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Mapping the “Unconscious”: Racism and the Oedipal Family

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This paper argues that modern constructions of “race” are inherent in specifically modern constructions of heterosexuality and that both of them inform the normative familial quadrad: Mother, Father, Son, and the Repressed (Bestial). These mythic familial categories constitute the basis of the “oedipal” family and are instrumentally interconnected. Here the oedipal triad of Mother-Son-Father is ideationally encoded as white, the repressed bestial being “colored”– typically “black.” I argue racism’s immanence to oedipal familial constructions by spatially reworking Fredric Jameson’s notion of the political unconscious. In so doing, I develop ways for thinking through how the psyche can be understood as a structured and libidinized spatial effect, a repository of colonial violences of body and place, unspoken and hence repressed (“unconscious”). I propose the term racist-oedipalization (after Deleuze and Guattari's oedipalization) to connote the processual ways in which racist thinking and practices are integral to white oedipal family structures and norms. In so doing, I explore how racist-oedipal configurations have worked variably, in the interests of contemporary and past colonialisms, to great embodied geographical effect. The paper begins by theoretically linking blackness to incestuousness and colonization to productions of the psychical “unconscious.” The core of the paper threads the theory through particular racialized geographies in the U.S. These include, on the one hand, southern plantation slave and post-Reconstruction settings, and, on the other hand, urban segregationary practices impelled by the University of Chicago, culminating in their racialized plans for urban renewal in the 1950s.

Keywords: family; racist-oedipal hysteria; slavery; unconscious; urban renewal; white supremacy

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: International Studies, DePaul University

Publication date: June 1, 2000


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