Race and Whiteness in the American Unconscious: A Study of Contemporary White Americans' Internal Relationship to the History of U.S. Slavery NOTE LOCATION

  • 08 Nov 2017
  • 7:15 PM - 9:00 PM
  • Dell Medical School Health Discovery Building at 1701 Trinity Street, Austin TX


Nov. 8, 2017    Race and whiteness in the American unconscious: A study of contemporary white Americans' internal relationship to the history of U.S. Slavery - NOTE LOCATION

           Ryan Parker, LCSW       

            Private practice, Austin, TX    1.5 CE/CME/CEU/PDs (Clinical)

In 2010, Ryan Parker recorded a thousand minutes of data from interviews with white-identified Americans born and raised in the United States, during which she asked questions designed to elicit participants’ internal representations and associations to the history of U.S. slavery. The data contains remarkable examples of participants’ use of denial, projection, and disavowal to ward off the anxiety and feelings of guilt and shame aroused by thinking and talking about U.S. slavery. Participants displayed a surprising level of dysregulation over the course of the interviews. Many participants exhibited disorganized and illogical thinking, and many also reported significant somatic symptoms during the course of the interviews such as numb lips, tingling in the extremities, and physical pains. Another notable finding was that a majority of participants had few to no memories of ever talking about slavery with another person. This pervasive interpersonal and collective silence about U.S. slavery among participants helps us wonder about the consequences (societal-level repetition and reenactment) when generations of white racial heirs are left to bear the haunting histories of their culture in isolation. Drawing on the burgeoning psychoanalytic literature on whiteness, race, and racialization, concepts of intergenerational trauma, collective unconscious and memory, and the drive toward repetition imbedded in identifications with the aggressor, this presentation and discussion will provide a fascinating glimpse into American whiteness and the trauma rooted in the construction of its subjects.

Ryan Parker, LCSW is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice in Austin, TX. She specializes in work with young children, child-parent dyads, parent consultation, couples therapy, and adult psychotherapy. Ryan is a graduate of the Infant Parent Mental Health Post-Graduate Fellowship Program founded by Kristie Brandt and Ed Tronick. Ryan is the current Education Chair of Austin Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology and services as the Education and Training Co-Chair of Division 39’s Section IX, Psychoanalysis for Social Responsibility. Ryan is in private practice in Austin, TX.

Learning Objectives:  At the end of the presentation, participants will be able to:

·         Describe at least two psychological defenses commonly used by white Americans in relationship to the history of U.S. slavery

·         Identify at least one example in which use of projective identification is currently occurring on a collective/group level in the United States


Altman, N. (2006). Whiteness. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 75, 45-72.

Harris, A. (2007b). The house of difference: Enactment, a play in three scenes. In M. Suchet, A. Harris & L. Aron (Eds.), Relational psychoanalysis: Volume 3, new voices (pp. 81-95). Mahwah, NJ: The Analytic Press.

Suchet, M. (2004). A relational encounter with race. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 14(4), 423-438.


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