In the shadow of Apartheid: intergenerational transmission of Black parental trauma as it emerges in the analytical space of inter-racial subjectivities

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Zelda Gillian Knight *
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Zelda Gillian Knight |


Using the construct of projective identification and integrating it with the body of literature on intergenerational transmission of unsymbolized parental trauma, I describe the case of an adult black South African woman called Sibulelo. It is suggested that Sibulelo has unconsciously identified with the disavowed parents and grandparents trauma that they suffered as a result of the system of Apartheid. Such trauma is expressed through her feelings of being dis-located in time and space, as if she is living outside of herself, unplugged from life, and living someone else’s life. The paper details the unfolding therapeutic process in relation to my whiteness in the context of her blackness. This brings into sharp focus an exploration of black-white racialized transference-counter-transference matrix in the context of intergenerational trauma. It is a reflective paper and opens up my own counter-transference, thus foregrounding the notion of therapeutic inter-subjectivity. A further contribution to psychoanalytic theory concerns the role of recognition and being seen as a powerful process in facilitating the symbolization of trauma. In addition, if there is no interruption of the cycles of intergenerational trauma, and therefore no symbolization, it becomes an unconscious familial compulsion to repeat. Moreover, this therapy case highlights the idea that as a traumatised family living within a bruised culture of intergenerational transmission of trauma, such repetition of trauma becomes a cultural compulsion to repeat what has not been spoken or named.

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