I was once sat alone in an open air restaurant on a Greek island, looking out to sea whilst I waited for the menu. There was a family sat on the next table with two boys of about eight and ten. Something about them struck some deep chord in me. I began to pay attention. The boys were sat opposite one another, not speaking but using a torrent of nonverbal gestures and silent expressions packed in with meaning. It wasn’t quite sign language but it seemed just as rich.
The parent’s conversation stumbled overhead. The man seemed to constantly take up more space than his seat permitted. He was loud. He’d put on a tone of insistance where it wasn’t required. He responded to his wife as though ticking some kind of inter-marital box in a contract he now regrets signing. Everything was too much effort. He speaks to the waiter with barely restrained annoyance that this Greek man, working in a Greek restaurant, in Greece, couldn’t perfectly understand his mumbled English that had a twange in it that I knew…
Meantime the woman is palcating the situation, lots of patting gestures and smoothing over her husband’s laval tantrum in a way that had the stamp of long practice, apologising for him to the world in a way that also suggested he was really quite right and justified in his contempt for it. And while she tutted she also offered him every opportunity to misbehave. I could almost smell my mother’s eau de Cologne.
I had an extreme childhood. Para-military boarding school in a post -imperial war zone. It was the kind of place you felt proud, not to have attended, but to have survived. It bred a very particular kind of person.
Eventually I turned to him and said, ‘excuse me, but did you attend Plumtree school, and were you in Milner house?’ He dropped his fork and turned white as a sheet, momentarily uncontained by the seat he’d spent the evening trying in vain to bust out of.
‘How do you know ?’ he gasped.
I shrugged, ‘they got me too.’
The fact was that I recognised his madness, all the compensatory gestures that go with being abandoned in the name of specialness, the aching emptiness that needs to big itself up all the time at others’ expense, the racial intolerance despite the fact that he had presumably been the author of his own holiday destination.
Then there was his accent and the mannerisms you begin to share after six years cooped up in a cage together, but the clincher was in his boys and the shock of realising that their interaction was precisely that of juniors in the prep-room, forbidden from speaking and having to resort to other means of communication.
Is racism a mental health issue? Of course it is. You could go further and say quite specifically that when it is systemic, it is the collective expression of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
If you look at the checklist in the DSM-5 diagnostic manual for NPD, Racism ticks every box because it has to do with a..
‘significant impairment of inter-personal functioning’. DSM-5
It is an enduring, inflexible, pervasive pattern over a broad range of social situations in which self esteem is derived from having power over others.
‘goal-setting based on personal gratification..’ibid
‘Failure to conform to normative (constitutional) ethics.’ibid
This impairment in its collective form can also be described both in terms of lack of empathy for the suffering of others and in the lowered capacity for intimacy which is severely restricted by a predominantly exploitative stance.
”including deceipt, coersion; use of dominance or intimidation to control others” ibid
Being in the same room as someone who has all this going on is hard enough even when you’re the same colour. When you’re not its hell,..
and then he gets into government.
”fabrication, lack of guilt or remorse about the harmful effect of one’s actions on others… vengeful behaviour.”ibid
You might wonder if there is something broken in such persons, or the traits of it within yourself, but Racism, like NPD, has its origins in something that was never formed in the first place. Its the defensive angry crust formed around an empty space where something should have happened but didn’t.
A threshold of development was never crossed, the threshold of separation from mother which allows baby to perceive others as beings in their own right, when Mom also has a destiny, when we relinquish the omnipotence of being at the centre of things in exchange for the richness of a many faceted inner world that can be excited and stimulated by difference rather than threatened and paranoid about it..
Without crossing this threshold, feelings of infantlike entitlement are harnessed to shining ideals divested of conscience. This is done via the projection of one’s personal limitations onto now shadowy others in order to consolidate the failing bulwarks of internal cohesion. The secret fledgling charges itself with talons of riteous indignation…
”If the Jews did not exist we would have to invent them.’ H Goerring.
The individual Narcissist has been subjected to what Masud Kahn calls ‘Symbiotic Omnipotence’, an early bond with mother that is characterised by shared specialness. The child is billed as a kind of saviour and is loaded down with all kinds of archetypal expectations by a mother who has been deprived of the freedom to reach her own potential.
One of the features of this scenario is that everyone outside their bubble is regarded with contempt, as though they were second class citizens, denial…
”that others could be potentially valuable or nourishing.” M. Kahn
Unfortunately, Western Civilisation is imbued with this toxic dynamic. Like the folie a deux of mother and child locked in Symbiotic Omnipotence we have the insistent collusion of Mother Church refusing the validity of other people’s Gods and beliefs. Even the benign end of the spectrum has a secret chuckle reserved for the ignorant foolishness of anyone who comes from further away then the next block in their city.
The way a child responds to a mother who has a destiny already written out for him/her, even if it is a glittery and shiny thing, is to create inner walls to seal off the feeling of inner deadness this actually gives rise to. Carrying a host of sparkly expectations gets in the way of being together as ordinary people where ordinary feelings and ordinary interactions give rise to the sense of being real..
‘If the mother’s face is unreflecting, damage is done to the child who becomes walled off from his own emotional self..’ P. Wright.
The problem for the special child is that he is not seen for who he actually is and no matter how glorious the vision of him might be in his mother’s eyes its still not real or alive. His inner walls are necessary to defend himself from the reality of being unloved. Unfortunatly, he’s liable to deal with this by thrusting his inner reality onto the external world and build walls between people in order not to suffer further cognitive dissonance of being a walled off person in an open world.
The saviour child who has been charged with bringing meaning and fruition to mother’s unlived dreams must fail. Even if he could magically wave the wand that would save her, he is still a self-as-object rather than self-as-subject which gives rise to a sense of dislocation from oneself.
What Mother looks like is the source of the child’s emerging self concept. If what baby sees is impassive or dead, that’s what he takes himself for.
‘Her look freezes the subjective feeling of life.” D. Winnicott.
This breeds not only terrible emptiness but also terrible shame which the child is then left eternally trying to shake off by means of either shaming others or by claiming that this is somehow their intention.
Shame, being a self-as-object in another’s world..
”is the feeling of an original fall, not because of the fact that I may have commited this or that particular fault, but because I [still] need the mediation of the other in order to be what I am.” J. P. Sartre.
Racism ameliorates this shame and the isolation of narcissistic encapsulation. It gives the damaged person Others, clan, with whom to entirely identify and still further Others to entirely hate, a neurotic solution to the endemic damage engendered in cultural patterns of mother/infant relations characterised by Mother’s loss of value and freedom.