What Did I Do?
As people of color, we have come to ask that question with a sincerity that shows the depth of our heartbreak. The final word that was missing in that question, that Tyre Nichols repeatedly asked, as he approached his too-soon ended life, was the word wrong.
He didn’t do anything wrong on that January night, because there was no way to be right. He knew that in the blackness, once pulled by Memphis policemen from his car, only several yards from his home, his life could end, violently, and without any logical cause. And it did. This is the terror, the anxiety of being Black in America. This anxiety that is specific to those of us who carry the ancestral lineage of our Black and Brown Africanist ancestors, know too well the fear that can live in us as a culturally rational sense of knowing that our skin color puts us at life-threatening risks. We call it now Black when ____________.
Fill in the blank.
Once again, the emptiness, the blankness of the hole left in us, deepens as we witness another Black man brutally beaten almost to death on an urban landscape. Death would come later for Tyre Nichols, in the hospital, where his family could only grieve as they looked at their loved son, brother, father.
We look in mournful wonderment questioning how anything this young man could have done to five Black policemen with guns would necessitate his being beaten, shoved up against a wall while arrived emergency ambulance services waited, walked around his battered body. While they spoke with one another, talking amongst themselves—while he waited for care. While they waited for what?
The analytical space of sharing must hold much for those of us who bear witness and can tolerate recollection of the words and images that speak to the brutality of Black men being brutalized. We cannot turn our gaze away. The inner eye remembers Rodney King, Emmet Till all the others before and since them….Trayvon Martin.
Even if we do not watch television or listen to the news, the psychic, phenomenological field of our work welcomes the energy of the analysand into the room. It must hold whatever they bring.
Do we ourselves not feel the anxious pressure of others who breathe and must bear witness to their own archetypal grief? The generations of our Africanist people?
We are those who welcome the wounded into our circle of soul and healing every week. They don’t stay only in their analytical chairs but can visit us as we walk into the minutes and hours long after they have left. They have brought with them their own deep cultural suffering that joins and is held by the arms of the analyst of color who truly does feel their pain. Who recognizes the anguish of the question.
What did I do (wrong)?
There is no answer to that question because there was nothing done by Tyre Nichols that could ever justify what happened to him or even perhaps save his life. His words of calm questioning contrasted with the cursing and enraged language directed at him by the five Black policemen seem like whispers now as he called to his mother.
There is no rational or logical reasoning that has caused the death of people of color through the centuries. Much rationale has been offered including biblical verses. I believe there is a Racial Collective Understanding now, reinforced since the death of George Floyd, that the only logic is one of a consciousness of racism. People of color have always been awake to the ancestral legacy of slavery and the brutality expressed against our bodies. We know racism and its effects on the Africanist cultural body.
More others are waking up.
Internalized self-hatred does not stay closed within the self. It too can show itself in the behaviors we witness on both a personal and professional level. Is this not a part of self-analysis? Must we not “analyze” our own inner psychological workings to train to become analysts? How does this work for an analyst in training who is an individual of color? How can self-deprecation and self-hatred as a person of color live and be experienced in that space—how does it move towards healing? Perhaps, a difficult question for us Africanist people, as we continue to bear the deepened sorrow of brutality upon the body of our kin by our kin.
Where do we put the questions? There would certainly be more than one or two, regarding intergenerational cultural pain and anguish, while being in those self-reflective moments, when there is only unrelenting introspective suffering.
Forever asking: What did I do? This would seem to be one of the questions of our Africanist Archetypal Grief.
In moments, that January night on the sidewalk, Tyre Nichols would be recorded calling to his mother.
May you be blessed with remembering being held in the arms of your Mother
May you remember all that is Mother so that you may give this love to yourself in your next Life.
Fanny Brewster Ph.D., M.F.A. is a Jungian analyst, Professor of Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute and member analyst with PAJA. She is a multi-genre writer who has written about issues at the intersection of Jungian psychology and American culture. The Racial Complex: A Jungian Perspective on Culture and Race is her most recent book. (Routledge, 2019). Dr. Brewster is available through her website, www.fannybrewster.allyou.net/