Thursday, December 13, 2012

Open Thread: Should Racism be Listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders?

Black Sage, one of our frequent commenters, 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 never 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. From Professor Alvin F. Poussaint in the Western Journal of Medicine:
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.
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...
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? 

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!"

We have a varied readership here at We Are Respectable Negroes. Please teach me something about this puzzle of racism and public health. Where do you stand on this issue?

30 comments:

The Sanity Inspector said...

First, the DSM is a product of consensus. No one voted for measles, yellow fever or meningitis to be labeled diseases--they just are diseases and that's that. But most of the disorders in the DSM are there because the practitioners voted them in there. Maybe someday some of them will be voted back out.

Second, google Soviet Psychiatry, and see where dragooning medicine into the cause of so-called social justice has led in the past.

chaunceydevega said...

@SI. Just read Foucault. Mental health issues are a modern invention in terms of language, and also a reflection of cultural norms and values that are a reflection of hegemonic power as enacted on and through the body. Civil Rights activists, and black people more generally, were routinely diagnosed as being "schizophrenic." Never mind drapetomania.

But, what to do with clinically pathological racists?

Black Sage said...

@S Inspector, you are out of bounds. CDV’s question has nothing to do with diseases, which primarily affects the body. The heart of his question has all to do with mental disorders, which primarily affects the mind, personality, his or her actions and feelings towards something or someone. There is a stark difference.

Adam H said...

You all remember Norway's tragedy, right?:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/25/world/europe/25oslo.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The prosecution in his case seemed similarly torn if I remember. Many wanted him punished severely while others seemed to be saying that if they could prove his mental instability, then Hans would have failed in sending the message of encouragement to his ultra-right comrades.

Perhaps there is some wisdom here here?

Black Sage said...

First, the DSM is a product of consensus. – Sanity Inspector

So, does this also mean that the American Psychiatric Association is a consensually racist apparatchik organization as well?

The Sanity Inspector said...

@cdv But, what to do with clinically pathological racists?

Live and let live, while protecting your rights from whatever threat they may mount.

@BlackSage: The personality and emotional disorders in the DSM existed long before it was compiled. Back then, they were called "personalities" and "emotions". The clinicalization of all aspects of ordinary life is going too far.

Black Sage said...

Hahaha, stop it Inspector, you're killing me softly. What, 'the clinicalization of all aspects of ordinary life is going too far? Black Americans have been drowned, immolated, castrated, lynched, burned and decapitated all in the name of racism. Is this this the ordinary aspects of life that you're referring to? How far must the murderous leash of racist Whites extend before you'll consider it inordinary? Four, five or six blocks chalk full of Blacks slaughtered in the name of White supremacy?

Help me out Inspector, you've got me flummoxed at the moment.

Yours truly,
Blakk Sage

CNu said...

Black Americans have been drowned, immolated, castrated, lynched, burned and decapitated all in the name of racism. Is this this the ordinary aspects of life that you're referring to? How far must the murderous leash of racist Whites extend before you'll consider it inordinary? Four, five or six blocks chalk full of Blacks slaughtered in the name of White supremacy?

rotflmbao...,

Black Sage exists in a make-believe world in which he would have you believe and identify with the notion that he himself was there and personally witnessed the "holocaust" of organized violence encompassing 8000 lynched folk from the end of reconstruction to 1960.

Urban street pirates currently do that volume of damage on an annual basis and you ain't say shyte about it...,

smdh at emotional negroe nonsense...,

Black Sage said...

@CNUty, you Neanderthal prototype idiot, watch your mouth, there are two grown-up folks in the midst of a conversation here. Didn’t your mother teach you how to be couth in the presence of adults or was she too busy on her knees giving free service?

The Sanity Inspector said...

@BlackSage:

Racism is evil. But evil is not necessarily a mental disorder. Rather, it is a manifestation of the condition of one's soul. That's a minority position nowadays, but I still persist in refusing to submit my soul's fate to psychiatry.

CNu said...

lol,

BS - (priceless...,)

you don't notice the conspicuous changes in your diction and delivery when you're preaching your imaginal horseshyte, and, when you're giving forth with your predictable, pedestrian, ad hominem whooey?

you're a poster child for racialized keeping accounts and false personality.

Black Sage said...

@CNUty, coherency is still a virtue, therefore, I highly encourage you to utilize it!

chaunceydevega said...

@Adam. I am so torn. People have choices. People have agency. I do not want to let vermin off the hook. However, as a truth seeking empirical matter what if racism is a type of clinical disorder? Which again leads us back to the idea that the very notion of what constitutes "sanity" is a social construction. What a puzzle.

@BS. Well spectacular lynchings, racial pogroms, and other such violence were normal at the time. It is only recently, especially after WW2 and the elite consensus following the Holocaust that America's racial consciousness really evolved forward. As I pointed out above, civil rights activists, freedom fighters, and others would be considered "crazy" under the former racial regime. Quite a puzzle as I keep saying.

@Sanity. That really is the only way to protect oneself from a pathological racist--force of arms and the will to use them. But, what of the day-to-day racists, the ones who are so mired in it, and that have institutional power? What to do about them?

Cnu. I hear your points on the scale of lynching. But again to context. No single group was singled out for that treatment in mass. Mexicans and hispanics were subjected to spectacular lynchings in small numbers. But, lynchings were a form of racial terrorism and correctly dominated black political activism and thought for a century for good reason. Never mind the destruction of black communities and economies through ethnic cleansing campaigns here in the U.S.

Let's be careful about not minimizing a human tragedy that afflicted our community as Black Americans for far too long.

CNu said...

Racism is evil. But evil is not necessarily a mental disorder.

oh lord..,

Rather, it is a manifestation of the condition of one's soul.

rotflmbao...,

I still persist in refusing to submit my soul's fate to psychiatry

bilious blather signifying nothing so much as patent ignorance and personal preference for medieval as contrasted with contemporary just-so storytelling...,

CNu said...

I hear your points on the scale of lynching. But again to context. No single group was singled out for that treatment in mass. Mexicans and hispanics were subjected to spectacular lynchings in small numbers. But, lynchings were a form of racial terrorism and correctly dominated black political activism and thought for a century for good reason.

Mexicans got millions of square miles stolen from them in a legitimate war.

Never mind the destruction of black communities and economies through ethnic cleansing campaigns here in the U.S.

There's never been any such thing.

Amerindians/ethnic cleansing - CHECK!!!

Negroes/ethnic cleansing - it.has.never.happened.

Sundown towns merely reflect the american negroe's intractable incapacity to man-up and go to war like other men have done and continue to do everywhere else on the face of the earth.

chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. On this point you are sadly and grossly mistaken. There is a ton of research and evidence of ethnic cleansing campaigns in the U.S.

I suggest that you watch the documentary Banished, read either Hidden Waters or Red Summer or Buried in the Bitter Waters.

Or use your prodigious--and I mean that as a complement--online research skills to read about East St. Louis, Tulsa, and many other places--do check areas of Florida and Tulsa too, where black people were forcibly removed from our homes, our property stolen, and mass destruction occurred.

Your last comment is very odd and really lacks any historical grounding.

So now, despite the reams of evidence of black folks from military service, to day-to-day resistance, to yes, actually fighting back against white mob violence--see what went down in DC, Chicago, Tulsa, and elsewhere, somehow black Americans lack real masculine national character as a "mature race" (to quote T. Roosevelt). Is that what you are saying?

Black men who just got back from WW1 certainly were not just going to surrender. Hell, we were bombed and machine gunned in major American cities by white mobs who had the police and national guard helping them. We still fought back with honor.

When you are right I commend and agree; when you are wrong I point it out. The historical record simply is not on your side here.

What is the deeper issue you are concerned about and perhaps grossly overreached on here?

CNu said...

To the contrary, my last comment reflects my continuing disdain for cowards and failures at violent conflict.

You are what you win.

Everything else is feminized conversation...,

The only overreach on this thread is BS's stentorian BS and your apologetics for the serial failure of black men in America to get ours, defend ours, and maintain ours..., shiiiiiiiiitttt...., we can't even get organized crime right.

makheru bradley said...

General Thomas Jessup said of the Second Seminole War, during which about 1,500 US Army troops died:

“This is a Negro, not an Indian War.”

Anonymous said...

Oh, man. This is confusing. So if I got this right, racism is not classified as a mental illness, because it would encompass most of the white race. Therefore, it's given a pass as being "normal", because all or mostly all white people engage in it. That is not logical. That is altering reality.

By the way, Law and Order did an episode on this very topic, with the very same arguments.

@CNU. My man. Why are you so angry?

chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. I did not overreach at all. I offered up a corrective for how you misread history in this regard. Really, there is no controversy or substantive disagreement about the reality of ethnic cleansing among the pros in the U.S. about the reality of ethnic cleansing against black people.

I also disagree about your assessment of black manhood. Given the overwhelming force against us we did quite, if not amazingly well. If you are faced with machine guns and bombs from airplanes and are limited to pistols struggle is what you are going to be limited to. Victory will have to defined in other ways.

Pushing back, by your criteria, as a black man are you a member of a feminine race? If you have not, check out some of TR's musings about national character, and even among some black progressives on the topic circa the early 20th century.

I am all for busting skulls and taking out ign'ts the way that our latino brothers have done in the LA and Bay area. I am also for being real about how black men have historically been men of iron and steel--your and my ancestors. I am also open to trying to figure out what may have happened in the post Civil Rights era to such models.

As I said, check out some of the first hand accounts of black resistance to the mass pogroms of the Bloody summers post WW1 and tell me you do not see evidence of black honor, courage, strength, and defending "ours."

nomad said...

"You are what you win."
Spoken like a true barbarian. That's prolly what the Vandals said when they sacked Rome.

Anonymous said...

As alluded to in the earlier comments, the concept of mental illness is somewhat of a social construct. We can't point to a physical thing (at least, not yet; who knows where neuroscience will lead?) which corresponds to a condition in the same way we can point to a cancerous tumor, a broken bone, a cirrhotic liver, etc. The closest we can come is to notice increased or unusual amount of brain activity in one sphere or another. In creating a cateogory of mental illness the main question, then is: to what degree does this serve as a useful, pragmatic, and consistent explanatory framework?

From the perpective of analyzing and fighting racism in society at large, I think that pathologizing individuals does little good and a moderate amount of harm. For starters, does this mean that opposition to white supremacy should be primarily a duty of professionals? If so, should we delegate this hella intense task to medical professionals or to historians/political scientists/sociologists/etc.?

More damning, however, is the fact that such a move would give a great deal of ammunition to the ignorant CHUD who spew the line about anti-white "reverse racism." If extreme racism is a mental illness, why can't we talk about the resentment some Black folks feel toward whites as being the psychological equivalent of hardcore white supremacists? A social, materialist conception of racism looks at opportunities, resouces in society, life chances, and social power to determine that racism is a system which usually deals whites to the top of the deck, and people of color to the bottom. I wonder if pathologizing and individualizing racism would unjustly undermine that analysis.

In my opinion a more interesting question than "is racism a mental illness" would be ",how does racism intersect with mental illness". If someone already suffers from a personality disorder like paranoid schizophrenia and happens to have bigoted beliefs, what role will that play in his/her behavior? What implications would that have for treatment?

CNu said...

@CNU. My man. Why are you so angry?

lol, typing shiiiiiit does not angry make...,

What is the deeper issue you are concerned about and perhaps grossly overreached on here?

have you read Black Empire yet?

Bruto Alto said...

@CNU

Look up Rosewood, Florida. Jeb Bush gave the living kin 50 grand for their dead and lost land. 50 GRAND

Black Empire is fiction almost austin powers type fiction. Good but doesn't connect with anyone born after 1980.

"my continuing disdain for cowards and failures at violent conflict."

My only question is: For Black Men are they the Cuba's or the U.S.'s in a battle?

nomad said...

It's funny. No ironic. No odd. That despite having obviously read extensively on the subject that his arguments always rest upon the conclusions derived by racialist scholars (the Bell Curve n other nonsense) that black men are inferior. They are apparently born cowards, so stupid they can't even get organized crime right.

Now if racism was a mental disorder, could it effect blacks too? I mean the anti-black kind. If that's true then the disorder would be seen to be rampant among black Americans.

CNu said...

lol,

Good but doesn't connect with anyone born after 1980.

You mean the same ignant element that doesn't get with science, technology, engineering, math, instrumental music, or parental investment?

Strictly expendable...,

That despite having obviously read extensively on the subject that his arguments always rest upon the conclusions derived by racialist scholars

lol, even a broken clock is right twice a day, but seriously, stick with the little green men staymad and google up the difference between correlation and causation.

If you have an explanation for the epidemic lack of collective organization and individual competence - please, by all means the floor is yours.

If not, then don't poke your lip out because the unattractive shoe just so happens to fit your club foot.

nomad said...

'If not, then don't poke your lip out because the unattractive shoe just so happens to fit your club foot.'

u mean fit like dis?

'arguments always rest upon the conclusions derived by racialist scholars'

rotflmbao

Bruto Alto said...

"You mean the same ignant element that doesn't get with science, technology, engineering, math, instrumental music, or parental investment?"

That's as silly as your earlier claims. I could throw around fake facts too but calling out your crazy rants take their toll. Your rejection in college still fills you. Your self hate springs from black people questioning your "Blackness" Put on your big boy pants and join the really conversation.

Frank TALKER said...

The answer is obviously Yes. But it is already there implicitly under Paranoia and Schizophrenia.

CNu said...

That's as silly as your earlier claims. I could throw around fake facts too but calling out your crazy rants take their toll. Your rejection in college still fills you. Your self hate springs from black people questioning your "Blackness" Put on your big boy pants and join the really conversation.

rotflmbao@black people questioning my blackness.

priceless.comedy.gold...,