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?