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Why Is Consciousness so Important?

By November 21, 2018 May 18th, 2019 No Comments

Staying aware and awake matters.

Consciousness-raising and power analysis, two irreducible aspects of feminist psychotherapy, along with gender analysis, shed light on what easily can become unconscious and taken-for-granted. The feminist call to consciousness of the yet unnamed category of gender ushered in an intellectual and cultural revolution which cannot be undone. These very same steps can be applied to the cultural radicalization and heteronormativity.

Careful attention facilitates the process of naming into visibility that which has been relegated to the invisible. Conscious-raising allows what has been made invisible to become visible through the learning process of consciousness-lowering that each culture designs for each individual. Whiteness is one of the most important aspects of this socialization process, becoming the invisible, default position for racialization. That is, it becomes the race that is not one, especially among Whites in the Western nations, heterosexuality the equivalent.

Resistance occurs on two levels. First, as I have indicated here, the very sorting principle must be rejected. Secondly, the power differential, as manifested in the sense of entitlement also associated with masculinity (Kaschak, 1992) must be refused over and over.

Feminist therapy was originally opposed to the idea of individual, confidential, separated therapy, except in temporary and urgent circumstances (Kaschak, 1976). This crucial aspect of intervention has been entirely lost as feminist therapy has become a profession instead of a revolution, a way of earning a living instead of resisting racism, homophobia, and misogyny. By participating in professionalized feminist therapy, women and men are separated from each other and from the very process of group consciousness that lies at the root of feminist therapy. In this way, they are also separated from the collective action necessary for social change. I lament this loss that consolidates power and awareness in the relationship with the therapist. I think it is a mistake of huge proportions for feminists. Racism, like misogyny, homophobia, classism, etc., cannot be opposed individually, for they are not at all individual issues or characteristics.

While Whiteness and heterosexuality acquire meaning only in context, they are also the invisible context for meaning-making — that is, for what matters. From them flow the categories and meanings that come to matter in everyday life. They become the norm, the default position, that need not even be named to exist and to provide definition.

Just as the official romantic narrative of the media remains predominantly heterosexual, so is the history of racism described in the language of “progress” rather than of domination and hallucination. The choice of language deceives us. There is no progress involved in dismantling a system that never should have been put in place.

I believe that feminists, multiculturalists, and all people need to stop legitimizing the Black/White/Brown categories and stop using White as the invisible or default position. Racialization is a hallucination that must be cured, and such “cures” are the purview of psychotherapy. Americans are hypnotized by the indeterminate cultural observer into seeing back and white where there is an infinite spectrum of browns, pinks, yellows, etc., and no black or white at all. In recent years, we have even invented the color brown where yellow and red were once used.

I prefer to consider gender, race, class, and sexual orientation as multiplicities rather than intersections, as they combine and recombine in unique and complex ways and do not simply overlap. These are not just intersections, attributions that are simply additive or even subtractive; they are multipliers and, paradoxically, as they multiply, they divide. I include heteronormativity as the norm and context as well.

I reject the categories. Why do we still see through their eyes? Multicultural concepts should not just reflect these categories, but should seek to destroy them, to define the discourse.

This article was originally published in Psychology Today.

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak, Ph.D. is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning psychologist, author and teacher. She is well-known as a speaker, workshop leader, human rights advocate and a public intellectual.