As part of my ongoing research into understanding psychotherapy and human nature from a cultural perspective I will be writing a monthly blog. If you would like to sign up for my quarterly newsletter detailing the latest news from Dwight Turner Counselling (including news of the latest blog entries) then feel free to enter your details on the side of this page
Please note: older blog entries are collected together every 6 months at the base of this page.
The Lockdown Diaries Pt 2: Lessons in (Black) Happiness
Published 26th April 2021
25th March 21: My therapist shocked me tonight into recognising that I just don’t talk about my self, my relationships, or my life when I am happy. Whilst most people chat to friends about that kind of stuff, I just send out the occasional picture, or say I am alright. When thinking about the things that make me happy, I realise that instead of expressing how much joy they bring me, I just hold all of that emotion in. His question had me thinking, and made me realise that from an early age anything good that I did, anything positive that made me happy, I repressed. I hid that shit, lest my family, or my friends, dismiss it, denigrate it, or shame me for it.
This realisation from a recent therapy session obviously stunned me, sending me on the path to try and discover just what happiness is, how it manifests, and hopefully the intersectional barriers which prevented me from allowing happiness into my life. Yet, during my research, it quickly became apparent that there is strangely little written about the psychology of happiness, and even less from a racial, or intersectional lens.
Where there is material around happiness and difference usually involves the creation of scales of measurement of happiness. For example considering the link between race and happiness, I came across a paper which seemed to indicate that whilst happiness is often linked to better health and wellbeing, that this was a white phenomenon and that black participants who might well have been healthy, often failed to report similar levels of happiness as their white counterparts (Cobb et al., 2020). This intersection of race and happiness is quite obviously underlined by pictures from the media where one is taught that the closer to whiteness one is, be it via literal proximity, the ability to act of feign whiteness, of shadeism, that the happier one will be. It also provided evidence that happiness in these instances had become racially pinnaclised.
This was though mirrored by explorations of class and happiness, where in a capitalist society the collision of all three revolved around the dream of a better life, and therefore happiness, a projection which meant working class women often dreamt of a better life if they bought one more lottery ticket, played one more round of bingo, married that average looking man who worked in the city (Casey, 2008). As Johnson (1987) writes, in a patriarchal (and I will add capitalist) society we are told to find happiness in the external. It is embedded in how we look as women and as men, in the bling we buy, the car, the partner, the house, the holiday we take. We migrate to warmer climes, we become expats, all in a quest for a better, more lazy life. All in a quest for happiness.
4th April 2021: This week I have realised how far I go to keep any sense of happiness to myself. I don’t tell even my closest friends as I am afraid of losing what I have, and I keep one foot outside as my sense is that people will leave me before they actually do. I know there are roots to this in slavery, and being a male slave happiness had to be hidden from those outside lest it was cruelly sold away. I know that I had parents who never asked about my love life, who never enquired as to who I was seeing, what did we do, were we happy, the normal things within a relationship. I have learnt, or I hold, the legacy of a slave’s silence about happiness whilst I am simultaneously overburdened by the legacy of stolen separation. I therefore need to be less fearful of simply being happy.
That happiness has become commodified is nothing new. The co-option of happiness as a means of systemic control goes back for generations and sits within differing cultures. Returning to the idea of class happiness, de la Boetie (2015) several hundred years ago saw class as a predictor of happiness. Happiness in this form was embedded in the idea that to serve those above was a to gain satisfaction and therefore happiness. Like the butler who gains his happiness by being part of the same household his father served the generation, happiness in servitude is passed down the generations, in service to a subject with implied worth, knowledge, and power. By this same token, there also resides the fear that this kind of happiness is something which can be taken away or lost in an instance, through a misstep, a mistaken action, or a misspoken word. Those in service are therefore often walking on eggshells in order to not lose the happiness of their hard-gained position.
During slavery, happiness was also used as a tool of subjugation, but in this case the myth of the happy slave was one where should said slave resist its seemingly natural position then it was often pathologized as mad. As Quispel (1999) saw, this myth of the happy slave was actually created to justify the oppression of the racial other, locating his work both in South Africa and South America. Presented under the guise that without the presence of the colonisers blacks would revert back to their otherwise primitive state, this mythmaking of happiness was actually a collage covering up one of the most distinctive pillars of white supremacy (Lowe, 2008). Black happiness was therefore a performance, an adaptation, a lie.
26th April 2021: In my exploration of happiness, I have been thinking a lot more about the subject. I don’t often acknowledge how happy I am when things go well. I tend to overthink things and drive myself into a space where I am focused only on what is going wrong, ignoring what is going right for me; in my life, in relationships etc. This week I would therefore like to say I have a good life, and I am happy. I get to run on the beach at sunrise on a spring day splashing in the surf. I get to play with my daughter at Birling Gap and watch her enjoy herself and grow ever more confident in the world around her. I get to sit in my garden and meditate as the birds fly by, as the sea rolls in in the distance, as cars pass and the wind blows through the trees. I eat well, eating more fish and more regularly than I ever have before, and I have a Kingsize bed to sleep in at night. I drive a nice car which takes me out into the countryside and to places that I have never seen doing things that I have never done before. My life is good. This life is a good one, and I have to say thank you for all the happiness that I have within it.
It is when this happiness is driven by our own narcissistic fantasies that it becomes oppressive, driving us ever onwards, ever outwards. The narcissist within us attempts to reach through that false fog of happiness to find its measured worth, a worth built upon the shifting sands of externalised things or people. Even within this house of cards, for the narcissist, happiness becomes a relief against the suffering of the external world which is taunting us towards such. It is a temporary safe port against bereavement, separation, isolation or loneliness, where we either dive into the extravagances of the external world, or create rich internal ones, both of which centre ourselves and separate ourselves from our distress and discomfort (Storr, 1988). Fantasy here allows us to bask in the mirage of joyousness and pseudo relationship whilst avoiding the melancholic mire that is reality and our own emptiness.
One of the odd things about lockdowns is that it has led many people, including myself, to re-evaluate what it is to be happy. In an interview I recently did about the International Day of Happiness for the Independent Newspaper, I was asked what to think about just what is happiness (Jackson, 2021). Pondering the question, I realised that the psychology of happiness is an internal one. That happiness at its core is a simple thing, but our psychological wounds make this as elusive as it is to hold a bar of soap in the rain. The fear is that it will slip out of our hands, that it will slide away down the sidewalk, or that it will disappear down a drain. We hang on to said bar, failing to notice the beauty in the sound of the rain on the cars around us, the sounds of the birds, or the roar of the thunder above. We become so focused upon this one so called slippery aspect of happiness that we neglect every other aspect of cheer, of reverie, of ecstasy which rotates around us, for happiness is a constant, it is transgenerational, and as it is an aspect of love it is an ever present facet of the universe we live in (Johnson, 1987).
Today: Happiness to me is recognising that I no longer have to run away from what I want in life, or that I have to anxiously fight to keep what I have. Happiness is a divorce from the ancestral shackles that left my inner child so bereft and lonely generation after generation. Happiness is a separation from past addictions which served to save me from the fear of loss, the fear of hope, the fear of receiving that which I’d asked the ancestors for. Happiness is being able to receive that which makes me happy. To just sit in to, sit back and relax, as that which makes me happy rotates around me, and radiates from within me.
Casey, E. (2008). Working class women, gambling and the dream of happiness. In Feminist Review (Vol. 89, Issue 1). https://doi.org/10.1057/fr.2008.2
Cobb, S., Javanbakht, A., Soltani, E. K., Bazargan, M., & Assari, S. (2020). Racial difference in the relationship between health and happiness in the United States. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 13. https://doi.org/10.2147/PRBM.S248633
de la Boetie, E. (2015). The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. Mises Institute.
Jackson, A. (2021, March). Can you be happy all the time? The Independent, 1. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/happiness-eastbourne-east-africa-b1819944.html
Johnson, R. A. (1987). Ecstasy: Understanding the psychology of joy. Harper Collins Publishers.
Lowe, F. (2008). Colonial object relations: Going underground black-white relationships. British Journal of Psychotherapy, 24(1), 20–33. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1752-0118.2007.00061.x
Quispel, C. (1999). Faithful servants and dangerous beasts: Race, nationalism and historical mythmaking. Patterns of Prejudice, 33(3). https://doi.org/10.1080/003132299128810614
Storr, A. (1988). Solitude. Flamingo.
This Blog is copyrighted by Dwight Turner Counselling Ltd (c) and is influenced by my ongoing exploration into The Other
The Lockdown Diaries: Born Again
(Published 1st April 2021)
Presenting a psychological journey through the past year, at 6,000 words long The Lockdown Journals: Born Again is an extensive exploration of the trials and tribulations of the past year, and looks at how this has impacted upon us all.
To access, please download the PDF file attached.
Thank you, Dwight
This Blog is copyrighted by Dwight Turner Counselling Ltd (c) and is influenced by my Research Project conducted via the University of Northampton and the Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy Education (CCPE)
IF I WAS YOUR BOYFRIEND: Love and the Black Man
(Published 3rd March 2021)
This is a difficult blog to write. The idea of talking about love from the perspective of being a black male, whilst considering what love is for black men, is one that both touches me and fills me with some dread. Although drawn to intuitively write about this it took a quick straw poll on Twitter to encourage me to actually make this month’s blog a reality. Asking a question of if I should write about love as a black man, of course over 80% of the replies came from women of varying cultures. This is a big topic for us all.
This blog is therefore punctuated with extracts from a conversation I had with a good friend about the topic of love, and of me being who I am as a black man who walks in love like anyone else. The other side of the conversation is not produced here out of respect for my friend, but this is not about them. This is about us, black men, talking about what love is, and about me opening another doorway to this exploration for us all.
Do I believe in love? When I look outside of myself, I see love. I believe it is therein all I see, the beauty of the world, in the eyes and gaze of my daughter, in the music I adore and the words I read, as I walk the undulations of the South Downs or on the beautiful white beaches of Zanzibar. Do I believe love will come to me? I honestly don’t know. Hence being with the pain I have now. I am very self-sufficient, I can do a lot alone. Letting myself fold into a loving space is my lesson. Just not sure that safe space exists for me.
Love is not something we often are afforded as black men. Be it the chance to receive love as children, or to give out love as adults or parents, love is often an elusive willow the wisp type character, which at best we are often only able to express secretly. This learnt experience of course has its roots in transgenerational trauma of those of us whose ancestors endured the transgenerational slave trade. For example, looking at the role of the father during slavery, as Akbar states, ‘the virtues of being able to protect, support and provide for one’s offspring, which is the cornerstone of true fatherhood, were not considered the mark of a man on the plantation. In fact, the slave who sought to assert such rights for his offspring was likely to be branded a troublemaker and either punished or killed,’ (1984, p. 20). Love was therefore denied black men, the love for their partner, the love for their children, as was the modelling of that love that a boy should see in his father, that he should be able to witness in the pairing if his parents. The often total absence of these role models thereby leading to an absence, a nothingness where the knowledge of black male love should sit.
Although rooted within the more recent past, this perspective I would argue exists even today. In Lorde’s work around heterosexism she recognised this form of oppression as the ‘belief in the inherent superiority of one pattern of loving and thereby its right to dominance’ (1984, p. 45). For me, this brings up the idea heteroracism, where one aspect is that the right to love becomes a type of privilege only afforded to whiteness, and stolen by blackness only under the cover of darkness. My issue here with this is that many of us still walk with this internalised sense of secrecy around love. We stumble in such darkness not sure if it is safe or not to be loving in public lest we are frowned upon or destroyed for our audacity to be seen to love and to have failed to ask for permission to allow love in.
As Hua stated of this internalised injunction, recognising that love was ‘the privilege of voluntary intimacy (which) distinguished freed persons from their former condition as slaves,’ (Hua, 2011, p. 394), and which today recognises the freedom of the privileged to express freely the love they have for each other, whereas for those who are the racialised as the other these shadowy aspects of our unconscious against being loved and of being loving need to be understood and worked through before access to that archetype of love Eros can really begin (Stein, 2005).
And whilst I believe in love, is that love for the Ordinary part of me or the Extraordinary part? Most are drawn to the Extraordinary part of me; the writer, the activist, the prominent black psychotherapist, the lecturer and conference presenter, the podcaster. Few stay or care for the Ordinary part though. Oh, they might think they’re doing so when they crave his/my objectified strength, his potency, for his cuckold dominance. The reality, and my fear, is they won’t for just simple ordinariness that underlines me. That they won’t be there for the Ordinary within that is me, the man and the father with all his insecurities, his fears, his anxieties, his anger and his worries, and his regular needs and wants. Going forward, I guess I have to trust and believe that this will happen (trust in God, and the Ancestors etc), even though I know life is not a Disney film, and even though I’ve watched so many men go without. For all I do, for all we both do, a safe space and a happy ending is the least we deserve.
One of my favourite perspectives on love comes from a paper written by Ohito, who in her assessment of just what love is that from a ‘a Black feminist orientation to love is one that aims to initiate personal, political, and collective transformation,’ (Ohito, 2019, p. 126). Her writings here collate the ideas of a number of black feminist theorists into a moral and heartfelt collective ideal much of which sits central to that which works not just for us but for all people. Love in this context is not a narcissistic ‘love yourself more’ script often pushed by self-help gurus and psychotherapists alike. Love from this perspective is in the service of both the internal, the personal, and the collective externalised to meet the moral and intuitive needs of the many over the one.
Yet, if there is one thing 2020 has shown us it is that no matter how horrific the world gets for black men, that there will still be outpourings of love. When George Floyd was murdered last May, the number of people who took to the streets in protest both in America and in most of the rest of the world showed us that we are loved, that black men are valued, and that no matter how many knees rest upon our necks that other Others will stand beside us, so we don’t have to always be afraid. Black men. WE ARE LOVED (Various, 2020)!
Yet, there is one note of warning here. Whilst the sadness of Floyd’s death must always be noted, so must the extraordinariness of the situation and its worldwide impact. That this outpouring of love for the black man comes from something outside of what is deemed normal, is something a lot of black men have to endure. Much like the need to be seen to work that much harder, the need to be much more in order to win or be loved takes away here form the ordinariness of love and the ordinariness of the black men who need it, nay deserve it. We have already had the normal structures of fatherhood stolen away from us, for example, structures where love is already firmly embedded, meaning it can feel hard to be just an ordinary black man, with no need for a performance, with little need to play the game, and be loved and accept love just for who we are.
Although I have the most beautiful daughter, my past was one where I regularly had to provide love as opposed to be in a position to receive it. From my end, I freely acknowledge that even unconsciously I chose those environments. I recognise that I am not the best at receiving love, hence an aspect of the loneliness which sits at my core. And yet I am very much loved by many, from my daughter downwards. I just have to look at my social media to witness how much love so many have for me. Yet, after a day fighting the good fight, after a day providing political love to many, I always come home to my own space, cook my own food, pour my own glass of wine, watch Netflix alone. That is hard. Have I given up on love? I truly have no idea.
When it comes though to understanding some of these barriers to believing in love as a black man, we must also return to childhood, and to the adultification of black men from such an early age. A concept discussed by many authors, the idea here is that black men are made to grow up far more quickly than their majority counterparts. They are treated as adults at a much earlier age, be it by the authorities as much as by society, and even within their own families (Panuccio & Christian, 2019). This means the sacrificing the idolatry of childhood, or really the repression of those traits common within boyhood, in order to survive in a world where they are seen as men. This separation though is not just literal but it is also psychological, and leads I will argue here to an inner child who is not only isolated, but is angry, anxious and fearful, and also believes itself to be unlovable. Unlike then the child who gets to play out in the fields of East Sussex, or play football on a beach with his father on a spring afternoon, for the adultified child these ideals are only a fantasy. They are games to be played in one’s head, if at all, as it isn’t safe to be these characters from childhood whilst out in reality.
So, for the boy who becomes a man, one sign of this loss of love is a disconnection with the creative. Yet, this is not always so for those of majority culture. For example, for the likes of Storr (1988) isolation and a forgoing of relationship is also seen as a doorway towards the creative brilliance within most, what his work fails to explore is the similar trait within those of colour. That so many of our best authors and musicians produced brilliance from their periods of sadness and isolation is a testimony of love’s resilience to be seen and acknowledged (Azhar, 2015).
For others though, in order to escape the feelings of isolation and lack of love, the vulnerability of the child is replaced by a grandiose false sense of self as fragile as a balloon pumped up to its fullest by air and about to burst (Krizan & Johar, 2012). Whilst this true sense of emotional vulnerability, of love, and that which is necessary for the child, the man, to enter into relationship, is then lost within a shadow from whence it silently knocks upon the door of the ego, lost, lonely, and isolated, yet always desiring to be known. Love is lost to the child. Whilst the black man often dares not risk it.
I think I’ve had those vulnerabilities rejected too many times. Society already teaches men not to be vulnerable. But it teaches black boys to eschew the vulnerability of boyhood way to early, and be young men, to be men, and be invulnerable almost from the day they are born. Toxic Blacsculinity I will call it. The white privilege of youth is denied to black boys. I agree though that to allows others in is the key. But those others need to understand the different wounds black men hold passed down the generations and see their, our, my, pain as an enormous aspect of who I am and why I do what I do, collectively, politically, and especially personally.
‘I had to prove you could be a new kind of black man. I had to show the world.’
Akbar, N. (1984). Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery. New Mind.
Azhar, M. (2015). Hunting for Prince’s vault. BBC News. http://m.bbc.com/news/magazine-31962180
Hua, L. U. (2011). Reproducing Time, Reproducing History: Love and Black Feminist Sentimentality in Octavia Butler’s Kindred. African American Review, 44(3), 391–407. https://doi.org/10.1353/afa.2010.0000
Krizan, Z., & Johar, O. (2012). Envy Divides the Two Faces of Narcissism. Journal of Personality, 80(5), 1415–1451. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2012.00767.x
Lorde, A. (1984). Sister outsider. Crossing Press Limited.
Ohito, E. O. (2019). “I Just Love Black People!”: Love, Pleasure, and Critical Pedagogy in Urban Teacher Education. Urban Review, 51(1), 123–145. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11256-018-0492-7
Panuccio, E., & Christian, J. (2019). Work, Family, and Masculine Identity: An Intersectional Approach to Understanding Young, Black Men’s Experiences of Reentry. Race and Justice, 9(4), 407–433. https://doi.org/10.1177/2153368717705419
Stein, M. (2005). Individuation: Inner Work. Journal of Jungian Theory and Practice, 7(2), 1–13.
Storr, A. (1988). Solitude. Flamingo.
Various. (2020). George Floyd Death. BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cv7wlylxzg1t/george-floyd-death
This Blog is copyrighted by Dwight Turner Counselling Ltd (c) and is influenced by my ongoing exploration into The Other
New YouTube Channel: Being The Other
Being The Other (press the name to be taken through to YouTube) is a channel by the Other, for the Other. Based upon my own doctoral studies, this channel seeks to challenge some of the narrow stereotypes around the experience of being the other, offering a newly developing perspective on experiences as the other.
Please subscribe, follow us on Twitter or Facebook under the same title and I look forward to working with you.
Blog entries from Oct 14 to May 15:
Oct 2014: The Other PT1: Kristeva, Power and the Other
Nov 2014: The Other PT2: When Echo needs to speak up!
Jan 2015: The Other PT3: The problem with the assimilation of the Other
Mar 2015: The Other PT4: Outsider, the Genius
May 2015: The Other PT 6: Encounters with the Other within the global marketplace
Feb 2015: ICON: The black superhero in the Superhero Age