Christiana Morgan’s drawing of her vision.
Note: These Seminar essays are usually for subscribers, I have opened this essay to the public because race, racism, and racialized symbols emerge commonly in dreams, and seem to be often confusing and distressing for the dreamers. Perhaps this essay will help some begin to consider the layered complexities that such symbolic images might speak to:
This essay explores Jung’s Visions, Notes on the Seminar 1930-1934, Lecture 6, November 19th, 1930, pp 96-116 . (To read the Visions essay series from the beginning please start with Seminar #84 )
The next lecture begins with content that is uncomfortable and challenging to read. Jung and the group attempt to explore the symbolism of the two dream characters described in Seminar #98 – a vision of a Native American man in a black and white world, who transforms into a Chinese man.
The challenge in front of us is to distinguish among:
1) The ways that our human psyche may draw on internalized cultural biases, tropes and stereotypes to create symbols that may contradict or align with the conscious beliefs of the dreamer,
2) Stereotypes which may point toward deeper, fuller, more integrated archetypes.
3) The ways that oppressive, devaluing or reductive racist tropes and stereotypes most often represent a bias or internal conflict that the dreamer holds against repressed or devalued aspects of the self, and
4) The need to differentiate such content from and maintain respect for cultures, communities and their individual members who live with the harmful and oppressive repercussions of racist projections.
Jung posits that the Chinese man (using an outdated expression/ slur) in the previous dream “is the antipode of the white man” – and then states “What is black with us is white with them.”
Later in the discussion the group attending the lecture refers to “primitive” and “brutal” and “unholy” aspects of the Native American man in ways that seem to refer both to the behavior of the symbolic character in the dream and to the audience’s biased beliefs about indigenous people.
I was tempted to simply skip over these paragraphs as problematic and useless and simply proceed to the next dream. But I also know that our dreams and our unconscious produce many symbols that upset and disturb us, that challenge our consciously held moral values, that test our notion of taboo and that reveal amoral, immoral and destructive aspects of the self.
We may dream of sexual acts that revolt us or that violate incest taboos. We may dream of alliances with those we detest in waking life, or dream of murdering those we love. In our sleep we produce monsters, and horrors and fantasies and engage in acts that would be scientifically and/or morally impossible for us to enact in the day time. And of course, we may also dream of attitudes and beliefs that are in agreement with our conscious perspectives.
We are not morally responsible for what we dream, but we are morally responsible for what we might learn about ourselves from our dreams.
Dreams need not reveal “our true selves” or our “real beliefs” or wishes in any literal way. If you dream of pushing your elderly grandmother down a flight of stairs it does not necessarily mean that you have any impulse, desire or capacity to do so in waking life. The dream could mean a million different things depending on the dreamer’s context and circumstance. It could point to a profound internal conflict in the dreamer about their own mothering capacities. It could speak to the dreamer having an internal argument and wanting to dominate or “push down” aspects of themselves that they see as old or weak. If, it turns out, that the dreamer experienced some form of abuse from their actual grandmother in waking life the dream may expressing repressed rage that the dreamer holds, but we would not view someone who once dreamed of pushing their grandmother down the stairs in the same way that we would view someone who pushed their grandmother down the stairs in actuality.
It would also be important, not to draw any conclusions about the type of person the grandmother may or may not be in reality from the way she is used or behaves in a dream. We should not listen to such a dream to draw conclusions that the grandmother is in fact dangerous, an enemy, a threat, or an obstacle to the dreamer. We should not assume that the grandmother – who perhaps appeared weak or frail or menacing or critical in the dream – is in fact any of those things in actuality.
Jung makes these distinctions very clearly and emphatically when he is talking about dreams that we may have about family members. He asserts that the characterizations that a dream or a dreamer produces about their mother or father or partner speak to the dreamer’s complexes, and the way those complexes are projected onto others and that dreams usually offer little that is useful in understanding anything about the dreamer’s actual family member’s behavior or motivations.
But Jung, and those he is lecturing to, don’t make these distinctions clearly when discussing white Euro-American’s projections and distortions onto non-white cultures and communities. Jung – bound up in matrix of white supremacy of the intellectual tradition he is embedded in – does not see that such reductive stereotypes are the racial complexes of himself and the white people whose dreams he has gathered, the projections and devaluations of white people onto those they see as “other.”
It is extremely common for people, of all races, to unconsciously draw on race, ethnicity, gender, and other identities – symbolically- in their dream lives. Increasingly, people are distressed and perplexed when a racist trope emerges in a dream – and often feel apologetic or ashamed by the image their unconscious has produced. I have heard dreams of people of many different races and nations – I have listened to dreamers from Africa, Asia, South America, the Middle East, and Europe – as well as the dreams of people of many different American cultures and communities. We all dream about those we see as “other” – whether it is other tribes, castes, classes, religions, political factions, nationalities, ethnicities or races. We dream of the broken cultural myths and projections that our own communities have assigned to “the Other.” And regularly, the dominant culture then collectively acts out in response to these unnamed cultural projections, imposing these distortions on those they can oppress.
And when we do have such dreams, it is most often because we are trying to come to terms with some “foreign” or othered aspect of ourselves.
I have seen many non-white and/or non-American people for example dream of a boorish, selfish, white American figure:
“.. and then all of a sudden, this loud (white) American was banging on the table next to me demanding attention.. “
Sometimes, such dreams of whiteness/Americanness stand in for a national value placed on the aggressive and entitled pursuit of individualized happiness – especially when the dreamer is from a culture that defines happiness in collective ways that de-emphasize personal fulfillment. Sometimes the “Ugly American” stereotype is reflective of the dominance of our national or collective cultural behavior and/or international policies. It may refer to specific individual or collective experiences of trauma at the hand of white institutions.
And sometimes “the entitled white American” represents an unruly, selfish, individualized or self-regarding desire of the dreamer’s that they are having a hard time ignoring.
We have all internalized cultural myths – perpetuated in all our popular media – about various races or ethnicities. Understanding what these projections and associations have to say about the dreamer themselves is the central work. The symbol points to the dreamer’s psyche, and rarely – unless it is a culture /community/country that the dreamer is deeply immersed in in their daily lives – does the dream says anything valuable, useful or sufficient about the community that has been reduced to a symbol in an outsider’s dream.
We can’t escape the fact that we represent things to each other, that we continuously see other human beings as symbolic of our own conflicts or yearnings-or as symbolic of cultural conflicts, biases, distortions or oppressions.
Jung, seeing himself as a student of global mythology, as a world traveler, does not often make these distinctions clearly when race & ethnicity emerge in dreams.
It may, or may not be true that the dreamer, sees Chinese people as the” opposite” of white people. Perhaps, like many Americans, she was taught that China is on “the opposite side of the world” and it is therefore possible that the Chinese man in her dream does represent something in her psyche that she feels is as far way as possible from herself. She may or may not associate indigenous men with “unchristian” impulses of her own, or the part of herself that is lives closer to her natural instincts.
Jung offers little information about her personal associations to these dreams, for two reasons: One – he is still trying to maintain her privacy and confidentiality and her identity has not yet been “outed” to those attending the seminar. And two – he is hoping to focus on the archetypal elements of these visions – and is evidently attempting to consider these white Euro-centric racial complexes/projections as reflecting instinctive, archetypal differences among cultures. Our instinctive ways of perceiving are often shaped and filtered by our cultural, religious and linguistic differences, but Jung is too often willing to sort these differences in to racial hierarchies or stereo-typed reifications of communities and cultures he views as “other.”
Even while Jung often attempts to be thoughtful and respectful of many different cultural perspectives – when he succumbs to ego-inflation Jung becomes incautious, and prone to making inflated an sweeping commentary on cultures he knows very little about while conflating white-centric cultural distortions of other peoples as fact-based differences between cultures. Our work now, is to examine these cultural internalizations, explore what they may mean, and become more conscious of the ways our acculturations lure us into oppressing others. The call of such dream content is coming to terms with the parts of our own identities that we attempt to keep down and outside of our conscious identities.