Tag Archives: Toni Morrison

Chuck’s Place: Answer To Ferguson

What is buried under all that whiteness? - Photo by Chuck Ketchel
What is buried under all that whiteness?
– Photo by Chuck Ketchel

The snowfall was becoming heavy and sticking. I prepared to retreat to my home office, but, of all days, she insisted on seeing me in person.

She arrived, sank into the couch and cried. She had been there with King, and though she sat warmed by the zip-up sweater from Obama’s election campaign she was crushed by the outcome of Ferguson. “Nothing has changed,” she whispered despondently.

She went on to tell me she had to come, there was no one else alive to talk to, that is, those who were there, those who had marched with her alongside King. I have never felt so deeply honored, it was me she’d insisted on taking to, a white man, a little too young to have marched with King, now entrusted with helping her find meaning in the current tragedy. And the blinding white snow intensified outside the window as we talked.

The dialogue had started a few weeks earlier. She’d opened her computer to my website and up popped a blog. She came to see me afterwards, insisting that I explain what I had meant in a particular paragraph. I brought up on my computer the blog I’d written that week. “No, that’s not it,” she stated. It took about ten minutes to find it, but when she mentioned Dr. Kenneth Clarke having been referenced I put his name into the search engine and Eureka! “Yes, that’s it,” a blog I’d written when Obama first got elected, America Chooses the Black Doll. This blog had mysteriously popped up for her a few days earlier, a blog I’d written six years ago!

She immediately drew attention to a paragraph concerning the projection of evil onto blackness. “Explain what you mean,” she demanded. I told her that blackness, from an archetypal standpoint, is the unknown, whether it be rejected and disowned, or simply not yet encountered but lying somewhere in the unknown or dark area of the psyche. This projection falls upon race, but race is not the origin of this projection. She had told me that I needed to clarify that more and referenced a work by Toni Morrison.

On this snowy morning, she handed me a precious, personally autographed, copy of Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. “Read this and return it to me,” she said.

I have done my homework. Here’s my report. I can only answer to Ferguson in my own way, how I see and experience the world, where we are now, and what we must do to survive.

What Toni Morrison cogently captures in her incisive review of the black and white of American literature is that together they form an interdependent whole; one cannot exist without the other. The backdrop of the freedom of the American Dream is the utter control of the darkness that houses both its fears and deeply instinctual longings. In racial terms, that darkness—that resides in the depths of the psyche in the shadow of all people of all races—gets projected onto black people.

How is this not the dynamic played out in Ferguson? Had Michael Brown been white, would he be dead today? What terror gripped Darren Wilson, as he stared into the darkness he projected onto Michael Brown, that made him have to kill his assailant to feel safe and free?

Toni Morrison quotes the white author Marie Cardinal from her autobiographical work, The Words To Say It:

“My first anxiety attack occurred during a Louis Armstrong concert. I was nineteen or twenty. Armstrong was going to improvise with his trumpet, to build a whole composition in which each note would be important and would contain within itself the essence of the whole. I was not disappointed: the atmosphere warmed up very fast. The scaffolding and flying buttresses of the jazz instruments supported Armstrong’s trumpet, creating spaces which were adequate enough for it to climb higher, establish itself, and take off again. The sounds of the trumpet sometimes piled up together, fusing a new musical base, a sort of matrix which gave birth to one precise, unique note, tracing sound whose path was almost painful, so absolutely necessary had its equilibrium and duration become; it tore at the nerves of those who followed it.

“My heart began to accelerate, becoming more important than the music, shaking the bars of my rib cage, compressing my lungs so the air could no longer enter them. Gripped by panic at the idea of dying there in the middle of spasms, stomping feet, and the crowd howling, I ran into the street like someone possessed.”

Fortunately, for Ms. Cardinal, she landed in the hands of noted psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim where she squarely faced the source of her reaction to Louis Armstrong’s performance—the riffs from the darkness of her own soul, unleashed to shake her awake to the depths of her own nature.

As the I Ching states in Hexagram #48, The Well: “For any merely superficial ordering of life that leaves its deepest needs unsatisfied is as ineffectual as if no attempt at order had ever been made.”

But to achieve a new order of true balance, we must take responsibility for that which rattles in the depths of our own darkness and bring it into union with the white light of consciousness. This is true integration, the union of dark and light, each adjusting to the needs of its other half.

When the light seeks to rule, dissociated from the truths of its own inner darkness, only repression and dissociation can keep the darkness at bay. But life cannot exist only in the light of day; we need the dark of night as well. Without both, darkness disowned is projected, kept under control through racist dogma.

We can no longer afford a racist solution to house our psychic dissociation. Terrors from the depths of our psychic mayhem have slipped into full-fledged control of our planet. Madness in the form of greed is destroying our fragile ecosystem—all this in the white light of day.

Projecting our shadow onto people of color—African, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, etc.—is an old world survival strategy. Owning, facing and integrating what lives in the darkness of all of our souls is the only evolutionary option at this juncture. It’s about survival.

Only a new relation of balance between the light and the dark within human nature will reverberate outwardly and settle the squalls of Mother Nature who, like Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, is tearing at all our nerves to listen to the truth of nature. As within, so without.

This is my answer to Ferguson: Take your place in the history books of an old world order; the time of great advance has come. Now is the time when the human race must take ownership of its wholeness, squarely facing that which lies in the darkness of all of us.


P. S.: Just as I finished writing this blog the verdict on the Staten Island chokehold death of Eric Garner was announced, highlighting the same dynamic I write about, keeping it fully alive and in the eyes of all of us, pointing out that this is one of the most important issues we must face in our time.

#665 Chuck’s Place: Black Gold

When challenged with the question, “Why so much focus on alchemy in your writing, Chuck?” my truthful response is: Carl Jung, that Master Shaman, spent decades of his life unearthing and sifting through the rich black earth of this ancient system to empower us to decipher the gold in our thoroughly modern dreams. Modern Alchemy 101: sift through the nigredo, the blackness in your dreams, and you will find your gold. Before I elucidate on a dream from last night that Jan is allowing me to “expose,” I first need to discuss a homework assignment I was given this week.

A client, who was reading an early blog I had written on blackness, America Chooses the Black Doll, assigned me to read Playing in the Dark, Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison. For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of tackling Ms. Morrison, I assure you, she is as dense and playful in her writing as Jung is when writing on alchemy. In this work, she makes a compelling argument for the need to shed light upon the cultural context of blackness in America, to fully realize its unconscious influence upon all American authorship.

Morrison reflects upon Marie Cardinal’s autobiography, The Words to Say It, where Cardinal describes her initiation into madness, triggered in the midst of a jazz improvisation at a Louis Armstrong concert. Morrison questions the automatic, uncontested assumptions of this encounter with blackness and the onset of madness. Morrison draws attention to the automatic acceptance of these things —black people—black music—mental chaos—madness— as being associatively linked and the unconscious projection of them into American literature.

Taking it beyond literature, I would argue that we are absolutely stymied in America by this dilemma. Is there not a very strong attempt to play upon this automatic unconscious assumption with blackness by associating Obama with madness, as the devil incarnate? If we don’t shed light upon these projections we become a country paralyzed by apocalyptic fear.

The issue here is to separate the ancient symbol of blackness from its projection onto people of color. The contrasting symbols of white and black, day and night, light and dark, visible and invisible, yin and yang, are so ancient that they long precede awareness of race. These symbols exist in the depths of the collective unconscious and present themselves in dreams, impervious to political and social correctness. It remains for the conscious individual to decipher the true meaning and personal relevance of these symbols in dreams. Blackness, or the nigredo as the alchemists named it, symbolizes unknown material; black is in the dark, where things are unseen and therefore unknown. In order to arrive at the highest value, always considered to be gold, one must go into the unknown, the darkness of the self and redeem that which lies there, either because it has been rejected or because it has, more significantly, yet to be discovered. The nigredo, in this context, is that which lies in the darkness. The nigredo is universal to all races because all people have parts of themselves hidden in the dark and, similarly, because it is unknown, it is equally unsettling for all races. Racism is a collective attempt to escape this inner tension of reckoning with one’s unknown self, the nigredo, by ridding oneself of its threat, by assigning it to and projecting it upon another race, and maintaining power over that race to keep one’s fears in check.

One can hardly escape the current obvious, unabashedly, in-your-face attempt to seduce white America into avoiding facing the truth of what lies hidden in its own darkness by projecting its nigredo upon Obama and ridding itself of its own curse. Toni Morrison is right to draw such attention to the archetypal implications of blackness being automatically and unchallengingly projected upon human beings. The symbol is not the object. The symbol in the dream is ancient, archetypal, and personally relevant. Own it, and take the personal journey with it. We use Jan’s dream to illustrate this.

In her own words: I am standing on 42nd Street outside Grand Central Terminal in New York City talking to a woman who says she has just won the Lottery, a winning of several million dollars. “So, I didn’t win?” I ask. “Oh well, I guess it just wasn’t my turn.” And with that I turn and walk into the cavernous main hall of Grand Central Terminal where the vast space is lined with row upon row of black toilets, with no lids. The toilets are packed tightly together and there are perhaps fifty or so rows of them interspersed with black metal folding chairs. I have to go to the bathroom, “a crap,” so I begin walking up and down the aisles of toilets looking for a place where I can comfortably sit down and do what I have to do, but there is absolutely no privacy here. People are sitting on some of the toilets and I can hear farting and peeing sounds. They are reading, smoking, and talking to others sitting next to them or opposite them, as if it were nothing unusual, but I just can’t allow myself to be so exposed. I think up all kinds of reasons why I should not just sit down on a toilet like everyone else, such as: There is no privacy here! There are too many men sitting in this row! How can that woman sit there like that! Don’t people have any sense of privacy? This is too intimate! Finally, I decide that I will “just hold it” and, upon deciding this, I walk out of the terminal. As soon as I walk outside I get into a car with Chuck and our daughter Erica, who in the dream is a happy and bubbly thirteen year old. I am driving. We travel into the countryside over winding, hilly snow and ice covered roads. People are driving way too fast for the conditions and several times I have to make some quick maneuvers so we don’t have collisions. Erica is very impressed with my driving skills but even so we are eventually forced off the road by an oncoming Cadillac that sideswipes the driver’s side mirror and sends us hurtling into a snow bank. We exit the car, leaving it stranded in the snow, grab three round flying saucer sleds from the trunk and begin walking up a steep ice and snow-covered road. We arrive at the top of the hill and decide to sled down the other side, but the snow is so wet and sticky that we are unable to slide down without getting stuck repeatedly, so we abandon our flying saucers and walk the rest of the way. At the bottom of the hill, Erica points to a blurry picture of a nutcracker painted on the road —like a logo of the nutcracker from the ballet The Nutcracker Suite— barely visible beneath the thick ice that is covering the road. As we continue walking along, I see that a railroad bridge crosses over the road far ahead and that there is a railroad station off to the left. “Look, a train station!” I say with great relief. “We are taking that train!” Chuck says, firmly. As we get closer I see that the station name is Warwarsing. I joke repeatedly into Chuck’s ear, saying that we are in “War-Washing! War-Washing! Get it? We are in WAR-WASHING!” I know that we can take the train back to Grand Central Terminal, and as we walk into the station to buy our tickets I wake up.

Jan does not win the lottery, i.e. the gold! No, you have to work for it. The work begins at Grand Central—an allusion to a directive from the SELF. “Grand” suggests something greater than the ego; “Central” shows it to be at the center of the personality. Grand Central is also the meeting place of many old tried and true paths. Evidently the SELF is directing Jan into a scene that captures many people’s worst nightmare in dreams, a vast public unisex restroom without partitions. The nigredo is identified by the black toilets, the black chairs, and, obviously, that which is concealed inside the body! The nigredo points to that which is unknown or concealed, and requires work. The work here means exposing oneself to the truth of that which is unsettling and unknown. The dream is placing obvious emphasis on EXPOSURE. The SELF wants the nigredo exposed, not discretely flushed away. Jan balks at this request, choosing instead to take her own heroic journey, symbolized by the accompaniment of the innocent, bubbly, youthful Erica, avoiding the blackness and going off into the white snow.

As it turns out, all of Jan’s efforts at transcendence in pure whiteness fail, including the flying saucers—an inflated attempt to win her wholeness, symbolized by the round saucer that flies. The nutcracker, beneath the ice, is a reminder that the real nut has yet to be cracked. Ultimately, we end up at the Warwarsing station, where I, representing Jan’s inner masculine guide, as animus, insist we take the train back to Grand Central. The WAR symbolizes taking on the tension of exposure within the self, encountering internalized judgments, inhibitions, unacceptable facts, etc., symbolized by all the characters hanging around the terminal in this dream. The WASHING symbolizes separating out the elements of nigredo, sifting through “the crap” and discovering that which has been hidden. In this dream, the path to be taken is an ancient one leading back to Grand Central. An inflationary avoidance, however heroic, could not achieve reconciliation.

Thank you, Jan, for fulfilling your dream’s request: exposure to the world! Through this act Jan owns her own nigredo, which becomes the source of acquiring her own gold through facing her own inner truth. I hope that this dream illustrates the symbolic meaning of blackness with its golden potential, which is the alchemical process, obviously relevant in understanding the dream of a modern person. Additionally, along with Toni Morrison, I hope that this article furthers an appreciation for the archetypal symbol of blackness, in all its richness, that must be differentiated from unconscious projections onto outer objects.

If you wish to correspond, please feel free to post a comment below.

Until we meet again,