The dubious nature of hatred

Over the Easter weekend I read a newly published book by Naz Keval, entitled “A Racist State of Mine.’ Naz is a colleague of mine, a colleague for whom I have a good deal of respect and affection.

Naz discusses racism from a psychoanalytic perspective, exploring the unconscious meaning behind the racist attack. He has direct experience of racist attacks both as an ordinary citizen and as a professional psychotherapist. He uses his own experiences and his thinking about them to elucidate psychoanalytic thinking in relation to racism and to illustrate how the unconscious processes both express and attempt to hide racist thinking. His depressing conclusion is that racism is with us and can emerge at any time as part of a psychological defence against our own internal conflicts.

He links racism to difficulties in dealing with a capacity to feel concern and curiosity about the other, about what is different to ourself, what seems unknown and unknowable.

When I worked with Naz he taught me about racism in some important ways to me. He taught me that it is not racist to be curious about what it feels like to have a different colour skin, or to want to ask questions about that. In fact it could be a racist attitude that leads to a pretence that everyone is the same when in fact people’s experience of social and cultural life owes more to the colour of one’s skin than those of us who have never had to tolerate racist abuse can possibly know.

It is when that curiosity and the not knowing is intolerable to us that we pervert our loving interest and concern into hatred and intolerance of the other, and then we blame the other for the trouble we feel.