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Sharing an essay I wrote for the First Person series at Vox:
White people are doing a lot of soul-searching these days.
Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who recently admitted to wearing blackface in a Michael Jackson impersonation competition, just announced that he’s going on a “listening tour” to learn about racism. Actor Liam Neeson admitted to wanting to commit a racist murder in his youth, saying, “It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that.”
I’ve been thinking about the complexities around confession and forgiveness. As a psychotherapist for 25 years who has worked immersed in issues of race and racism, I believe it is important for white people to find spaces where we can name our past racist failures and identify the ways we have been both contaminated by racist systems and have perpetrated racist acts.
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You haven’t heard much from me at this blog – unless you are a subscriber to the online reading group/Seminar essays – because I have been working hard sorting and writing about the 3000 or so dreams about our current president that I have collected at the 45 Dreams Project.
I will be releasing a new chapter each month at the projects new webpage – and I invite you to click over to read Chapter One – which explains how I came to start this project, how I understand dream work and my thoughts about “interpretation” and the wider perspective that dream collections can offer us into our collective and unconscious response to a troubled era. If you find the project interesting and want to read along, I encourage you to sign up to follow 45 Dreams Project so that you will receive a monthly notice when the new chapters are released.
Here is an excerpt:
It started with my own dream, as so many things do in my world, a month or so before the 2016 presidential election:
A friend, who has worked with various celebrities as a personal assistant and a dresser called: He was leaving town, and needed me to cover for him. “Its easy!” he said, “you just have to stop by and feed him – I’ve left everything out with a note!” He gave me an address that leads to the top floor of a six floor walk up apartment building.
When I arrived, I unlocked the door, unsure of who or what I would be feeding. The door opened into a family/television room – the curtains drawn, a large TV blaring on the wall. On the glass coffee table sat a large metal dog bowl. A bag of kibble sat near the door. And on the sofa, Donald Trump, in a large adult diaper, sat sleeping with his chin on his chest. I filled the bowl with nuggets and slid it toward him on the table. As I looked at him sleeping, I was filled with disgust, and then flooded with pity. He is obviously sick. Disabled. Infantile and senile. Feeble. Something was profoundly wrong with him. He then woke and without acknowledging me in any way, began gobbling the food, chewing loudly with his mouth open.
I decide that it would be too cruel to let him just starve to death, but at least he was contained – as he could never be able to walk up or down all those stairs. I did the bare minimum for him, only what I would offer to any stranger, any human being. I got him a cheap pre-paid flip phone for emergencies only. All his previous handlers abandoned him, he seems a debilitated pawn, whose delusions, phobias and bigotries were being exploited. Yet somehow despite his incompetence he was still able to head an effective, angry, divisive, xenophobic campaign.
I woke, both disturbed and confused by the dream. It seemed to confront me with the ways that it was easier for me to think of Trump and Trumpism as “sick” and “not responsible” for his actions. I suspected it was a dream that compensated for the conscious anger and horror I felt as I watched and took what action I could to push back against xenophobic campaign rhetoric and negotiated the daily barrage of lies.
I also noted the dream’s warning that my wish to be a good kind person kept the campaign regularly “fed.” The belief that he was “contained” and “feeble” and should be treated with the same basic concern as “any human being” in distress – seemed to provide the movement a with a life-line, and offered just enough assistance to allow his campaign to flourish.
I thought about how difficult it is to discern “sick” from “bad” – that the course of normal empathy seems to lean towards offering deviant behavior the benefit of a doubt, assuming that it emerges out of illness and suffering – eliciting pity and making excuses for “bad” and immoral behavior. The dream pressed me to confront my own complicity, my desire to consciously view Trumpism and the resurgence of right wing extremism as something aging, feeble, and powerless – nothing to take seriously. A wish to relax out of my own assertive impulses left me with an inability to confront regressive, propagandist messages. My dream-ego confronted me with an image of myself as someone who could unwittingly feed a virulent movement.
It was a dream of complicity, of the bonds of empathy and common humanity exploited. It was also a dream that revealed a desire to let my guard down, and the potential consequences. And certainly I was not the only one experiencing this bind as we headed toward an election that no one I knew imagined he could ever win. The comfortable certainty surrounding me frightened me even more.
When he won, I was not surprised.
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I also want to let you know that I have opened a new dream collection – Climate Dreams – gathering dreams of climate breakdown and our psyche’s response to the crises of global warming.
If you, or someone you know, would like to share such a dream – you may simply leave a comment on the Climate Dreams blog page – all dreams will be stripped of identifying information before they are made public. Additionally, I am gathering and retweeting climate related dreams shared publicly at the Twitter account @Climatedreams . You may also email dreams to email@example.com.