Sen. Joe Biden, a notorious motor mouth, may have made history two weeks ago by derailing his presidential campaign on the same day he announced his candidacy.
In an interview with the New York Observer, Biden said this about fellow candidate Barack Obama: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."
The comment was immediately branded racist and Biden had to publicly wash the feet of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, apologizing for the stereotyping implication that they are less bright, articulate, attractive and clean than Obama. (Exactly what he meant by "clean" was never clear.)
The interesting thing about this is that, as Sharpton noted, Biden has an excellent voting record on legislation affecting African-Americans. On the basis of his behavior, nobody would call him a racist.
Pundits everywhere have recollected a similar incident in 1976. Jimmy Carter, in his campaign for president, answered a question about public housing by insisting that neighborhoods should be allowed to preserve their "ethnic purity." After a few days of defending the statement to outraged black Americans, he apologized.
As in Biden's case, nobody would accuse Carter of racism on the basis of his actual behavior. (Then again, Carter must be experiencing déjà vu with his book about Palestine.) So what's going on here?
It's the shadow -- the name Carl Jung gave the often-unsavory part of the psyche that we repress. Like anything else held back long enough, the shadow, which is autonomous, erupts eventually, frequently in an embarrassing way.
In my view, it's impossible to grow up white in America and not internalize some degree of racism. In such a case, the shadow is a collective cultural phenomenon. Carter and Biden alike gave expression to America's racist shadow and, because the shadow is largely unconscious, both men tried at first to rationalize their remarks. Undoubtedly, both men were shocked to discover this trait in themselves.
Minorities of all types draw the shadow's projections of the dominant culture. We saw another example during the Super Bowl with the now-infamous Snickers ad in which two men gobble a candy bar from both ends and find themselves kissing. Then, disgusted, they assert their manliness. An Internet site offered alternative endings with even more conspicuously homophobic overtones. There were videos on the site, too, of members of the Colts and Bears reacting to the ad with laughter and disgust.
It is amazing, considering the political volatility of gay issues, that Snickers would choose to create such an ad. But in terms of illustrating the shadow, it's a stellar example. The Super Bowl is, supposedly, the apotheosis of testosterone-fueled masculinity. Wherever an extreme is represented, the shadow makes its most brazen appearance, overwhelming even common sense -- in this case attacking the masculinity of gay men. And that, of course, is a projection of the larger male culture's insecurity about its masculinity.
Just like Biden and Carter, Snickers issued a statement defending the ad and then immediately turned around and killed the website featuring the alternative endings. It also announced it would not run the Super Bowl ad again.
Embarrassing as such gaffes are, they do tell us a lot about ourselves and can provide an opportunity to change, if only to recognize and monitor our shadow. Of course, the shadow operates on a purely personal level as well as a collective one. Usually, if we take the time to explore our feelings about anyone to whom we have a strongly negative emotional reaction, we'll find our shadow triggered. Something in the person is reflecting a disowned part of ourselves.
The most difficult phase of psychotherapy -- the point where many if not most quit -- is when the client must face his shadow, that part of himself that is complicit in his unhappiness. It is also difficult for the therapist, because he must be willing to take on the projections of the angry client.
An example is a female client in a facility where I did my training in California. Although I was openly gay, the woman accused me, with graphic detail, of attempting to seduce her. This, of course, was her shadow's projection of her feelings about men.
Atlantans have an exceptional opportunity to learn more about the shadow this weekend. James Hollis, a well-known Jungian analyst in Houston and author of Dark Selves: Why Good People Do Bad Things, will address the Atlanta Jung Society at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16. The next day, he will conduct a workshop on the subject, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. For location and fees, call 404-634-6350 or consult www.jungatlanta.com.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. For information on his private practice, go to www.cliffbostock.com.
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