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White Society Colloquium: Xenophobia: Implications for Psychoanalytic Theory and Practice

Date: Nov 2, 2018 8:00 pm

Presenter: Pratyusha Tummala-Narra, PhD

Moderator:  Philip Rosenbaum, PhD



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The presence and growing visibility of racial minority immigrants in the U.S. and elsewhere has triggered a sense of collective anxiety, where dissociative defenses maintain emotional distance and identification with groups perceived to be threatening. Fringe movements and mainstream political parties have framed immigrants and refugees as the major cause of unemployment, crime, and a threat to their cultural and social fabric.  Beginning in early 2017, Donald Trump’s policy of heightened policing of Black and Brown people, deporting unauthorized immigrants and separating children from parents, constructing a wall at the U.S. Southern border, and banning the entrance of Syrian refugees and people from six predominantly Muslim countries has made explicit the connection between racism and xenophobia in the U.S. Despite policies that seem alarming to many of us, we remain a nation that is largely apathetic or numb to the dehumanization of racial minority immigrants and their children. Fantasies of immigrants and immigration are inextricably tied to both the wish for post-racial inclusiveness in the Obama administration and the longing for White power in the Trump administration. This presentation will focus on how the fear of immigrants reflects anxiety in multiple dimensions. This anxiety involves not only the fears of the receiving context or the host country, but also the xenophobia that immigrants carry with them from their countries of origin. I explore how psychoanalysis can help us to both delve deeper into these fears and to help us in engaging with these fears more authentically. Clinical case examples will be provided to illustrate some dilemmas centered on xenophobia that arise in psychoanalytic psychotherapy.

Usha Tummala-Narra, PhD, is Associate Professor in the Department of Counseling, Developmental and Educational Psychology at Boston College.  She is also in Independent Practice in Cambridge, MA. Her scholarship focuses on immigration, trauma, and cultural competence and psychoanalytic psychotherapy.  She has served as the chair of the Multicultural Concerns Committee and as Member-at-Large in APA Division 39 (Psychoanalysis), and as a member of the APA Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs, the APA Presidential Task Force on Immigration, and the APA Task Force on Revising the Multicultural Guidelines. She is currently a member of the Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the American Psychoanalytic Association. She is the author of Psychoanalytic Theory and Cultural Competence in Psychotherapy, published by APA (American Psychological Association) Books in 2016.