The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief

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Savannah-Chatham County Board of Education Cheng points out that the scientific data on the detrimental effects of racism on children of color, provided by NAACP National Association of the Advancement of Colored People lawyer Thurgood Marshall and two social psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the Brown case, were first used to challenge Plessy v.

However, this very piece of evidence from social psychology was later cited to argue for educational segregation in the Stell case. With these historical events, Cheng show that racism is indeed a matter concerning not only sociology but also psychology. Consequently, the issue about race still influences the study of the sociologists and psychologists over the years. The research on black college students of a social psychologist Claude M.

Steele published in , and the survey conducted by Mattel about children's racial preference regarding Barbie dolls published in , for instance, can be two examples of the unending discussion on race and color. If the grief and grievance are derived from the injury owing to racism, the outcome of the transformation can be called the melancholy of race.

In the next part of the chapter, Cheng discusses how this melancholy of race forms in America. Consequently, if this person fails to replace the lost object with another object, the ego of the person will become identical with the lost object, and this state might ultimately lead to the person's loss of ego. One's sense of self and identity are thus vulnerable or impoverished. However, if the loss can be substituted by other objects, one is in the state of mourning , which is in a healthy state of recovery.

On the contrary, if one is in the state of melancholia , he or she refuses substitution or return of the loss , and this refusal, according to Cheng, can be regarded as the melancholic ambivalence toward the object. To further exemplify her idea, Cheng quotes Michael Rogin and Thomas Jefferson's words to demonstrate the ambivalence and entanglement within the dominant white American identity in melancholia.

However, it would be a false accusation to ascribe the blame of racism solely to the racists. Both the racists and the white liberals are directly involved with the racial melancholic activity —an activity of expelling and maintaining. The racists need the racial others as an object to hate and fight against, while the liberals require the discriminated racial others, before memorializing them, to strive for liberty and equality.


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Racism, similar to melancholic, thus becomes an issue of exclusion-yet-retention. To elaborate her ideas, Cheng spells out that American values and canonical literature actually participate in influencing the trace and operation of racism. In other words, it is this exclusion that constitutes the formations of American nationality and it is the issue about race that provokes the evolution of American democracy.

Mourning, melancholia, and race now | SpringerLink

Instead of being content with her discovery of the historical origin and possible social and psychical paths of racial melancholia, Cheng, by discussing Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye , further explores the subjectivity of the melancholic object and its contribution to the study of the racialized subjects in the next part of the chapter. Although it is not an easy task to talk about the pain and sorrow of the racialized other, for the discussion might naturalize or re-provoke the grief, Cheng claims that it is necessary to pay attention to the agency in terms of racial grief.

The status of the black body as the national locus of racial and sexual difference underpins the paradoxical terrain of both inclusion and despotism upon which black bodies stand in the contemporary U. On Friday, June 25, , the same week the Supreme Court announced the legalization of gay marriage, President Obama asked the nation to mourn the nine black lives lost in the Charleston church massacre.

What David L. Increasing levels of anxiety over the porous borders of whiteness and its changing face have given way to an ever-increasing private sphere governed by a racialized liberal security state. Amidst all the self-congratulatory discourse and relative privilege afforded certain racial and sexual minorities, this racialized liberal security state waged war against those on the margins of marginalized communities.

The dominant narrative of American exceptionalism rose alongside heightened competition for domestic advancement, global capitalism, and the diminished federal funding of state programs and initiatives to make space for a hyper security state to which those on the periphery of marginalized communities fall prey disproportionately. Violence and coercion thrive in social climates in which privilege is relative, fragile, and transferable.

The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief (Race and American Culture)

What is more, figurations of blackness and difference function as central arteries in these social and libidinal networks of loss and compensation. A striking feature of the deaths of Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, and Michael Brown is the fact that they were all prefigured by ungendering name-calling, issued from victim to convicted or alleged perpetrator. In part, the deaths of the Charleston Nine are the result of attempts by state and local municipalities to balance budget shortfalls through the sale of handguns and licenses to an increasingly over-medicated populace struggling to cope with the simultaneous globalization-stimulated racial and class anxieties.

Jailed on false arrest charges, the acquittal and discharge of Marcus Jetter after the surfacing of lost dash cam footage registers a racialized police state and juridical system trafficking in the neoliberal narratives of black irresponsibility and poor choice. If Winters reminds us that racism is embedded in memorials and rituals in observation of racial progress, McIvor pushes for the development of a grammar for decoding the underpinning norms, anxieties, and defenses that render modes of racial healing and reconciliation ineffectual.

The libidinal currents that interlock categories of race, sexuality, and gender discreetly have always worked with the shifting demands and forces of nationalism to secure or undermine community across the racial divide. As such, racial truth and racial healing, according to McIvor, are challenging to align. Neoliberal racial ideology makes this pairing ever more precarious. From its very inception, according to Michael Omi and Howard Winant, neoliberalism was as much a racial project as a class project , p.

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The neoliberal racial ideology of color blindness was designed to dismantle the welfare state and apply the same market-based rules across racial lines. As the flows of capital work to obliterate the middle class, this indifference grows unchecked. The political project of woman-of-color feminism is a conscious departure from identity-based forms of reconciliation and collectivity.

How do we challenge the norm of indifference? How do we create and entrench new norms and meanings in the face of neoliberal racial ideology? How do we secure safety and promise in the interstices of identity categories within marginalized communities? Winters and McIvor invite more publications exploring the intersections of mourning, melancholia, and civic engagement.

Subsequent volumes could contribute to these powerful paradigms for exploring the democratic and generative possibilities of racial grieving in the face of ongoing racial and social injustices.

Mourning & Melancholia

Situating identity and community as interstitial and dynamic libidinal forces, these two books also mark the fruitfulness of woman-of-color feminism and praxis on this pressing social justice front. Taken together, we are reminded that power flows as an intricate and contradictory assemblage and thus strategies and tactics in the service of racial healing and democratic pluralism must flow accordingly. Skip to main content. Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. Contemporary Political Theory pp 1—7 Cite as. Review Essay First Online: 13 August Eng, D. Durham: Duke University Press.

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Omi, M. Racial Formation in the United States. New York: Routeledge. Google Scholar. Singleton, J.


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