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.
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?
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.