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The Dynamics of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The struggles we are currently having in America around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) have been hindered by unconscious group dynamics around representation, race, and authority. How can we gain any perspective on this?

The American Psychoanalytic Association has authorized a multi-racial group, the Holmes Commission (led by the preeminent black psychoanalyst, Dorothy Holmes) to explore this. Their report is here: https://apsa.org/apsaa-publications/vol57no1-TOC/html/vol57no1_01.xhtml. I read the report from the perspective of my recent participation on the staff of a Group Relations Conference directed by a young, talented, black woman. In these conferences, we study unconscious group dynamics as they emerge between members and staff. In the dynamics of this multiracial conference, we recognized that I came to represent White Supremacy (white, privileged, old, distinguished, smart).

I know very well from personal experience the shame and rage that we can feel when we are used by a group to represent something we don't think we are (here is my recent lecture on this https://youtu.be/Nnm7Dl_T5Ws).

Though I resisted the attribution, once I could see it, my experience in this projected role was of being both hated (for my authority) and needed (for my experience and perspective). More painful -- and shameful -- to me was the evidence, and unpacking, of my own, previously hidden from me, racism.

When I read the Holmes report as a White training analyst, my initial reaction was impatience -- because they seemed to be wasting space and not getting down to carefully shaped conclusions for those of us who have little time to read the article and want to skim through. But then I began to see what they were doing. They have taken on board the recognition that the process (unconscious) of a group reveals a lot more than its (conscious) content. The Commission is, very painfully, enacting racial unconscious dynamics. And, against much resistance among the members, the Commission is beginning to interpret them.  That, I think, is the primary, and now authorized, research they are doing on behalf of American psychoanalysis.

There is learning in these dynamics -- and it would help to have a consultant to reflect on them. It is difficult, though not impossible, for a group to make sense of a dynamic as they are enacting it.

One other comment. I began in my recent conference to understand for the first time the connection between the passionate, community-singing religions of black churches in America and the slavery experience. Seeing each other, holding each other, and recognizing the transcendent is both transgenerational and reparative. We can see some of the results of Black learning in the moving capacity of the parents of George Floyd and TyreNichols to contain their pain and join the larger society's need for learning and development.

I think that the slow (and, to us White folks, tedious) highly structured, opening attendance call of the Holmes Commission (naming the person and role, gazing directly at the face, noting publicly the racial aspects, and recognizing who is no longer among us -- i.e., absent) is an unconscious attempt to call forth the "invisible man" phenomena and the rage, hurt, and longing behind it. Recognizing that forced, enacted demand for recognition -- and seeing the White irritation at the "waste of time" -- are both opportunities for learning. Different racial experiences shape different styles of learning, teaching, and wisdom.

The American Psychoanalytic Association, as a psychoanalytic organization, should not confine itself to rational, numeric, conscious data. Widening the scope of psychoanalysis means seriously considering the unconscious in all of its aspects, including irrational group phenomena. The Holmes Commission might be one of the doors that opens this widening scope.

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