Yale limits access to talk by academic who said she had fantasies of shooting white people

The psychiatrist says her words were taken out of context and were not meant to be understood literally

Graig Graziosi
Monday 07 June 2021 20:29 BST

A psychiatrist who spoke during a lecture at Yale University's School of Medicine admitted that she sometimes fantasized about shooting white people, which has prompted backlash against her and the university.

The discussion – titled "The Psychopathic Problem of the White Mind" – was part of the School of Medicine's Child Study Centre's Grand Rounds. The Grand Rounds is a weekly forum in which faculty, staff and individuals affiliated with the school are given lectures concerning mental health.

The Hartford Courant reported that the psychiatrist, Dr Aruna Khilanani, discussed a "psychological dynamic that is on PTSD repeat”. She claims that dynamic is that people of colour are forced to patiently explain racism to white people, who deny that they are racist.

She says that the anger people of colour feel by engaging in this dynamic is then used as "confirmation that we're crazy or have emotional problems”.

The comments that sparked the controversy involved Dr Khilanani's fantasy about killing white people.

“I had fantasies of unloading a revolver into the head of any white person that got in my way, burying their body and wiping my bloody hands as I walked away relatively guiltless with a bounce in my step, like I did the world a favor,” she said.

Dr Khilanani told The New York Times that he words were taken out of context and should not have been taken literally. She claimed that she was trying to move beyond the "dry, bland regurgitation of new vocabulary words with no work in the unconscious” she claims permeates race discourse.

“And, if you want to hit the unconscious, you will have to feel real negative feelings,” she said.

She said the comments she made was a means of dealing with the negative feelings she was experiencing.

“My speaking metaphorically about my own anger was a method for people to reflect on negative feelings,” Khilanani added. “To normalize negative feelings. Because if you don’t, it will turn into a violent action,” she said.

In her lecture, the doctor said trying to talk to white people about race is a "waste of our breath."

“We are asking a demented, violent predator who thinks that they are a saint or a superhero to accept responsibility,” she said. “It ain’t going to happen. They have five holes in their brain.”

Leaders at the School of Medicine, along with the chairwoman of the Child Study Centre, reviewed a recording of the talk and said they "found the tone and content antithetical to the values of the school."

School leaders ultimately decided they would limit access to the video to only those who attended the talk, effectively ensuring only individuals in the Yale community could see it.

The university also added a disclaimer to the video.

“Yale School of Medicine expects the members of our community to speak respectfully to one another and to avoid the use of profanity as a matter of professionalism and acknowledgment of our common humanity. Yale School of Medicine does not condone imagery of violence or racism against any group,” the disclaimer read.

Dr Khilanani rejected the decision, and posted videos on TikTok urging others to pressure the school to release the video.

“Something is emotionally dangerous about opening up a conversation about race,” she said in the email. “No one wants to look at their actions or face their own negative feelings about what they are doing. The best way to control the narrative is to focus on me, and make me the problem, which is what I stated occurs in the dynamic of racism,” she said in an email to The New York Times.

Ms Khilanani's story was picked up on by conservative social media users and media voices, but also faced condemnation from within the Yale community as well.

Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Yale teaching social and natural science, internal medicine and biomedical engineering, said the views she expressed amounted to "racism" and were "deeply worrisome & counter-productive."

“Of course, as an invitee, she is free to speak on campus,” Dr Christakis said. “But her views must be soundly rejected.”

He went on to say that "it's not having disturbing fantasies that is problematic, not even discussing such fantasies in a classroom. Most human beings have disturbing fantasies," and said that it was a proper topic for discussion.

"Rather, it is the other arguments this speaker makes, and their pejorative generalizations about people based on their race, that are worrisome and often unfounded," he said. "It's her line of argument, leaving aside her sharing of her fantasies, that is problematic and racist."

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