Jung and Racism

By Jane Johnson and Helen Morgan

This brief account aims to outline the significant questions for Jungians in relation to the racism in Jung’s writing and to show how post-Jungians have thought about this. It also outlines developments in Jungian theory that contribute to understanding racism and describes how members of the BJAA have continued to think about the value and limitations of Jungian theory in relation to racism.

In what way is Jung Racist?

The first question to start with might be: in what way are we all racist? While many people would consciously want to act and think in a non-racist way, depth psychology is a discipline that challenges the assumption that this is possible through its theorising of unconscious processes in individuals and groups. For example, recent psychoanalytic theories of racism include the idea of internal racism as a universal psychic structure (Davids, 2011) and of colour coded structures in society being reflected in the structure of the psyche (Dalal, 1988; 2002). Notable post- Jungian theories include a linguistic investigation showing white supremacist thinking permeating Western psychological theory (Hillman, 1986), the idea of a multicultural imagination and cultural difference in the collective unconscious (Adams, 1996) and the idea of cultural complexes as factors in the creation and functioning of large groups, including those based on racial and ethnic difference (Singer & Kimbles, 2004; Kimbles, 2014; Brewster, 2020). While the psychoanalytic or Jungian analytic approach helps with understanding that racism is not something to be eradicated through wilful effort, other disciplines, such as group analytic thinking, sociology, and discourse theory provide ways of thinking about the economic and political factors behind the urge to power and privilege some groups of people over others (Dalal, 1988; 2002).

Jung was interested in different cultures and collective experience and travelled to North and Central Africa, as well as to South America and India, to investigate what he referred to as ‘primitive’ cultures and that which he felt had become lost in Western culture:

Through scientific understanding, our world has become dehumanized. Man feels himself isolated in the cosmos. He is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional participation in natural events, which hitherto had a symbolic meaning for him… He no longer has a bush-soul identifying him with a wild animal. His immediate communication with nature is gone forever, and the emotional energy it generated has sunk into the unconscious. (Jung 1948/1980, para 585)

Like many European intellectuals of his time, including Freud, Jung was influenced by the work of twentieth century anthropologists that made a distinction between so called ‘primitive’ and ‘civilised’ mentality. The degree to which Freud’s thinking and psychoanalytic theory is rooted in colonialist ideas is thoroughly explored by Celia Brickman (2018) whose book title quotes Freud’s description of the content of the unconscious as ‘aboriginal populations of the mind’. Although Jung’s overall approach was symbolic, his thinking becomes racist when he equates primitive states of mind (unconscious process) with so called ‘primitive’ people, seeing the psyches of black people as less developed and inferior to those of white people. This is a point made, with many illustrations from Jung’s writing, in a paper by the psychoanalytic group analyst, Farhad Dalal, called ‘The Racism of Jung’ (1988). The fact that Jung connects his comments on other cultures and ethnicities to the fundamental concepts of individuation and the collective unconscious gives rise to the question of whether it is enough for post-Jungians to position him in history as a man of his time, yet continue to use ideas such as the collective unconscious and individuation without a real questioning and examination of their possible racist roots.

How have Jungians been taking Jung’s Racism Seriously?

The American Jungian, Adams (1996) acknowledges Dalal’s paper and adds to the weight of evidence for racism in Jung’s thinking. On the question of whether the theory has racist roots, his approach is to develop, rather than dismiss, the idea of the collective unconscious by putting forward the idea of a multicultural imagination which recognises that images of collective experiences arise as much from cultural factors (stereotypes) as they do from archetypal factors. The British Jungian, Samuels (1993) acknowledges the convincing documentary evidence Dalal presents for the racism in Jung’s thinking but argues that it is the idea of ‘nation’ rather than ‘race’ that engaged Jung. This, he says, led Jung to assume the role of a psychologist of nations, ‘thereby legitimizing ideas of innate, psychological differences between nations’ (ibid. p. 313) and failing to take account of economic, social, political and historic factors that might be at work. Samuels emphasises that, alongside problematic racial typography there is also value in Jung’s interest in difference and culture and ‘the seeds of a surprisingly modern and constructive attitude to race and ethnicity’ (ibid., p.309). Gross (2000) suggests that the project is not to rehabilitate Jung but to use Jungian concepts (particularly the shadow) to understand racism. Morgan (2002; 2007; 2014; 2021) has written of the implications of racism within the analytic relationship, in supervision and in training institutions. Her approach is more critical of some Jungian concepts which, she argues, carry their racist roots into contemporary thinking. She and Fanny Brewster (2022) have co-authored a dialogue about racial relations, speaking as Jungian analysts from different ethnic backgrounds. In relation to Jung’s concept of individuation (discussed in more detail below) Johnson (2020) has written about how her relationship to Jung and racism has played a part in her own individuation and recognition of the importance of social and political context when interpreting the figure of a black man in her dream as a white woman.

The concept of Cultural Complexes, developed by American Jungian analysts, Singer and Kimbles (2004), has relevance to thinking about racism. The idea of cultural complexes arose out of a synthesis of Jung’s concept of the personal complex and Joseph Henderson’s idea of the cultural unconscious. The way in which personal and cultural complexes can operate is well illustrated in the interpretation of dream material by Singer with Kaplinsky (2010) where rigid societal divisions under the Apartheid regime in South Africa are seen to be reflected in the psyche of a white individual. For Kimbles, cultural complexes are a dynamic system of relations that engender important feelings of identity and belonging, operating both through a group’s expectations of itself and through its fears, enemies and attitudes towards other groups (2014). His recent development of this idea includes an idea about the transmission of cultural complexes:

…implicit unconscious structuring processes that are involved in the intergenerational transmission of cultural attitudes, especially through persuasive unconscious stories or phantom narratives.(p.12).

Kimbles writes as an African American and acknowledges that his development as an individual is intricately bound up with consciousness of the group to which he belongs and the attitude of other groups towards it, that is, whites towards blacks. He uses his own experience of racism to illustrate what he means by cultural complexes and phantom narratives, drawing on his dreams, experience of Jungian analytic training, work as a group consultant and family therapist concerned with trans-generational processes, as well as using a range of literature.

Significant Questions Concerning Jungian Theory

Dalal’s challenge to the Jungian community concerned two main concepts which are central to Jungian theory, that of the archetypal structures of the Collective Unconscious and that of Individuation.

a)Archetypal Structures This challenge is important because, whilst we can recognise that Jung was speaking at a particular point of history within a certain cultural and social context and from a linguistic dialogue that has changed, this implies a degree of contextual contingency. However, the archetype in classical Jungian theory is regarded as timeless, immutable and universal. Whilst a thorough examination of their work is beyond the scope of this piece, it is important to note that this understanding of archetypal structures has been re-examined and challenged by a number of contemporary Jungian theorists. A fuller exploration of the main debates can be found in Hogenson (2004)

However, staying with Jung’s own conception of archetypal structures he himself distinguished the archetypal image from the archetype as such and warns against confusing the two. He says:

Again and again I encounter the mistaken notion that an archetype is determined in regard to its content, in other words that it is an unconscious idea (if such an expression be permissible). It is necessary to point out once more that archetypes are not determined as regards their content, but only as regards their form, and then only to a very limited degree. A primordial image is determined as to its content only when it has become conscious and is therefore filled out with the material of conscious experience.

(Jung 1938/54, para. 155).

The archetypal structures are unknowable directly and unrepresentable. If we stay with the idea of archetypes as predispositions then they are represented in the conscious mind as images which have been filtered through the personal but also the social and cultural unconscious.

Thus, whilst the archetypal structure may be regarded as immutable, the form they take as image are dependent on the social and political context of the time. The image is not the archetype and, if we confuse the two we appropriate the weightiness of the archetypal structure to support and justify unconscious prejudices. What is, in fact, a stereotype becomes fixed as if it were archetypal. Morgan (2002) points out that, despite his own warnings, Jung himself misuses the idea of archetypes to reinforce his prejudice when writing of so-called ‘primitive’ people. She notes that:

It is certainly possible that the fear of a return to a primitive state of mind can be termed archetypal, but for Jung, this became fixed to the external object, to the modern black African and to the risk he referred to as ‘going black’. He filled out the ‘primordial image’ with ‘the material of the conscious experience’, with cultural and personal projections and used it as a justification for his own fears and fantasies. Unfortunately he also loaded his conclusions about Africans, Asians, African Americans and others with all the weight of his influence and of the universality of the archetype. (Morgan, 2002, p.579 & 2021, p.80)

b) Individuation. This key idea in Jungian thought describes a psychological process of development where an individual realises their potential to become a unique individual. For Jung this process of ‘self-realization’ involved an evolution of consciousness through a dynamic relationship between ego consciousness and both the personal and collective unconscious. This Jung saw as a process of self-regulation in the psyche, so that unconscious processes compensate for limiting or problematic ego states. Further, as self-knowledge grows, collective, as well as personal, unconscious processes become active and potentially powerful:

The processes of the collective unconscious are concerned not only with the more or less personal relations of an individual to his family or to a wider social group, but with his relations to society and to the human community in general. The more general and impersonal the condition that releases the unconscious reaction, the more significant, bizarre, and overwhelming will be the compensatory manifestation. (Jung 1928/ 1966,

para 278).

This passage is taken from an essay where Jung refers to instances of mental illness as extreme

examples of such overwhelming compensation. Later in the same essay he expands on the idea of a less developed consciousness, equating it to the psychic functioning of so called ‘primitives’. It is in this area of theorising individuation that Jung’s thinking becomes racist: the potential for ego consciousness to be overwhelmed by unconscious ‘primitive’ functioning becomes a literal fear of ‘going black’. This is well illustrated by Adams (1996) in his reinterpretation of Jung’s experience of an n’goma (dance) during a 1925 visit to the Elgonyi of Central Africa. At the height of the dance Jung fears it will get dangerously out of hand so shouts and flourishes a whip in order to bring it to an end. Adams argues that Jung suffered a panic attack, equivalent to what Jung describes in another context as a ‘bush fear’ associated with the collective unconscious. For Adams, what happened ‘epitomizes the fear of the white European that to go black is to go primitive, to go instinctive, which is to go insane, which is to lose his ego – and, Jung says, to forfeit his authority.’ (p.76).

Dalal’s challenge is that ‘the theory of individuation is a theory of recapitulation’ (1988, p.16). The biological theory of recapitulation, now largely discredited in terms of psychology, is the idea that an individual representative of a more advanced species goes through developmental stages that represent the fully developed individual of the species at earlier stages in its evolutionary history. Dalal argues that while Jung is explicit about individuation as an evolution of consciousness within the lifetime of an individual, implicit in his theory is the idea that individuation is also historical, charting the development of the species’ emergence from what Jung saw as collectivity, where there is no developed sense of an individual with ego consciousness. The conclusion, according to Dalal, is that for Jung the white European is more evolved than the ‘black race’.

Recent Work in the BJAA

A few years ago, we came together out of a common concern with how little attention was given to the troubling aspects of the source texts used throughout the training; texts that are rooted in ideas that support white supremacy, but also assumptions about gender and sexuality; texts where references to ‘the primitive’, the place of women, and attitudes towards homosexuality were experienced as painful and offensive by trainees, and teachers.

This concern led to an invitation to BJAA colleagues to join us in forming small reading groups to consider troubling Jungian and Freudian texts concerning race, sexuality and gender. These groups expanded into a second and then a third series. We didn’t aways agree but what was being laid down was a crucial foundation of assumption that the texts were questionable and that it was our responsibility as practicing analysts and teachers to take apart the problematic, explore its roots and formulate our own positions.

From this work the decision was taken to entirely rethink the teaching of the theoretical part of our training and a group of interested individuals established ourselves as the New Approach to Theory or NAT group. Proposals were worked out and put to the wider organisation and agreed. The approach would be psychosocial, offering an alternative to the traditional stance of much analytic theory that separates the developmental and social. Issues of race, gender, class and sexuality would be woven throughout the curriculum over all four years of teaching. We hoped to offer a more joined up experience for trainees so that links and connections as well as controversies could be explored, and to encourage a constructive critique of the theory and practice of psychoanalysis and analytical psychology This would include teaching critical thinking.

All those teaching across the training are committed to Review and Development meetings at the end of each term to discuss the work of the term with specific concerns about how the psychosocial, and particularly matters relating to race, gender and sexuality, are kept to the forefront of our thinking in delivering a developmental Jungian training for psychotherapists and analysts. The development part of the teacher meeting is a space where all teachers and seminar leaders work together on their personal and collective responses and understanding in key areas. This has included Transgender Identities and Responding to Racism in the Teaching Setting. The gatherings are based on the recognition that we are a training group but also a learning community and, whilst we can assume a certain knowledge and expertise in the theoretical concepts of our tradition, we may well be beginners in our thinking about key social, political and cultural matters.


Many fundamental concepts within Jungian theory have been re-examined in the light of developments in thinking in different disciplines which has meant a revitalising of the theory in a helpful way. This account has focused on just one aspect of developing theory by outlining the ways in which Jung’s thinking can be seen as racist and showing how Jungian’s have responded to this. This has included the specific challenge made by Dalal that Jung’s ideas of the collective unconscious and individuation should be subject to a critical examination of their potentially racist roots. We recognise that there is a considerable time gap between Dalal’s 1988 paper and his work on racism and difference today. His original criticisms have been acknowledged and considered by a number of Jungian writers over the years but recent developments in disciplines such as neuroscience and in emergence theories that have led to a revisiting of some of the fundamental concepts have made it more possible to include a consideration of the racism in Jung’s writing within the general questioning and development of Jungian theory. The BJAA welcomes these challenges and sees its recent work on the racism in Jung’s thinking as an opportunity to participate in the critical and evaluative view of Jungian theory and to play a part in the ongoing development of post-Jungian thought.


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Brewster, F. (2013) Wheel of fire: the African American dreamer and cultural unconsciousness, in Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche 7:1 pp 70-8

Brewster, F. (2017) African Americans and Jungian Psychology.: Leaving the Shadows. London: Routledge

Brewster, F. (2019) Archetypal Grief: Slavery’s Legacy of Intergenerational Child Loss. London & New York.: Routledge

Brewster, F. (2020) The Racial Complex: A Jungian Perspective on Culture and Race. London & New York.: London & New York: Routledge

Brewster, F. & Morgan, H. (2022) Racial Legacies. Jung, Politics and Culture. Oxford: Routledge

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Jane Johnson is a psychotherapist and Jungian analyst in private practice. She is a senior member of the British Psychotherapy Foundation (BPF) and a training analyst for the British Jungian Analytic Association (BJAA). Her background is in psychodynamic psychotherapy training and teaching, including as a past Jungian director of the MSc Psychodynamics of Human Development (Birkbeck College, London University).

Helen Morgan is a Fellow of the British Psychotherapy Foundation and is a training analyst and supervisor for the British Jungian Analytic Association within the BPF. She has written a number of papers on the subject of racism and psychotherapy and her book, ‘The Work of Whiteness. A Psychoanalytic Perspective’ was published in 2021 by Routledge. She is also co-author with Fanny Brewster of the book Racial Identities published by Routledge in 2022 as part of their ‘Jung, Politics and Culture’ series.

Jane and Helen are co-chairs of the group that delivers a psycho-social approach to teaching theory in BJAA clinical trainings.