Black Rage as a psychosocial experience

Beverly Stoute’s (2021) article, Black Rage: The Psychic Adaptation to the Trauma of Oppression, begins with the idea that Freud developed a universal theory of the mind that disavowed his own experience of racialized trauma, making it difficult to develop a psychoanalytic formulation of racism. Stoute suggests that racialized trauma during adolescence is a pivotal point in development, as illustrated by Freud’s own revenge fantasies and his identification with Hannibal, a Semite and conqueror of the Romans. This idea eventually leads us to the conclusion that “Black Rage…supports African American adolescents in acquiring the ability to metabolize their rage reactions to discrimination across development [and]…that developmental factors that enhance one’s ability to tolerate frustration and promote…the ability to “suffer experience” can be crucial to enduring racial trauma, especially when containing familial objects serve as role models” (p. 282).

Stoute developed a theory of Black Rage against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020, and the murder of George Floyd and the worldwide protests that followed, asserting that we can formulate Black Rage as a “shared, mobilizing human experience”. And further, that the psychoanalytic formulation of Black Rage, one she might say is not only needed but required, is necessarily forged in “a socially embedded narrative”. This is so because we are each “culturally embedded selves”, internalizing “the influence of race, culture, ethnicity, gender, class, the social surround, and historical context” (p. 262).

The construct of Black Rage is rooted in the notion of moral injury, defined as: “a betrayal of what is right either by a person in legitimate authority or by one’s self in a high stakes situation…[that] impairs the capacity for trust and elevates despair, suicidality, and interpersonal violence”. Further, it represents the “trauma that occurs when one’s actions have profoundly violated one’s code of ethics, when one has been a victim of such violation, or when one has been a passive witness of such violation” (p. 269).

Moral injury induces an internal struggle between expressing “indignant rage” and controlling retaliatory rage. Black Rage is a specific response to the moral injuries, the “collective unconscious store of transgenerational traumas”, experienced by African Americans. It also contains superego imperatives about “what is right”. Stoute postulates that Black Rage is an adaptive mental construct that preserves dignity, mitigates trauma, and promotes defensive sublimation. It shields the vulnerable self from devaluation and helps racialized others in their struggle “to withstand attacks on linking, in order to preserve the capacity to think” (p. 278), to love while being hated, and to remain calm while feeling indignant rage.

Black Rage emerges from chronic experiences of devaluation and dehumanization with no avenue for recognition or repair. Stoute says that “by mobilizing the Black Rage construct toward defensive aims when under racist attack, the individual is able to stave off retaliatory aggression, resist internalizing the incoming aggression and devaluation, and convert psychic turmoil into an adaptive response”. Thus, Stoute recognizes Black Rage as a developmental achievement for oppressed people, distinguishing it from unmodulated rage, which is a destructive force.

The analytic formulation of Black Rage directs our attention to the traumatic experiences of the oppressed (in its various manifestations). That is, it is imperative that we consider the white-supremacist overtones of American society, and its undeniable effects on the intersubjective field both inside and outside of the consulting room.

The desire of people who are oppressed, and what facilitates adaptive mobilization of Black Rage, is recognition, the presence of what Gerson (2002) calls a cultural live Third, a caring and concerned other who witnesses and helps make meaning of traumatic experience. Here the cultural Third is represented mantras of African American families, and the “symbolic function of the black church” (p. 281).

This article raises many questions for reflection, and discussion:

  1. Are our theories of organizing universal, overlooking the intersectionality of the self and the organization as a whole?
  2. How can we integrate the construct of Black Rage into the ways in which we conceptualize leader-follower dynamics?
  3. How can we use the construct of Black Rage in the context of teaching, do our statements of diversity and inclusion go far enough?
  4. In what ways, in role, are we reconstructing the system of oppression that triggers Black Rage?
  5. To what extent are we thinking about cultural selves in the research process?
  6. How can we consider cultural, racialized selves, and dignity in our theories of management?

Leave a Reply