Unlearning Privilege: The Therapeutic Ethos and the Battle Within the White Self (Routledge Handbook of Global Therapeutic Cultures)

27 Jul


There is in America today a discourse of White anti-racism that has come to operate as a form of self-help.  In a broad conversation that extends from social justice and anti-racist activism to institutional diversity and inclusion programs and across a variety of film, television and internet sites, advice, guidance and exhortation is offered for White people seeking to explore and confront emotional and cognitive habits inscribed by racism.  Within these conversations, White privilege is described as a pathological form of cognitive impairment or state of denial, the resolution of which requires that the white subject seek out and internalize the perspectives and experiences of people of color, who are assigned the implicit function of a therapeutic authority.  Employing an account of self help developed by theorists of “reflexive modernity” and drawing on sociological accounts of therapeutic culture, this chapter excavates the various elements of this self-help discourse centered on the problem of White privilege, which include: a medico-psychologization of White privilege fashioned on the “analytic contract” as described by Sigmund Freud; a therapeutic revision of biographical identity through the lens of White privilege, and a valorization of the role of people of color as an omniscient therapeutic other.  These functions combine in suppressing the deficits of meaning that afflict personal life under the conditions of reflexive modernization, serving the function of what Anthony Giddens terms the reflexive project of the self.



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