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Altman, N. (2006). How Psychoanalysis Became White in the United States, and How that Might Change. Psychoanal. Perspect., 3(2):65-72.

(2006). Psychoanalytic Perspectives, 3(2):65-72

How Psychoanalysis Became White in the United States, and How that Might Change

Neil Altman, Ph.D.

I take my title from three sources. The first is from an article by Kimberlyn Leary (2000) in which an African-American patient of hers, faced with the knowledge that her therapist was going to be changing her appointment time in order to accommodate analytic training, referred to psychoanalysis as a “white thing.” The second source is a book by Noel Ignatiev (1995), called How the Irish Became White. Ignatiev states that when the Irish first arrived in North America in the first half of the nineteenth century they did not think of themselves as white. But when they realized they could be classified as white due to the color of their skin, and that there were certain advantages that would accrue to them if they were considered white, they began to identify as white. How? In some cases, by turning against the black slaves. They had abolitionist sympathies due to their experience of oppression at the hands of the British. By the early 1860s, according to Ignatiev, Irish people were active in the draft riots where many African-Americans were hurt or killed. Two points here: First, whiteness is a matter of identification, and second, antiblack racism may be an important part of how one becomes white. I believe that psychoanalysis, like a person, underwent a similar process when it arrived on these shores—not becoming racist in any sort of violent way, but becoming exclusionary of African-Americans in a variety of subtle ways. And this brings me to the third source of my idea that psychoanalysis is white, by the composition of most psychoanalytic audiences, training program faculties, student bodies, and so on.

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