Race as Shadow: Anna Rohleder’s experience writing this week’s cover story

This week, Anna Rohleder wrote the cover story “Racial justice in Louisville in black and white.” 

Why is race  so hard to talk about — especially, as author Ta-Nehisi Coates would say, for people “who believe themselves to be white”? One reason may be that it is personal and impersonal at the same time. It’s a collective belief experienced individually. All of our stories may be bound up together in the American narrative about race, but we each have individual stories that color our view of reality. Here’s a brief version of mine:

Most of the time, I walk around with the Access All Areas pass of white privilege. My calls to prospective landlords are returned. Even when driving other people’s BMWs or Mercedes (with expired plates!), I have never been pulled over by the police. I can return from a trip to Pakistan, Turkey or other Muslim country and not be detained for questioning or have my luggage searched.

But I also get a certain type of inquiry — “Where are you from?” or “What’s your ethnicity?” — often enough that I feel I’ve been afforded a tiny glimpse of what it’s like to be perceived through a racial hologram. And to sense how bewildering and frustrating it is to feel that you, as you know yourself as an individual, with your own particular foibles and strengths, dreams and disappointments, cannot be seen for the image of a lumped-together stranger that has been projected onto you.

“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is,” wrote Carl Jung in Psychology and Religion in 1938. The shadow is the repository for characteristics of the personality that cannot be owned, or acknowledged, but are projected, and even imposed by force, onto the “other.”

The dark side of a society that publicly values freedom and democracy IS the world’s highest incarceration rate and millions of citizens denied the right to vote. The shadow of the American idolatry of money and success is a permanent underclass of poor and marginalized people. But the American racial shadow doesn’t only contain negative qualities, those things that white people can’t admit about themselves (i.e. that they might just have a racist bone or two in their body, not to mention the capacity to be violent and/or lazy). The shadow also contains the hidden treasure of the personality that must be carried by the “black” other, in this case the athletes, entertainers and spiritual leaders who have to be strong enough, creative enough and most of all, soulful enough, to make up for the paler imitations offered by white America.