throwing spaghetti at the wall

mi scusi

andiamo aries season!

I’ve missed you all! These past few weeks have presented some pretty awesome-yet also very draining- opportunities for me. Two weeks ago I moderated a virtual panel for Black Clinicians-in-training to discuss their experiences in predominantly white graduate programs; and last Saturday I got to present on a panel for multiracial clinicians sharing about the mixed feelings we have in every.single.space.we.enter.ever.

My brain is fried but my heart is so full.

This month feels like I’m in a major process of throwing spaghetti at the wall — putting a bunch of ideas/thoughts/feelings out there all at once and just seeing what sticks. It’s messy, all over the place, exciting, confusing and delicious.

I’m sorry if I’ve been slower to return your texts and call or a little emotionally MIA recently — please trust that part of this process for me is learning how to organize my time and my emotional bandwidth and I haven’t been great at delineating between what’s a *hell yes!* opportunity versus a *meh* one. But we’re getting there — one day at a time.

Below is a piece of spaghetti I recently threw at the wall — a paper (kinda stream of consciousness) I wrote for the multiracial clinicians panel discussion sharing some of my unfiltered feelings surrounding what it means to be mixt and training to become a psychologist at this moment in time. I hope some part of it sticks with you!


Division 39 Society for Psychoanalysis & Psychoanalytic Change - Reckoning with the dilemmas of multiracial clinicians

Working Title: Being Mixed Race is an absolute Mind Fuck 

In Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, bell hooks wrote: 

When the child of two black parents is coming out of the womb the factor that is considered first is skin color, then gender, because race and gender will determine that child’s fate. Looking at the interlocking nature of gender, race, and class was the perspective that changed the direction of feminist thought. 

But what happens when a child of one black mother, and one white father, is coming out of the womb? 

When I was born, I had fair skin, bright blue eyes, and blonde hair. As legend goes, my maternal grandmother, meeting me in the hospital later that afternoon, whispered to my mother, “She’ll brown up. Just you wait.” Right on schedule, I “browned up,” several days later. 

Personally, I identify as Black and “Mixt”, my own take on the classification of “Mixed Race.” Similarly, I follow the lead of Maria Root in rejecting the language of fractions (i.e., half Black). As Greg Carter notes in his book, The United States of the United Races, mixed race experiences are so varied, and therefore, there is no one true, singular, multiracial consciousness that unites racially mixed people across race, class, gender, and geography. 

I want to acknowledge that there is a movement occurring in the mixed community to move away from centering whiteness in our stories about mixedness. This is an important, necessary step to highlighting the experiences of multiracial people of multiple minority backgrounds. But as someone who carries whiteness within, to not speak about whiteness would feel like I was conveniently colluding with white fragility; leaving out a major part of my privilege in spaces like this one. 

Working Title: I really don’t want to talk about whiteness, but here I am, talking about whiteness or alternative title:  I’m still very much figuring out where I fit into all of this as a clinician-in-training 

For the first 26 years of my life, I carried a false sense of freedom with me everywhere I went. I read enough to speak about systemic racism, to understand the concept colloquially, to think about it, but I barely felt what I was talking about. As a rule-follower, I maintained social distance with structural racism – six feet away, minimum. I had yet to understand just how dangerous this unspoken space in-between was or just how much of myself and others I was missing. I also had yet to understand just how much I was denying, avoiding, rationalizing, minimizing, erasing, and contributing to these white patriarchal systems of oppression – these systems that promised to protect me from myself as long as I never challenged them. 

As I began to uncover my own experiences of racial enactment throughout my graduate studies, I was forced to confront the ways I collude with others’ desires for me to split my racial identity, and perform a racialized version of myself. I gave space to the racialized parts of my ego, starting to uncover some of the ways my racial identity has always felt ignored and malleable to others’ perceptions of me. And with extensive training on projective material and interpretations, I began to see myself as a projective container for a collective unconscious of racist beliefs. 

Increasingly, psychoanalytic literature has called for a more nuanced consideration of race. In her 2006 paper, Racial Identities, Racial Enactments, and Normative Unconscious Processes, Lynne Layton asks: “What do we mean when we speak of racial or ethnic identities? Can we assume, in other words, that a racial identity is homogenous, that blacks and whites of all classes and both genders experience race in the same way?” While such questions are vital, many contemporary mixed race scholars are asking a slightly different one: Why is it that multiracials, the fastest-growing racial demographic in the United States, are largely absent from the psychoanalytic literature? And what does this tell us about the experience of race in this country and how it is understood? 

Working Title: mixedness is messiness

Although contemporary psychodynamic theory has taken up race as a topic, the field has largely operated within a monoracial, binary frame. As a result, psychodynamic literature on race replicates our country’s cultural dissociation of racial multiplicity. I’ve begun to wonder how deeply this capacity to reduce or worse, erase, mixedness is a sign of the same colonial thinking that originally disconnected us from our bodies, our power. That others expect us to blend; expect us to forget; to ingratiate; to perform.

Even though psychoanalysis has articulated many of the mechanics of the projections underlying racial prejudices, we have been slow to develop effective clinical theory about race and racial difference. This “developmental lag” in theory (Busch, 1995) occurred in part because traditional analytic theory considered race—if it was thought about at all—as a matter of sociology rather than one of psychology. In other words, as Leary suggests, awareness of racial identities lay outside the analytic sphere. 

It is imperative for all clinicians to examine our own racial realities and complicated racial histories in the service of our patients and ourselves. Racial multiplicity requires us to challenge, complicate, reflect and reexamine assumptions we have made about race and our deeply internalized preference for monoracial conceptualizations and binary analytic theories.

Working Title: There is more to the Mixed Experience than Meghan Markle and Barack Obama

The perception of mixed race as a “post racial, future, gifted” identity can uphold troubling ideas relating to hybrid vigor, which rest on the same biological discourses that have traditionally pathologized mixed race. Thus, in many ways, we see the continuation of the biologically determinate ideas that once disparaged mixed race through pseudoscientific racisms. However, in contemporary discourse, these are appropriated to construct mixed race as racially superior, which also has troubling implications for the assumed inferiority of other racialized groups.

In his book “Mixed-Race Superman,” Will Harris reflects on the lives of Barack Obama and Keanu Reeves, arguing that the mixed race of both gives them a cultural shapelessness—a form of heroic resistance. The whiteness within me that benefits from light-skin privilege through my White-adjacency finds comfort in Harris’ concept of the mixed race hero as a beacon for positive change. The blackness within me, however, is more adaptively hypervigilant and alert to the implicit and explicit negative effects of a single narrative like this.

 In personal and professional contexts, I fear that the mixed race hero can quickly land into the dangerous field of saviorism. Like the “White Savior,” who provides help to non-white people in a self-serving manner, the “Mixed Race Savior” attempts to rescue non-mixed people from their perceived shortcomings. For me, becoming a Mixed Race Savior looks like learning about an anti-Black issue and jumping in to “get loud,” without first listening to those most closely affected and dedicated to the cause. Or when I eagerly offer to educate white people about systemic racism – doing the important emotional labor for them in exchange for their continual praise of my expertise.

When I step willingly into the role of Mixed Race Savior, I am hovering five feet above my true self. And when Black and White people are complicit in my saviorism, we are all performing a surface-level, short-term version of integration that tends to hurt more than it heals.

Working Title: The Mixed Experience: Damned if you Do// Damned if You Don’t 

Culture writer and critic, Wesley Morris, argues that every Black person experiences a “trap door” in interracial relationships. It is the idea that for Black people, some aspect of relationships with white people involves an awareness that you could be dropped through a trapdoor of racism at any moment, by a slip of the tongue, or at a campus party, or in a legislative campaign. 

In my personal mixed race experience, the “trapdoor” can appear in my relationships with both White and Black people. As our very existence calls into question society’s historic and pervasive system of racial categorization, mixed race individuals face unique challenges. As a result, mixed race individuals may encounter risk factors or threats, including racism, discrimination, pressure to adopt a racial identification that is inconsistent with their inner experience, identity questioning, identity denial or invalidated identity. It is the white colleague who confides in me that he does not experience me as Black. Or the Black friend who assures me it is not my fault I am Mixed. As a Mixed, Black woman, it often feels like everyone has more of a claim to my racial identities than I ever will. 

Working Title: Can I identify as racially queer?

In their 2019 article, “Know Whence You Came” Jamali and Mendez (2017) propose that the absence of multiracial subjectivities from the psychoanalytic literature reflects a broader social discomfort with and cultural dissociation of the mixed race experience. Further, they suggest that it is necessary to engage both analytically and queer-ly (Jamali & Mendez, 2017) with the subjective experience of racial multiplicity--positing that multiracial subjectivities might best be understood as subjectivities that are “racially queer” (Jamali & Mendez, 2017). Queer theory can help us question the way dominant norms come to be constructed, go unchallenged, and are then indexed as barometers of psychological health, social acceptability, and normative behavior (Peterson, 2013). For the multiracial individual, to be racially queer denotes both deviance from the monoracial norm and a unique individuality stemming from one’s multiracial background (Chang-Ross, 2010).

Working Title: I make the most sense of my mixedness when I take magic mushrooms  There’s something that happens to me in that altered state of being. Where all of these egoic constructs can fall aside. There is a freedom in that feeling -- to just. Be.

About an hour into the trip,  I look down at my brown arms and I see my veins dancing. They are doing salsa, mambo and calypso. It’s the West Indian Day Parade up and down my arms. I recently learned that veins are mostly colorless? It’s the blood in the veins that gives them their colors. The blood in human veins is also not blue. Blood is always red. Blood is always red. 

When I close my eyes, I become my heartbeat. I become my mother’s heartbeat, my father’s heartbeat, my husband’s heart beat, my sisters’ heart beat. I become love. 

In an interview on the intersection of psychedelics and social justice, author and activist, Nicholas Powers described the birth of his son as a turning point for him in his radical self-acceptance. He shared:

It started for me the first time when I heard his heartbeat. It sounded like a hummingbird. And when we left the hospital, and got outside, I kept hearing his heartbeat. I couldn’t get it out of my head. And I looked and I saw all the people in New York, in Manhattan, and I imagined they all had heartbeats like his. And everyone’s heartbeat started like that, and everyone started like he did. And I just looked at everyone in the streets like -- each human being had poured out of a human body from nothingness into life. And like a river of life they flowed into the city. They flowed into languages, they flowed into roles, they flowed into masks. But this river of life was flowing from bodies out into the world, and then becoming their own bodies. And all of them were connected by this heartbeat. I could feel it pulsing underneath everything. And that’s when I felt something change inside of me. And it was deeper than any holy book; deeper than any ideology. In my body I could feel it. And I was like “oh, we’re all very deeply connected. We’re all very much the same. And yet our lives have taken us to these different corners, different addresses, different places. But underneath it is still this beating -- constantly beating, constantly beating. 

Working Title: I’m not interested in a world that isn’t connected to that heart beat 

When I am around other mixed people, I am in a celebratory space of generosity. I feel that here, right now, in this space. And it’s contagious. Tara, Carter, Mary, Leilani. Every multiracial clinician here. You are helping me see a culture of that heartbeat. A culture where things connect, where things grow. I am overcome with the truth in spaces like this: human beings can actually create a much better world, under the right conditions. We are creating space where isms can fall aside. Being in a space like this is an invitation to feel a never before felt freedom in multiplicity. 

ti amo,

Jesse

enjoy this week’s mixtape - spaghetti at the wall!