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Méndez, T. (2019). In Conversation With Race and Psychoanalysis: An Introduction. Psychoanal. Soc. Work, 26(1):1-4.

(2019). Psychoanalytic Social Work, 26(1):1-4

Original Articles

In Conversation With Race and Psychoanalysis: An Introduction

Teresa Méndez

Just about four years ago I was settling into a session with my patient, Richard, an African-American man in his sixties, whose baseball cap and sneakers made him appear much younger. He was carefully dressed, as always. I knew that his clothes were handed down from a friend, because Richard was underemployed and technically homeless. At the time I had been a clinical social worker in Baltimore, Maryland, for about six years. Richard and I were meeting twice a month for five of those years, our worlds at times feeling as though they were colliding, although most days we shared something much quieter. On this April day, he sank into my couch and asked, “Did you hear about Freddie Gray?”

We had struggled over the years to talk directly about Richard’s own daily life and daily traumas, and so this displacement had become our routine, our rhythm. There was a seemingly bottomless newsfeed to feed it. At the time: Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Walter Scott. The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. On this day it was Freddie Gray. And of course, now, the list goes on… and on….

I recall having continually felt pulled, my clinical superego, to try to draw the conversation away from the tragedy befalling Black and Brown bodies in national news stories and bring it back to my patient, and the tragedies befalling him: How was he experiencing his own dehumanization and threats of annihilation? There was the criminal record that left him unable to vote and struggling to work, and the constant threat of unemployment and homelessness. Or at least I should return us to his everyday: his regular but limited work at a construction site, a job that was important to him, underemployed though he was; his relationship with the woman with whom he lived, the significance of which he minimized beyond that it provided him a place to sleep; and his children, who were doing well, by his account, and, therefore, he said, off limits. He seemed to feel that by talking about his children in the therapy they would become contaminated by the rest of his life.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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