Reterritorializing Locations of Home: Examining the Psychopolitical Dimensions of Race Talk in the Classroom1

By Grinage, Justin | JCT (Online), May 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Reterritorializing Locations of Home: Examining the Psychopolitical Dimensions of Race Talk in the Classroom1


Grinage, Justin, JCT (Online)


THE PROCESS OF RACIALIZATION IN THE UNITED STATES was built on white racial violence against communities of color. This violence was enacted in such a way that colonialism and racism are intricately related. Whiteness has its roots in coloniality in that, "kidnapping, false imprisonment, forced labor, murder, contempt of personhood, torture, and theft of land" (Martinot, 2010, p. 20) are all characteristic of the establishment of racism as an oppressive force in U S. society. European American colonists seized economic, political, and social control from indigenous populations through violent means. The creation of whiteness as a racial category was assembled through this seizure of power, around the 1700s, but whiteness was also strengthened by the formation and justification of the institution of slavery as an exploitive avenue to gaining economic independence for the white elite (Allen, 1994). It is through violent colonial and racial acts that European Americans come to think of themselves as white-these discourses are deeply ingrained within the construction of race relations. The continued existence of colonial and racial violence is imprinted onto identities that are socialized within the white racial structure of domination, which is maintained through discourses that seek to uphold this hierarchy. Being socialized as white attaches one's racial identity to past discourses of domination because the meaning of whiteness was and still is defined through this violence. A similar relationship exists for people of color as their racialized identities are defined in relation to the white racial violence committed against them.

Understanding the creation and perpetuation of race and racism in the U S. means acknowledging its connection to colonization and its reliance on violent acts. Discourses that shape individual racial identities as well as institutionalized racial structures and socialized racial dynamics have all been tinged by racial violence. The construction of our subjectivities cannot escape this reality. Thus, characterizations of what it means to be racialized must take into account both the sociopolitical dimensions of oppression as well as the psychological aspects of subjugation. Traditional notions of Freudian psychoanalysis fail to consider the postcolonial subject who survives in a space where his or her identity has been shaped by oppressive social conditions (Khanna, 2004; Oliver, 2004). A psychoanalytic theory of racism should take into consideration the interplay between the sociopolitical and the psyche (see Clarke, 2006; Frosh & Baraitser, 2008; Tummala-Narra, 2013). Derek Hook (2005) defines this relationship as the psychopolitical. He writes, "[w]e might think the project of psychopolitics as the critical movement between the socio-political and the psychological, each of which becomes a means of critiquing the other" (2005, p. 480). A comprehensive theorization of the manner in which racial and colonial violence functions in the historical present needs to include a psychopolitical analysis of the ways in which our subjectivities are influenced by the trauma associated with existing in oppressive social structures.

The psychopolitical aspect of race relations has a great impact on how we choose to talk, or avoid talking, about race. Racial discourses are linked to past and present acts of racial violence enacted to propagate prevailing racial dynamics. Often when we discuss race, these discourses are invoked in that how we are socialized as racial beings-the power relations latent in this construction-dictate the emotional responses we have concerning the topic. Anne Cheng (2001) profoundly states, "it can be damaging to say how damaging racism has been. Yet it is surely equally as harmful not to talk about this history of sorrow" (her italics, p. 14). We therefore run up against a dilemma when thinking about having conversations about race: if both staying silent about race as well as talking about it is equally damaging, how can we begin to have "safe" conversations about this issue? …

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