Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Is Extreme Racism a Mental Illness?

"Yes. It can be a delusional symptom of psychotic disorders."
Alvin F. Poussaint

"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." Alvin F. Poussaint
According to US-American psychiatrist Alvin Francis Poussaint, perceiving extreme racism as not pathologic means lending it legitimacy. He calls it a delusional symptom as (extreme) racists seek to resolve their internal conflicts by scapegoating a whole group of people. Poussaint also points out positive correlations between extreme prejudice and indicators of psychopathology and mentions the danger of violence (via).  It is unclear how "extreme racism" is operationalised. In addition, if Poussaint is right (and there is something logical about seeing racism as a disorder), legal consequences need to be considered if extreme racism is classified as a mental disorder. In 1981, for instance, a white man killed his Chinese American neigbhour and constructed his defense on his "anxiety neurosis" (he seriously claimed to be afraid of "Orientals" and their martial arts capabilities). There have been attempts to classify racism as a mental illness (e.g. prejudice personality, intolerant personality disorder, pathological bias) for decades. Individualising racism completely may make it more difficult to tackle social inequalities (via). On the other hand, racism could perhaps be made less acceptable by labelling it as a disorder, as "not normal" in a normative sense... More discussion is needed.
"Examining racism’s shifting definition and subsequent treatment as cause and consequence of mental illness asks that we consider what psychologist Steven Bartlett terms the “social consequences of disease labeling.” Framing racism as a mental illness — and therefore an individual problem to be tackled psychologically — makes it harder for policymakers create effective policies to combat everyday social and political inequalities." W. Carson Byrd & James M. Thomas 
"As a clinical psychiatrist, I have treated several patients who projected their own unacceptable behavior and fears onto ethnic minorities, scapegoating them for society's problems. Their strong racist feelings, which were tied to fixed belief systems impervious to reality checks, were symptoms of serious mental dysfunction. When these patients became more aware of their own problems, they grew less paranoid—and less prejudiced." Alvin F. Poussaint

"To be suspicious of a man because of the color of his skin, the texture of his hair, his place of origin, the way he speaks the language, or the area in which he lives, is to be paranoid."
Earle L. Biassey, 1972

Sharon Tate, 26 and eight months pregnant, was one of the nine victims brutally killed by the Manson Family. The slaughtering was orchestrated by Charles Manson, "one of the most virulent racists that ever walked the planet", a psychopath with a swastika etched into his forehead. In order to incite the "race war" he was tired of waiting for, he ordered his followers to carry out the murders leaving words used by black power groups (which his devotees did with the blood of the victims). His followers did as they were told since otherwise they themselves would have been butchered by the remaining blacks who would finally win as they were "essentially savages" (via).
"Black men, thus deprived of the white women whom the political changes of the 1960s had made sexually available to them, would be without an outlet for their frustrations and would lash out in violent crimes against whites. A resultant murderous rampage against blacks by frightened whites would then be exploited by militant blacks to provoke an internecine war of near-extermination between racist and non-racist whites over blacks' treatment. Then the militant blacks would arise to sneakily finish off the few whites they would know to have survived; indeed, they would kill off all non-blacks.In this holocaust, the members of the enlarged Family would have little to fear; they would wait out the war in a secret city that was underneath Death Valley that they would reach through a hole in the ground. As the only actual remaining whites upon the race war's true conclusion, they would emerge from underground to rule the now-satisfied blacks, who, as the vision went, would be incapable of running the world. At that point, Manson "would scratch [the black man's] fuzzy head and kick him in the butt and tell him to go pick the cotton and go be a good nigger"." (via)
"His overriding fantasy was of a race war. He was a loser who would become a winner, and he would do it through white supremacy. The thing he called Helter-Skelter would ignite this war. This was the rationale for the slayings. It was a holy war then against the rich and the powerful. The racial aspects seem to me to be forgotten by those who sought to understand him and who gave him the attention he craved." Suzanne Moore

- Biassey, E. L. (1972). Paranoia and Racism in the United States. Journal of the National Medical Association, 64(4), 353-358.
- Poussaint, A. F. (2002). Is Extreme Racism a Mental Illness? Western Journal of Medicine, 176(1), 4.
- photographs of Sharon Tate (1943-1969) via and via and via and via


  1. Wow. Thanks for this, again!

  2. Thank you!

  3. interesting! thank you!

  4. Many thanks for your highly appreciated feedback, Karen, Abbie, Jana, and Kenneth!