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Natasha Stovall

Whiteness on the Couch

Paint texture by Punkbarby / Getty, Illustration by Homestead Studio

Natasha Stovall | Longreads | August 2019 | 28 minutes (7,061 words)


“Father, Mother, and Me/

Sister and Auntie Say/

All the people like us are We/

And everyone else is They.”

Rudyard Kipling

“England’s not the mythical land of Madame George and roses/

It’s the home of police who kill black boys on mopeds.”

—Sinéad O’Connor


The couch in my therapy office is occupied mostly by white people. Anxious white people and depressed white people. Obsessive white people and compulsive white people. White people who hurt people and white people who hurt themselves. White people who eat too much, drink too much, work too much, shop too much. White people who are bored, envious, guilty, numb. Racist white people and antiracist white people. White people who look across the room and see a white therapist listening. We talk about everything. Except being white.


An old saw about therapy is that the thing you don’t talk about is the thing. The therapist and patient together avoid this thing, this shameful and threatening thing. The thing is unconscious — sometimes partially, other times totally. You only know it by the silence and illogic that surrounds it, and the extremes to which the patient will go to erase any sign of it in their own mind, and in their therapist’s, too. The first step towards unpacking the thing is finding a way to talk about it. Just talk about it, moving step by careful step into a psychic place so raw that even acknowledging this unconscious thing is a threat to safety and sanity. Freud called this process “making the unconscious conscious” and it has defined psychotherapy ever since.

What if whiteness is the thing?
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