Large-Group Psychology: Racism, Societal Divisions, Narcissistic Leaders, and Who We Are Now

A new and updated exploration of large-group psychology from world-renowned psychoanalyst Dr Vamik D. Volkan. This timely book investigates the underlying psychology of the societal divisions occurring in the world and includes the author’s personal observations and experiences of racism as a ‘voluntary immigrant’ to the US over six decades ago. Large-Group Psychology: Racism, Societal Divisions, Narcissistic Leaders and Who We Are Now is an immensely readable book, written in a beautifully clear and jargon-free prose.

Large-Group-Psychology_Racism-Societal-Divisions-Narcissistic-Leaders_and-Who-We-Are-Now

This is a must-read and provides illuminating ideas in terms of how we might understand the significance of healing the wounds of collective historical trauma such as trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery.

David Axelrod on revisiting the legacies of slavery.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/i-thought-i-understood-issues-of-race-i-was-wrong/2020/06/12/a18d18ae-ac0d-11ea-9063-e69bd6520940_story.html
David Axelrod, in his article for the Washington Post on 12th June 2020, encourages a revisit on the “consequence of systemic, dehumanizing racism that has defined our history from the moment the first enslaved people arrived on our shores 400 years ago.”

 

A lot of white Americans thought they understood. But the underlying legacy of racism still remains. The laws that were passed were hard-won and important, but they didn’t eliminate deeply ingrained biases and layers of discriminatory practices and policies that mock the ideal of equality. The election of a black president was a watershed event in our history that struck at the heart of the racist creed. But it didn’t end racism. In fact, it provoked a backlash that empowered a racist demagogue and new policies meant to further embed structural barriers to full citizenship for black Americans.

Heinous as his death was, Floyd’s legacy might be more than laws to end the patterns and practices that have made black Americans exponentially more likely to die at the hands of police. It might also have begun a long overdue reconciliation with our racist past and all of its ugly manifestations that remain a grim reality for Americans of color every day.

Remembering the unremembered: A Key to Healing

In her review of Toni Morrison‘s book “Beloved”, Dr Scherto Gill suggests that one of the book’s features be that it allows us to remember the unremembered, and reminds us of the need to face the oppressed collective memories of slavery.  Without embracing these memories, the unremembered continues to hold our societies, and we live simultaneously in the present and in the past.

Dr Gill says:

Clearly, the unremembered is never forgotten, and they wear different guises today in racism, poverty, and violence, the three evils of structural oppression identified by Martin Luther King Jr.

That unremembered demands to be remembered, is because memories can imprison but also liberate. By remembering, the formerly enslaved can re-acquaint with their bodies once so violated by brutality and torture, and can return to their community, a community from which they once ran away, because it identity was associated with commodity and utility.

Dr King calls this new place of belonging our Beloved Community, built on dignity, mutual respect, and compassion. For Morrison, this Beloved Community must start with listening to unremembered past … because she knew only too well, it is in the remembered that lies seed of forgiveness, redemption, and healing.

“It’s not obesity. It’s slavery.” – The New York Times

We know why Covid is killing so many black people.” 

In this New York Times Opinion piece, the author Dr Sabrina Strings, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California at Irvine, concludes, drawing on scientific research, and analyses of African American people’s health, that

“obesity — and its affiliated, if incorrect implication of poor lifestyle choices — should not be front and center when it comes to understanding how this pandemic has affected African-Americans. Even before Covid-19, black Americans had higher rates of multiple chronic illnesses and a lower life expectancy than white Americans, regardless of weight. This is an indication that our social structures are failing us. These failings — and the accompanying embrace of the belief that black bodies are uniquely flawed — are rooted in a shameful era of American history that took place hundreds of years before this pandemic.”

Read the full New York Times article HERE.

UNESCO Healing the Wounds of Slavery Symposium: Questions discussed

On October 18th and 19th, twenty-eight renowned caring and inspirational experts from multi-disciplinary backgrounds met at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for days of deep sharing, exchange and dialogue around the topic of “Healing the Wounds of Slavery”. The symposium included four observers.

At the Opening Session, Prof Thomas Banchoff, Georgetown’s Vice President for Global Engagement, welcomed the international experts to the Berkley Center where he previously served as the founding director. Prof Banchoff shared Georgetown’s recognition of this important UNESCO initiative, and expressed his good will for the outcome of the Symposium.

The participants and contributors discussed the following questions:

  1. What are the historical contexts, foundations and underpinnings of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery?
  2. What lessons can we learn from these and other dehumanizing tragedies in world history?
  3. What are the latest research findings on the psycho-social consequences of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery?
  4. How do the different approaches, experiences and processes contribute to the healing the wounds left by such historical traumas?
  5. What would be the necessary approaches to healing the wounds of transatlantic slave trade and slavery?
  6. What would be the appropriate strategies to communicate and inform the public for a better understanding of the challenges to the overcoming of these legacies?
  7. Who are the key stakeholders and partners to associate with the healing
    processes and dialogues?

At the concluding session of the Symposium, a number of proposals were made and the group are working to identify strategic steps forward.

Symposium event photography is now available to share, thank you.

Trauma of slavery and epigenetics

Epigenetics is the study of biological mechanisms that can switch genes on and off.  Recent epigenetic studies have shown that stress, socio-economic deprivation, racism and other traumatic experiences of our ancestors can play a part in turning on or off certain genes in our DNA. That is to say, for instance, the trauma of slavery can be passed on transgenerationally.  See an example in the work by Professor Ariane Giacobino.

Several of the forthcoming UNESCO Symposium contributors have argued for the importance of healing the trauma of slavery, such as in the work of Professor Joy DeGruy, who maintains that the systematic dehumanising effects of slavery have continued to impact many African American people’s experiences in the world.  Equally, Professor Aimé Charles-Nicolas has called for systematic healing of transgenerationally transmitted traumas inherited directly from slavery or passed down through racism rooted in slavery.  Such an imperative has been reinstated in the International Scientific Colloquium on “Slavery: what is its impact on the the psychology of populations?” in Martinique and Guadeloupe on October 2016.

Professor Benjamin Bowser and others also urge our societies to pay more attention to how education might continue to perpetuate such trauma, and likewise, new approaches to teaching and learning about trans-Atlantic slave trade and slave history may contribute to healing and cultural transformation.

Traces of the Trade

TRACES OF THE TRADE: A STORY FROM THE DEEP NORTH

In this Emmy-nominated documentary, filmmaker Katrina Browne discovers that her Rhode Island forefathers were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history.  She and nine relatives decide to retrace the Triangle Trade: from a port town in Rhode Island, to slave forts in Ghana, to the ruins of one of their family’s sugar plantations in Cuba.  Step by step they uncover the vast extent of Northern complicity in slavery, and thus come to see that slavery built the nation, not just the South.  They meet with people of African descent abroad and at home and grapple with questions of white privilege, healing and repair in the present day.

While still in rough-cut form, the film contributed to the Episcopal Church’s 2006 decision to issue an apology for its role in slavery and embark upon research, repentance, dialogue and repair processes in dioceses around the country that are still on-going.

Traces of the Trade premiered in 2008 at the Sundance Film Festival, and then aired nationally on PBS.  The film has contributed significantly to the growing public awareness in the last 10-15 years about the role of the North in slavery.  It has also been broadcast in Canada, Cuba and Bermuda, and has screened in numerous European, Caribbean and African countries.  Family member Tom DeWolf published a book about the family journey: Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History.

The film is used extensively in schools, universities, museums, religious denominations, workplaces and professional conferences for education and heart-felt dialogue.  A nonprofit was formed out of the film, The Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery.  It helps museums and historic sites improve how they interpret slavery for the public (including via a published collection of essays) and on helping teachers improve how they teach slavery.  Another ripple has been the formation of the Center for Reconciliation out of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island.

Ms. Browne specializes in bringing attention to “racialized emotions” and particularly the psychological legacies of slavery for white Americans and how those hinder restorative justice.  She contributed a book chapter on how these legacies manifest in the classroom to: The Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery: New Directions in Teaching and Learning.  She is currently developing a multi-session film-based race dialogue series curriculum for the Episcopal Church and other interested denominations.

Coming to the Table

Coming to the Table is a national organization whose vision for the United States is of “a just and truthful society that acknowledges and seeks to heal from the racial wounds of the past – from slavery and the many forms of racism it spawned.” It started its work in 2006 from the efforts of Susan Hutchison and Will Hairston, both descendants of European heritage enslavers who had formed bonds with descendants of people their ancestors had enslaved.

The name of the organization comes from the “I Have a Dream” speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King. The mission of Coming to the Table is to “provide leadership, resources, and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery.” Coming to the Table promotes four approaches to achieving its mission.

Coming to the Table holds National Gatherings every two years. There are also local groups around the country.  Another national but virtual component of Coming to the Table are its working groups, such as the Linked Descendants working group.

Through the Coming to the Table website, anyone may have access to a set of recommended resources. STAR, Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience, is a workshop. Transforming Historical focuses STAR on the trans-generational transmission of harms done by injustice and inequity. Other resources come from the domain of Restorative Justice.

In the local and national gatherings of Coming to the Table, two tools are used consistently: the Circle Process and These Guidelines for Sensitive or Challenging Conversations. The book, Gather at the Table, is an accessible entry into Coming to the Table’s work and a good starting point for conversation.

 

Race, Reconciliation, and Responsibility

For over two decades, Initiatives of Change (IofC) USA has developed Hope in the Cities which aims to transform Richmond, VA, from a symbol of racial division to a model for reconciliation. Richmond was the nation’s largest interstate slave market in the first half of the 19th Century and capital of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.

Hope in the Cities is a citizen-led effort which brings together a network of leaders in non-profit and business sectors, local government, media and education, from across the political spectrum and of all cultural and religious backgrounds. By facilitating honest conversations, by focusing on acknowledgement, healing and understanding, and by encouraging personal responsibilities, Hope in the Cities continues to help build capacity of community leaders who are working for racial healing and equity.

Rob Corcoran, founder of Hope in the Cities, is a facilitator and trainer, and the author of Trustbuilding: An Honest Conversation on Race, Reconciliation, and Responsibility. The book captures the processes, experiences and learnings from engaging in the work and its application to other communities. His paper for the National Civic League entitled Building Trust in the Heart of Community reflects further on this deeply transformative and ongoing journey.

Richmond was selected by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as one of 14 locales to implement Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation. 

Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation

Kellogg Foundation‘s Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) enterprise has initiated a national process aimed at addressing centuries of racial inequities in the United States. TRHT seeks to advance racial healing in communities across the country to create environments where everyone can thrive. It is based on the understanding that the roots of slavery is the belief in a hierarchy of human value, and by jettisoning such a belief, and transforming our collective consciousness, we can re-envisioning a more humane, equitable and loving society.

The Design of TRHT focuses on changing narratives, enabling healing and relationship building, developing more systemic transformation through law and economy. For more information on the TRHT, please read:

TRHT-Booklet

TRHT-Design-Team-Recs

TRHT-Implementation-Guide