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Guild of Psychotherapists Race and Culture Group: The Question of Hue in Psychoanalysis: Training, I

Updated: Nov 27, 2021

Event type: Seminar day

When: 29 February 2020 ; 10:00-16:00

Where: The Guild of Psychotherapists, Nelson Square SE1 0QA

The power of whiteness as a mythology of the good

Amidst increasing mainstream recognition that whiteness is an identity position which implies an orientation to power and privilege the way this orientation manifests is highly contested and often misunderstood. One commonly recognised affective mode of whiteness is the fragility and defensiveness through which whiteness protects itself against interrogation. This is largely a defensiveness driven by the desire to resist seeing the white self as violent and violating of others, to resist seeing the ‘darker’ side of the self. It is a defence against the discomfort of recognising whiteness as a manifestation of fear, shame, guilt.

On the one hand helpful in exposing power, these accounts of white defensiveness can mask the way whiteness operates as a mythology of the good, as an expression of the human desire for wholeness and healthiness, as a resistance to human fracture and the inevitability of difference. This is because these accounts start from the point of the mythology of whiteness as a hue, rather than the mythology of power and vulnerability framing human subjectivity. Seshadri-Crooks (2000) develops a different view rooted in understanding the contradictory desire for whiteness.

Race is a regime of visibility that secures our investment in racial identity. We make such an investment because the unconscious signifier Whiteness, which founds the logic of racial difference, promises wholeness. (This is what it means to desire Whiteness: not a desire to become Caucasian [!] but, to put it redundantly, it is an “insatiable desire” on the part of all raced subjects to overcome difference.) Whiteness attempts to signify being, or that aspect of the subject which escapes language. Obviously, such a project is impossible because Whiteness is a historical and cultural invention. However, what guarantees Whiteness its place as a master signifier is visual difference. The phenotype secures our belief in racial difference, thereby perpetuating our desire for Whiteness. (Seshadri-Crooks, 2000: 21)

When we begin to understand whiteness as a master signifier which works as a form of general protection against the human experience of difference, uncertainty and related anxiety, we have starting point from which to see how it sutures into everyday meanings and practices such as ideals of good professionalism. How whiteness is smuggled into other meanings and practices outside of our everyday awareness.

The heart of my paper today explores how whiteness works as a master signifier to create and hold together ideas of the good health and social care professional and to situate some professionals outside of the idea of the good, as the bad, unhelpful or problematic professional. It builds out of the analysis of an imagined dialogue between a range of health and social care professionals around what it is like to be a professional in the context of health and social care change. Through the interpretation of the symbolic, material and affective dynamics in a dialogue about profession we can see the ways race and Whiteness comes to be the invisible frame for ideas of profession through intersecting ideals of gender, class, generation.

As people working with emotion, those working with psychoanalytic ideas have an opportunity here to enter into the debate on fragility and defensiveness to help societal understandings of power and its relationship to affect and material reality and personal and social discomfort. And yet, there is evidence of white defence here too in the shape and profile of the psychoanalytic body of ideas, its professional profile and ways of practicing. So; the questions remain what should be done? What can be done? How can community be reinvented? What does that reinvention mean and what shape could it take?


Seshadri-Crooks, K. (2000) Desiring Whiteness: A Lacanian analysis of race, London: Routledge.

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