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Why Is Our Thinking So Black and White?

By August 2, 2016May 26th, 2019No Comments

The importance of the human thought process

Since the introduction of the second wave of feminist psychology, almost 50 years ago now, a central issue has been the deconstruction and dissolution of many of our systems of binary thought and categories. Most of these categories are centuries old and rooted in what psychologists call dualistic or binary thinking. This is not only a pervasive personal quality to be considered in psychotherapy, although that sort of reduction is also a target of feminist and cognitive psychotherapies. The point is that no one is just good or bad, right or wrong, to blame or not to blame. This kind of thinking lacks nuance and misses the point of human thought entirely.

Critical thinking is probably the most important aspect of an education. There are important decisions that each of us has to make in a lifetime and we should be able to think these through effectively in order to make the best decisions possible. The quality of our decisions is the quality of our lives. The choices are many and varied in any situation and any feminist therapist will attempt to guide the client toward a more complex vision.

This is so culturally, as well as personally. In fact, the separation of the personal and the political is probably the first binary that feminism has sought to overcome. The culture and the individual are not separate dual categories. Finally, we are beginning to see this principle more widely adopted in larger society, where binaries such as gay/straight, female/male, Black/White are being expanded to include other genders, orientations, and the many racial mixtures which, as I have shown, appear much different visually than they are genetically.

Does the eye of the observer define you or me or do we define ourselves? If so, on what basis? This is a major cultural issue of our times and one that has recently begun to privilege psychology over physiology, so major is the change. Does my body or my mind/heart define my gender or orientation? The culture is choosing what seems to matter most in 2016, the individual’s own beliefs and desires. Yet it has, thus far, chosen the opposite in terms of race, even though race is shown not to exist genetically, but only experientially. You can change from male to female, you can pass as White if you are light-skinned, but you can not yet escape the cultural binary of Black/White or the racist “one drop” rule.

Biologically, most of us in the West are mixtures, but this false binary lags behind the gender/sexual ones. Why are these variations accepted for gender and sexuality, but not for race? I think race will be the last to go, so much does it matter to Americans and other racist cultures. It is enormously difficult for most sighted individuals to look at someone and not categorize them. It is built into our brains and will take a lot of consciousness to overcome and to be able to see and appreciate the enormous variability of the human race.
Feminists and our allies have addressed these issues for years. People of color have spent lifetimes living them. Feminist thinkers and writers are beginning to address Whiteness and White Privilege, a crucial step in achieving racial consciousness.


[1] Kaschak, E. (2015), Sight Unseen: Gender and Race through Blind Eyes, Columbia University Press.

(2) Dotollo, A. and Kaschak, E. (2016), Whiteness and White Privilege in Psychotherapy, Routledge Press.

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.