Diary Note: Discussed echoism in therapy last night. One of the things I realise now, is that as an echo, I am not supposed to exist. I am supposed to be incomplete, to divorce my head from my body, and to just be a mouthpiece for the narcissist. I am supposed to sit in silent supplication and only speak the words designed to reflect back the narcissist’s superiority. Any real feelings, any real opinions, anything else, is to be suppressed, to be ignored. I am nothing more than a performer for the narcissist. I do nothing more than masquerade.
Authenticity is a strange thing. Often, we are told on psychotherapy courses, or in life, that we need to be our most authentic self, as if that is some ultimate goal, some kind of utopia. Yet, the issue with moving from a place of inauthenticity, from one where one is performing for the subject, is that to do so can more often than not be met with conflict. It is a scary thing to step out of the cultural adaptation placed upon oneself via a patriarchy embedded or emboldened by religious doctrines.
Individuating from these indoctrinations is a lifelong affair, and to separate oneself from the socially constructed identity which is race is a part of this yellow brick road towards freedom and (no place like) home. Yet, as a Person of Colour (POC) to do so is an incredibly difficult task. This past year has seen the publication of my book, with its own personal #Mockingbird (Turner, 2021). The most interesting part for the purpose of this blog is the range of messages which all spoke the same language, as presented below:
You are not doing what I think you should be doing? You need to be doing it this way? You need to be bringing people together, not dividing people? What you are doing is illegal and you are a danger to our culture!
It took me a while to realise what these people were trying to tell me; that I wasn’t performing as I should have been, that I wasn’t masquerading as a negro and that I was therefore a threat, a danger to their racialised status quo because of it. That although the book took the angle of addressing privilege and otherness through a collective, intersectional, lens, those individuals and sometimes groups who identify as white, saw their identities threatened by a sole P.O.C. writing a B.A.P. (Book About Prejudice) as a danger to their I.W.E (Ideal White Existence). Now, whilst I could say that this highlights their white fragility, the thing is they already know this, and in any means, I truly believe that Di Angelo’s (2018) work, whilst well meaning, and a start, does not go far enough in my view in understanding the deeper racialised psychological conflict emergent when a P.O.C. starts to S.P.E.A.K.
Personal Note: My father was a horrible man in many ways. He held a malevolence that was difficult to be around. As a child you had to know your place, to play your role, to not be too noisy, or too distracting. My mother was difficult in her own ways. As her child you had to play your role, to be the good child who made her look good. You had to dress and behave appropriately for church, for school, for society. For both parents, for those from that still colonial time, aspirations towards Englishness meant the same for their children. One had to echo their needs, one had to perform in such a way as to not bring embarrassment unto them. One had to be inauthentic as they strived towards meeting the requirements of their colonised selves.
The idea that we all get to be authentic is anathema when we factor in issues around the social construction of identity. To say some more about this, certain behaviours are deemed normal and safe from the racialised centre. For the other though when they act outside of those behaviours deemed to be unworthy of said centre, then they run the risk of anything from vilification, to medicalisation, to actual destruction.
The medicalisation of so called behaviours includes the idea that hysteria was a mental health condition most common to women when their actions often did not fit within a patriarchal norm (Kubie, 1955). Couple this with the pathologizing of homosexuality as a disorder in the DSM III and even the idea of slaves being seen as mentally unfit under the label of Drapetomania when they refused to perform tasks designated to them by their owners, then we see a pattern of control from a patriarchal and capitalist (colonial) definition of socially constructed identity. All of these ideas were designed by often rich, white heterosexual(?) men, or patriarchs. Patriarchs imbued by their own rightness, their science often then inductively designed to confirm their own gendered or racialised prejudices.
For the other, as I have often explored, to survive, one would therefore have to echo such an established patriarchal and racialised structure. To be black, one is socially created to be inauthentic, a facsimile of the narcissist at the centre. One has to bend knee to the narcissist, othering themselves and their own ideas of how they would like themselves and those closest to them to be. One has to comply.
This is all nothing new, nor unique. In a paper linking narcissism and echoism to the biblical story of Samson and Delilah, Davis (Davis, 2005) recognises the role that echoism plays in Delilah’s initial positioning with regard to her lover. This paper though, presented through the eyes of psychoanalysis, sees echoism as something which is apparent in the relationship from women towards men, although I argue that this is a means of survival for many.
Diary Note: Have I ever willingly played the echo? Of course I bloody have! I have done so in order to not appear too threatening, to not come across as too much, too angry, too much, too whatever the projection is placed upon me by whiteness, by women, by the middle and upper classes. I have been labelled as a ‘nice young man’, as ‘safe’. I have been hired because I would fit in with the culture of said company, group, relationship. I have met the narcissistic needs of the Subject, and kept hidden anything real, anything authentic. And then when I have tried to express anything authentic, anything real, I have been sacked, dismissed, abandoned, or dumped.
‘Meanwhile, in her misery, Echo watched her body waste away as the days passed by in lonesome neglect, until all that remained was her resounding voice,’ (Shirock, 2013, p. 2). As Shirock’s words intimate, echoism is not a happy existence. It is one of depression, of the pain of a type of existential loneliness which separates one from one’s Self. In fact, I will argue that echoism is not even really a form of existence at all, it is a means of survival. It suggests finding safety in a system of oppression, but at best is a hiding place from harm and destruction should one’s hiding place ever be revealed. As Spivak noted in her paper on the subject, ‘throughout the reported exchange between Narcissus and Echo, she behaves according to her punishment and gives back the end of each statement’, (1993, p. 24).
From a racial angle, DuBois useful ideas about double consciousness, where persons of colour, persons of difference, in order to survive within a socially constructed environment, develop a second identity in order to appear acceptable to the subject are important here. My argument being that the second identity holds within it echoistic aspects implanted within it by the subject, the second identity being a denial here of the first, true, sense of who one racially is (Cullen Rath, 1997).
Diary Note: When George Floyd was murdered I remember wanting to hide myself away and not get involved. I didn’t want to write anything. I didn’t want to have to watch the trauma played out before me. I wanted to remain supposedly safe within my cocoon of echoism. Yet, what I realised is that the performativity of echoism doesn’t bring safety at all. It is a falsehood. And that at any time the reality will strike out, that supremacy will try to annihilate you for some supposed slight. Yet, one of the saddest things about this time was the realisation of just how adapted, how echoistic, I had subtly become during the past several decades. Seeing the film of his murder, watching the protests on television and social media, just brought up from within the bodily experiences I had had to repress in order to stay insubstantial, in order to echo whiteness. Does waking up from that mean I am woke? Yes. I will take that title. I will own that label. If it takes a cultural trauma to wake up a man like myself, then I am glad I have experienced that. As painful as it was to watch on screen, I am extremely glad I have chosen to be me.
Returning to the comments at the beginning of this blog, often these messages come in from people who assume they know me, but always don’t. Their aim is return me to the echoistic stereotype which they can best relate to. The conflict which always ensues when this happens, the adversarial position taken up by said Subjects when they virtually meet me (it is never in person), is then a power struggle of socially constructed identities, where the subject tries to exert power over an other, in order to return it to echo. This is why Di Angelo’s well meaning text does not work for me. Fragility is too mild a term. The aggression, the hatred, the rage of a subject is not based upon a fragility. It is based upon the Subject’s hatred of its own unwashed shadow identity.
A final word from me though, an echo no more (mostly). To be psychotherapist and an activist; to stand up and speak out for injustices, no matter what form they take, or who they are against, does not mean I believe I am always right. I have no idea if I am on the right path, personally, or collectively, and have no desire to invoke the supremacist doctrine that I am on the right side of history, as I truly have no idea. All I know is that when I speak, when I write, when I podcast, my words, my words, and my words resonate with others who have been marginalised because of their disability, gender, sexuality, age, race, ability to have children, refugee status, masculinity, class, intellectual ability, neurodiversity, (the list grows ever longer)…
To have the voice that I have, to give the talks I give that inspire and allow me to meet so many good, nay brilliant, people is an honour of the highest regard. So, thank you to all of you who have chosen to support me for so long. On this, its 1st Birthday, I dedicate #Mockingbird to you.
Cullen Rath, R. (1997). Echo and Narcissus: The afrocentric pragmatism of W. E. Du Bois. The Journal of American History, 84(2), 461–495.
Diangelo, R. (2018). White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Beacon Press.
Kubie, L. S. (1955). Psychology and psychiatry. Journal of the American Medical Association, 157(5), 466–467.
Shirock, L. (2013). Echo and Narcissus: The unhappy marriage of sight and sound in contemporary cinematic experience (Issue June). University of Amsterdam.
Spivak, G. (1993). Echo. New Literary History, 24(1), 17–43.
Turner, D. D. L. (2021). Intersections of Privilege and Otherness in Counselling and Psychotherapy (1st ed.). Routledge.