Antisemitism and Racism

By | August 29, 2023

Both antisemitism and anti-black racism have been rearing their ugly heads in recent years, especially in America and Europe. Although people often tend to think of antisemitism as separate from other forms of racism, they clearly go together. Antisemitism often lurks behind anti-black and anti-Muslim racism, for example, through the idea that Jews are somehow responsible for undermining whiteness by encouraging migration or in other ways subverting ‘white values’. For right wing antisemites, the ‘whiteness’ of Jews is provisional and precarious; Jews are to be distrusted and rejected as foundational to an international conspiracy against ‘white civilisation’. On the other side, the opposition to racism is marred by a continuing division between those engaged in combatting antisemitism and those involved in antiracist activity. Jews are seen as privileged and white, connected to settler colonialism through the State of Israel, and irrelevant or even opposed to the antiracist movement. The status of antisemitism as a form of racism is denied, as is the specificity of Jewish experience – that is, that Jewishness and whiteness are not the same.

My new book, Antisemitism and Racism: Ethical Challenges for Psychoanalysis, challenges this splitting of the antiracist movement by advancing a psychoanalytically informed examination of the relations between Jewishness, antisemitism and anti-black racism. Its starting point is a claim that the shared experience of exposure to different kinds of racism raises prospects for renewed alliances between Jewish and black communities and also that the Jewish origins and implications of psychoanalysis fuel its capacity to interrogate racism of all kinds. The book develops an argument that Jewish ‘relational ethics’ and consciousness of antisemitism can feed into psychoanalytic perspectives on racism generally. Drawing itself out of the experience of Jewish marginality at the end of the nineteenth century, psychoanalysis can say a lot about what it means to be subjected to prejudice and about the dynamics of racist thought. The caveat to this argument is that psychoanalysis also has what might be called a ‘colonial’ aspect, for instance in the way Freud and others used the notion of the ‘primitive’ and differentiated between ‘civilised’ and ‘savage’ minds. On the other hand, because psychoanalysis also assumes that each one of us has an unconscious life which does not conform to the dictates of ‘civilisation’, it can be argued that this same division (civilised-savage) is undermined. This allows us to think about how psychoanalysis both enacts and subverts racialised boundaries, helping to explain both psychoanalysis’ historical difficulties in confronting racism and antisemitism and how it might be mobilised finally to do so.

My book takes on these complex issues by examining how the Jewish influences on psychoanalysis might be drawn on to create the broader antiracist alliance that I am wanting to encourage. It does this first by identifying these influences, concentrating on how Jewish philosophy promotes relationships as core to human ethics, and then by trying to articulate how this can offer insights into the antiracist project. Psychoanalysis is the object of study here, in the sense of having a certain kind of demand placed upon it that it should engage more fully in antiracism; but it is also a source of concepts and practices that can enable it to respond to some of the challenges emerging from the black and decolonial movements. Throughout, my hope is that we can bridge the gaps separating those who oppose antisemitism and those who combat other forms of racism to form a genuine ‘solidarity of the oppressed’.

Antisemitism and Racism
book cover

Stephen Frosh, author of Antisemitism and Racism, is Professor in the Department of Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck, University of London, and author of numerous books on psychoanalysis and psychosocial studies, including A Brief Introduction to Psychoanalytic Theory (2012)and Psychoanalysis Outside the Clinic (2010).

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