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Wachtel, P.L. (2001). Racism, Vicious Circles, and the Psychoanalytic Vision. Psychoanal. Rev., 88(5):653-672.

(2001). Psychoanalytic Review, 88(5):653-672

Racism, Vicious Circles, and the Psychoanalytic Vision

Paul L. Wachtel

My aim in this article is to explore some of the ways in which a psychoanalytic perspective can be useful in illuminating the nature of our nation's racial impasse and even in contributing toward its resolution. The racial divisions and tensions that continue to plague our society are a product of many factors; they are most certainly not simply a matter of “psychical reality.” Very real historic crimes and abuses, very real differences in economic circumstances, in educational opportunities, in the neighborhoods in which blacks and whites grow up, and in a host of other powerful life circumstances are central to the differing status of blacks and whites in our society. I do believe, however, that psychoanalysis—and a psychological perspective more generally—can be of great value in helping us address these realworld differences and finding a way to move past the mind-sets on both sides that maintain them.

In focusing on the persistence of large and painful divisions and continuing inequities, I do not mean to imply that we have not made progress in resolving our racial divisions and injustices. When we look back to the circumstances before the onset of the modern civil rights movement, we must be struck by the enormity of what has been achieved. Many readers are old enough to remember a world in which African Americans were legally required to attend separate schools, drink from separate water fountains, and use separate bathrooms from whites in many parts of our country, and in which, throughout the nation, blacks were discriminated against openly and with impunity.


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