The Struggle of Integration: James Baldwin and Melanie Klein in the Context of Black Lives Matter

in James Baldwin Review

Recent killings of unarmed black citizens are a fresh reminder of the troubled state of racial integration in the United States. At the same time, the unfolding Black Lives Matter protest movements and the responses by federal agencies each testify to a not insignificant capacity for addressing social pathologies surrounding the color line. In order to respond to this ambivalent situation, this article suggests a pairing between the work of James Baldwin and that of the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. I will argue that we cannot fully appreciate the depths of what Baldwin called the “savage paradox” of race without the insights provided by Klein and object relations psychoanalysis. Conversely, Baldwin helps us to sound out the political significance of object relations approaches, including the work of Klein and those influenced by her such as Hanna Segal and Wilfred Bion. In conversation with the work of Baldwin, object relations theory can help to identify particular social settings and institutions that might allow concrete efforts toward racial justice to take root.

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