than just places of study. They become agents of social advancement. One day, in fifth grade, someone came to class and told us about magnet schools, explaining that you could apply to study a particular subject at a particular school. Getting into the program was connected to the category you’d been assigned in tests you’d taken, and there was a mysterious point system that helped you get into this or that school.
I am in the not-unique position of coming from mixed heritage. Like many of us who hail from the Kentucky and Tennessee Appalachians (we pronounce it apple-ate-cha, not apple-atsha), my family is a mix of African, Native, and Scottish. Except for the white boy who raped my fifteen-year-old Cree/Cherokee grandmother to make my mother. We don’t really know what he was, other than the obvious. In old photos of my family, we look like a checkerboard. The young ones are towheaded and fair-skinned, the grandparents wonderfully burnished, the between generation coffee and cream.
At first, I did not know why I was weeping inconsolably upon seeing the image of George Floyd’s naked face as his neck was crushed by the knee of a man fully armed with police gear and, more strikingly, a look of total nonchalance. I did not know why I could not bear watching the video of one human, so unmoved, with such ease, squeezing the life out of another human being who was squirming, pleading, begging, calling for his momma.
What if our patients who “feel too much” aren’t just poorly regulated but are sensing something more that needs to be told? What if our patients who have been called “too sensitive” really are resonating with a more collective grief than their own? What if they have capacities and sensitivities that overwhelm them because no one has believed them and trained them how to use them? What if they feel “different” from others, not just because of trauma, or neuropsychological differences, but because they are carriers of old truths, of memories from before their time?
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?
Steven Reisner, a New York psychoanalyst known for leading the successful effort to get the American Psychological Association to stop having any connection with torture sessions, has come out with a podcast series called Madness: The Podcast. In episode six, “The Masque of the Black Death (Racism in the Time of Trump),” Reisner speaks to us in a voice that conveys the urgency of this moment when the nation seems to be hurtling toward what could be an explosive decision point regarding Trump.
When I was a little kid, I thought my uncle was hysterical. He told no jokes, but he didn’t treat me like a kid, either. He was always a problem for the rest of the family. At one point, my mother told me, “If people in suits come looking for your uncle, you don’t know where he lives.” Actually, he lived down the block. My uncle always had a job but never seemed to be working.
When I was a child in the Bronx in the 1940s, whenever a plan for the future was proposed, it would be followed by the phrase
“after the war.” My parents would say, “after the war” my father would quit Ritz radio and start his own business.
And then it was over. yes, he was finally impeached. >>> No, despite his claims to the contrary, he was not exonerated.
Today, we may be facing that same crisis, a different kind of sudden death. I feel both too old, at thirty-four, and not old enough to see history repeat itself.