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There is a big question looming over some of our recent conversations about race, identity, popular culture, and related matters that have not been engaged in the explicit depth they deserve.
In response to the latest CNN "Black in America" special, I wrote an essay which I shared here on the Daily Kos (where it received almost 300 comments), and also at my own site We Are Respectable Negroes (WARN). In that essay I worked through how the most recent installment in the series was actually an investigative report about tragic mulattoes--and a spectacle centered on "outing" black folks' private business around issues of "colorism" and racial identity before a national audience.
Given that the black community has still not worked through such issues in private, I suggested that how a major network would make such matters a topic of public discussion was deeply problematic on any number of levels. Alas, as it always does, profit trumps good considerations of empathy or discretion.
CNN's show was ultimately focused on the challenges surrounding race and identity in the United States. And just as in the recent racially deranged hysteria by the White Right in response to the new movie Django, mental health issues are front and center in these conversations about the colorline, how racism impacts our collective psyche, and the psychological impact of life in a racialized society on the individual.
Black Sage, a frequent commenter over at WARN, offered up the following regarding the upcoming movie Django, and the reaction of the White Right to the film:
The sickness of some of the comments on Newsbuster’s website makes me ponder the following question: When will the American Psychiatric Association add racism to their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)? Obviously, the scourge of racism is not normal behavior.I have thought about this question on occasion. I am very interested in "biopolitics," and how the State organizes bodies relative to categories of citizenship and the public sphere. However, given my wide, and at times unwieldy range of interests, I had not yet done (even) a cursory Internet search for any topics on racism and mental illness.
Yes, I knew what Brother Na'im Akbar had said about the topic of mental health and white racism. I did attend the Black Man Think Tanks back in the 1990s where I listened to folks go back and forth on the topic.
I also have read Fanon and Kovel. However, whatever I gleamed about the topic was stored in the memory banks and not accessed on a consistent basis. It was background noise.
I made a quick search following Black Sage's question. There was an immediate result that shocked me for its coherence and directness.
The American Psychiatric Association has never officially recognized extreme racism (as opposed to ordinary prejudice) as a mental health problem, although the issue was raised more than 30 years ago. After several racist killings in the civil rights era, a group of black psychiatrists sought to have extreme bigotry classified as a mental disorder. The association's officials rejected the recommendation, arguing that because so many Americans are racist, even extreme racism in this country is normative—a cultural problem rather than an indication of psychopathology.Have you ever gotten a shiver up your spine when doing some journal research or coming upon a necessary book in a library or used bookstore? Where a plain truth, offered up by a respected scholar, is right in front of you?
The psychiatric profession's primary index for diagnosing psychiatric symptoms, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), does not include racism, prejudice, or bigotry in its text or index.1 Therefore, there is currently no support for including extreme racism under any diagnostic category. This leads psychiatrists to think that it cannot and should not be treated in their patients.
To continue perceiving extreme racism as normative and not pathologic is to lend it legitimacy. Clearly, anyone who scapegoats a whole group of people and seeks to eliminate them to resolve his or her internal conflicts meets criteria for a delusional disorder, a major psychiatric illness.
Extreme racists' violence should be considered in the context of behavior described by Allport in The Nature of Prejudice.2 Allport's 5-point scale categorizes increasingly dangerous acts. It begins with verbal expression of antagonism, progresses to avoidance of members of disliked groups, then to active discrimination against them, to physical attack, and finally to extermination (lynchings, massacres, genocide). That fifth point on the scale, the acting out of extermination fantasies, is readily classifiable as delusional behavior.
More recently, Sullaway and Dunbar used a prejudice rating scale to assess and describe levels of prejudice.3 They found associations between highly prejudiced people and other indicators of psychopathology. The subtype at the extreme end of their scale is a paranoid/delusional prejudice disorder...
Dr. Pouissant is one such expert scholar-practitioner. That he would detail such a direct claim left me a bit shook.
I am torn on the issue of racism and mental illness. Let's work this one out together.
1. If racism is a condition that should be in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, would "racists" qualify for protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act?
2. If virulent racists kill people would the former not be fit for criminal prosecution? If a racist is discriminating against people in the workplace could they be confronted and/or removed/fired?
3. If racists are "mentally ill," and it is a mass psychosis, does the State have an obligation to correct racism by using chemicals or other means, just as how fluoride is added to the water to prevent dental cavities?
4. Does this let racists off the hook too easily? Does a diagnosis of racism as a mental illness do the work of colorblind conservative racism, where the various types of white supremacy as manifested by contemporary Republican Tea Party GOP politics, become even harder to confront? Here, the response by the White Right can now become, "I am not "crazy! How dare you suggest that I am?" Alternatively, does the White Right get encouragement for their bigotry because they can then say, "I am sick. I didn't mean it. I am a victim!"
Please teach me something about this puzzle of racism and public health. Where do you stand on this issue?