The problem for those of European descent and other ethnic groups who have been designated as white is an endemic element within our American culture. Even after some almost forty years since the Civil Rights era began, we still see white privilege raising its head in new, often disguised, ways; white privilege (WP) is embedded in many subsets of our natural system and countless institutions that comprise a lethal system of WP.
I’ve been reading some of the writings of Carl Jung of late and found that his growth of individuation did reach a point where he observed the influence of white-centered as part of the shadow side of humanity. He apparently also observed that only until white culture could stand bravely and humbling, looking into the mirror of “otherness” that it would never be able to understand itself.
The radical beauty of Jung’s model of Psychoanalysis is his intentional intuition; his use of his creative spirit moves him far beyond the label of scientist. There’s no question he was definitely a scientist (especially prevalent during his younger years of practice and writing), but as he grew as a human, so his creativity, intuition and adoption of other, what we might call primitive, cultures. Perhaps his greatest contribution, at least in my thoughts, was his adaptability to expand a marriage of Eastern and Western modalities of psychotherapy and spirituality. He was able to integrate these two dimensions in his own thinking
Jung’s harmonizing of Eastern and Western wisdom and knowledge into the fabric of modern psychotherapy was not without cost to his own reputation. Jung was often attacked and vilified by the Psychoanalytical establishment with its science-centric lens of perceptions. Western disciplines tend to be linear, intellectual and rational; not that Eastern modes of psychology aren’t rational, they’re just more cyclical in nature, non-dualistic, and a sort of both and mindset whereas Western thought processes gravitate much more to an either or Aristotelian worldview.
The white-centric world, with its inherent blindness to everything non-white, doesn’t need to even think about racial differentiation—most of the time it doesn’t have to. Since most white people lack an understanding of what it’s like to grow up as a non-dominant, person of color in the United States, and deal with the daily micro-aggressions of racism, classism, bias and discrimination, most whites find it almost impossible to have empathy for the “other” that may live and work all around them.
Racialized whiteness (not white racism), views its identity as the hub of the constellation around which everything else revolves. Just consider the racial make-up of so many neighborhoods, schools, places of religious worship, and recreational and community centers, etc. Many of these venues are composed entirely of white people, a homogenized proto plasm of sameness and incomprehension of even what the term white means.
It’s been my experience, people who have done the kind of deep, soul-conscious work, as Jung did, are usually able to mine their own unconsciousness basements which includes what Jung termed the shadow. The shadow side is a part of the collective unconscious of all human beings, and is our disowned self, that we would rather keep hidden and invisible from both ourselves and others. It’s for this reason that we create another exterior persona to protect the shadow from coming out to play. The shadow is neither good nor bad—it just is. But if is denied, or unknown to us, it creeps out of the dark shadowy niches of our inner beings, into the light of consciousness, and may act out in very self-defeating and hostile ways. Projections by men’s anima (feminine) and women’s (masculine) animus are unconsciously aimed in various directions with passive or aggressive methods.
In Jung’s psychological/spiritual journey, he took time hanging out with the living mirrors of divergent cultures and ethnicities; these were the darkened, antique pieces of glass that obscured a real and genuine view of oneself. He asked questions to learn from those different from him, and listened to their meanings, emotions and understanding that emanated from their own experience that was very different from his.
I would like to quote from a book entitled The Tao of Jung. I am thankful for the work that David Rosen accomplished with this book, and feel that it very much assists the time-binding efforts to preserve Jung’s spiritual, inner journey so others may learn from his life as I have.
In Chapter Five, Rosen discusses Jung’s unique propensity of embodying both Eastern and Western modalities in Psychotherapy and Transformative healing and growth. Rosen writes on p. 93:
Now that Jung had achieved certain stability and rootedness both at his home in Kusnacht and at his retreat at Bollingen, it was time for Jung’s tree to grow more extensively and branch out significantly. He was adhering to his evolving philosophy of life, that was to find meaning by developing one’s full personality, by ‘”saying yea to oneself.”’
Jung traveled to America in 1924 where he visited the Taos pueblos in New Mexico. “There he realized that he was still ‘”caught up and imprisoned in the cultural consciousness of the white man”” (Ibid., p.93). He made a friendship with a Chief of the Taos Pueblos Indians named Ochwiay Biano or Mountain Lake. The Chief shared an observation about white people that hit a vulnerable nerve with Jung, and Jung was aware of his blindness:
‘”See,”’ Ochwiay Biana said, ‘”how cruel the whites look. Their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by folds. Their eyes have a staring expression; they are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something; they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think they are mad’” (Ibid., p. 93).
So, naturally, Jung wanted to know the reason they thought whites were mad, and Mountain Lake replied and went on with his teaching to Jung:
‘”They say they think with their heads,”’ he replied. Jung said, ‘”Why of course,” and he asked him in surprise. ‘”What do you think with?”’ The chief indicated his heart.
Mountain Lake held up a mirror to Jung, and it stunned the visitor from Switzerland. Jung reflected, ‘”I fell into a long meditation. For the first time in my life, so it seemed to me, someone had drawn for me a picture of the real white man (emphasis mine)”’ (Ibid., p. 93).
Hence, one of the pairs that Jung would have to deal with was: thinking with the head and thinking with the heart. Jung was a heady (intellectual) thinking type, so this would be no easy feat. In fact, it would take a score of years and a near-fatal heart (and soul) attack before Jung could actualize Mountain Lake’s wise words in a Taoist way, that is, to think in the way the chief described—with the heart (I can readily identify with this last statement, that is, undoing the cultural stereotypes of people of color is a process, not an academic event, and it may be a very long process. In my experience as well, it took a long time to go from intellectualizing what I learned about racism, and genuinely feeling it in my heart. We whites, especially white males are trained from our formative years to use mainly our heads; I once heard someone say, ‘for most of my life, I was numb from my neck down.)
Around the same time Jung took a trip to Africa, to a world of blacks; in some weird way it was if he was following the patterning of Lao Tzu’s precept (Ibid., p. 94):
Know the white
Yet keep to the black
Be a pattern for the world.
If you are a pattern for the world,
The Tao will be strong inside you
And there will be nothing you can’t do.
[i]In the autumn of 1925 Jung embarked to Kenya on a safari. Jung would discover that another pair of opposites in the world: that of yin and yang, and they were black and white. This would be another aspect of his evolving psychology in the companionship of Psychoanalysis and Taoism that he would learn about and accept.
Camping among the Elgony, he met an old medicine man whose title was laibon.
Jung “asked him about his dreams, he answered with tears in his eyes, ‘”In old days the laibons had dreams, and knew whether there is war or sickness or whether rain comes and where herds should be driven.””…But since the whites were in Africa, he said, no one had dreams anymore. Dreams were no longer needed because the English knew everything (my emphasis!) (Ibid., p. 95).
Jung added that the laibon was the ‘”living embodiment of the spreading disintegration of an undermined, outmoded, unrestorative world”” (Ibid., p. 95)….
Jung would have to deal with European demons, including some more of his own. Good and evil represent another pair of opposites that Jung would have to experience in depth and eventually transcend. In fact, underscoring this truth, one of the last things he wrote was on this essential topic: ‘”Good and Evil in Analytical Psychology,”’ which was completed in 1959, just two years before he died (Ibid., p. 96).
The well-known martyr of the Nazi concentration camps, Dietrich Bonheoffer, did something very similar to Jung when he traveled to New York City, and spent time in Harlem’s black churches. His reaction to the music of their choirs, for example, transformed his own spiritually because he saw a deep joy of a once oppressed people, flow out of their souls in heightened abandonment. In other words, he went to them, and learned from them a more liberated form of Christianity.
I’ve found out by experience that if you really want to see yourself clearly, and see others’ difference authentically, as well as exploding your own denial, you have to have the balls to go where “others” live, work, celebrate and worship. White-centric culture wants these different “others” to come to where they are, but this only exacerbates and perpetuates the upside-down power imbalance of superiority/inferiority.
(sounds like a misnomer but Shaila Dewan wrote an article for the New York Times on July 6, 2013 titled Has ‘Caucasian’ Lost Its Meaning? That includes a diagram showing various white skin tones—check it out!) Being a disenfranchised non-conformist and anti-social rebel, while at first living in a blue collar area and eventually moving “up” to a more elitist community, I felt no real connection to any group or even my own family. Something was missing; when I arrived at my pre-adolescent years, I began to see that the missing piece was having soul and the Blues. And if you liked the Blues, there’s no better city to be from than Chicago.
Shaila Dewan. New York Times, Has Caucasian lost its meaning? July 6, 2013.
I was raised on the north side of Chicago, where whiteness was the dominant color (sounds like a misnomer but Shaila Dewan wrote an article for the New York Times on July 6, 2013 titled Has ‘Caucasian’ Lost Its Meaning? That includes a diagram showing various white skin tones—check it out!) Being a disenfranchised non-conformist and anti-social rebel, while at first living in a blue collar area and eventually moving “up” to a more elitist community, I felt no real connection to any group or even my own family. Something was missing; when I arrived at my pre-adolescent years, I began to see that the missing piece was having soul and the Blues. And if you liked the Blues, there’s no better city to be from than Chicago.I began hopping on the train, going into the city on the south side to a place known as Maxwell Street. There I found my missing family of African descent, hustling the fronted stolen goods in the open air, street corner market. After doing this for some time some of the regulars recognized my face, and made me feel at home.
If they weren’t hustling they were playing the Blues, riffing those strings to make amazing sounds that put me in another place which was certainly not being an adolescent in an all-white suburb on the north side near the Lake. It took me away, the catalyst in escaping to a place that had no pain, oppression, depression, murder and conflict over my identity. It was my musical addiction. I listened and learned because there’s a mean, beautiful wisdom in the Blues. I learned how to cry, celebrate, jump up and down in joy, and to vent my anger at the “man” through the wisdom of the mean, bad-ass Blues.
My connection with my African American brothers and sisters made me think of two of the most powerful and important people to me in my life: Mary Ann (mother) and Catherine (daughter). When the Blues were played I floated back and could see the love in their ebony faces, and loving smiles. My grandparents lived in Louisville, Kentucky and Mary Ann and Catherine were their maids; basically they cooked, cleaned, and took care of the house. But the most important memory that flows in my brain’s veins was their unconditional love for me. This was my first encounter with this type of love, and it was mind-blowing. My family seemed to miss the train on this one. My self-esteem level was fairly low at the time, and they had my back.
Catherine and Mary Ann, as a young white boy, saw me trying to take in a disjointed and fragmented world. They still sit on my shoulders today, whispering, “love yourself,” and I still stand on their shoulders seeing farther than I ever could alone, and with unobstructed vision. Their gift to me gave me more awareness of who I am as a white male living in this supposedly land of the free. Thanks to Mary Ann and Catherine, as a white male, I’m more whole and complete as a person.
Another memory slips by like an elm leaf on a slow moving stream: at times I would ride along when my grandmother or grandfather took them home at night. the heart when I saw where they lived. As a white youth of privilege, I had never seen the realities of the “others” that were different from me, didn’t look like me, didn’t speak like me, didn’t live like me, and might as well have lived on another planet. I’ve always been very sensitive to the emotional atmosphere around me, and when I saw that the dear ones who loved me so much were living in squalor, I whimpered and cried to myself in their care for me. Why is there such inequality, I thought to myself? Why is life so damn unfair to people who aren’t white? I just couldn’t comprehend it since it was so overwhelming.
I have concluded, as years have flown by, that I only know the inner tingling of internalizing oneness because I sat in the sun-storm of their love, not because they sat in my presence of ignorance, greed, anger and power. But perhaps—since we are all mirrors for each other—they also learned from me. I’ve never had the chance to ask them.
Carl Jung was one of those rare white men (not rare in the connotation of superiority or inferiority, but rare in integrity) who had the bravery to open the hair of mirrors. His realization and enlightenment was creating a world of wholeness and completeness in his inner castle. What he also found was the shadow side of his own whiteness. His was the path of de-centering whiteness and integrating a transformation to internalize oneness, an acceptance of her and others, a respect for the interdependent nature of human beings, human cultures, non-sentient creatures, along with the indigenous earth and sky, and recognition and collective identification of the shadow whiteness that may be found in each white heart.
He saw both internally and externally how whiteness had wreaked a swath or slavery, oppression, genocide, and merciless slaughter of innocents throughout history; he also knew he didn’t have to remain stuck in addictive guilt and shame, but was enabled to be aware of the past psycho-social deeds of white privilege, and learned how to let it go. He was then able to continue along the trail of his own inner exploration.
Carl Jung, perhaps due to his deep empathy and respect for Eastern spiritualties, and Native American spiritualties, held a great honoring of his own ancestors. The place where this was most powerfully seen was at his retreat house Bollingen. ‘”As Jung said, The Tower, …is connected with the dead.”’ (Ibid., p. 13)7).
Jung elaborated more on his conceptions about ancestors:
I became aware of the fateful links between me and my ancestors. I feel very strongly that I am under the influence of things or questions which were left incomplete and unanswered by my parents and grandparents and more distant ancestors. It often seems as if there were an impersonal karma within a family, which is passed on from parents to children. It has always seemed to me that I had to answer questions which fate had posed to my forefathers, and which had not yet been answered, or as if I had to complete, or perhaps continue, things which previous ages had left unfinished. (Ibid., p. 139)
Our souls as well as our bodies are composed of individual elements which were all already present in the ranks of our ancestors. The ‘”newness”’ in the individual psyche is an endlessly varied recombination of age-old components. Body and soul therefore have an intensely historical character and find no proper place in what is new, in things that have just come into being. That is to say, our ancestral components are only partly at home in such things. (Ibid., p. 139).
It’s clear to me, in our contemporary culture that racism has taken on a decidely more obtuse, hidden, and indirect form. I write this about a week and a half after a jury in Florida found George Zimmerman not guilty of the second-degree murder of the African American, seventeen year old, Trayvon Martin. After the verdict, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated their outrage at the injustice of the Criminal Justice System. Whether racism is embedded in one person’s heart or in the guts of an institution, what we as observers see is just what makes it to the surface of society.
There are many ways for European Americans to discover their own personalized category of racism within their psycho-historically conditioned egos. There are many paths, but one journey: that journey is to come to a well-defined and self-reflective understanding of ourselves, and to honestly commit to doing something about it.
In my experience, I believe that the only way to transformatively heal from the effects of our racism, as perpetrators and oppressors, is to do the deep-structure work of allowing our unconscious minds to float up into our conscious awareness of the sources of our own racist beliefs and behaviors. I can’t tell you how to do that for yourself, it’s you that has to explore the undergrowth of your own unconscious wilderness. This can be a long process, but it is a process, not an event. I don’t think that transformation comes about by academic or intellectual education alone, such as attending a workshop, seminar or class about racism or white privilege. Doing any one of things isn’t a bad thing, it’s simply a matter of these methods being incomplete, and not necessarily changing our inner selves, from the inside out. If we take the latter approach, real empowerment will come, and we’ll have raised our consciousness; we can then decide what course of action to take to raise the consciousness of our nation and the planet.
Carl Jung was such a man, so perhaps we can learn more from him on our walkabout.
[i] David Rosen, M.D. (1996). The Tao of Jung: The Way of Integrity. New York City: Penguin Books, pp.92-160.
© Christopher Bear-Beam July 21, 2013