Marion Brothers

Marion Brothers

Monday, May 14, 2007

Are Allegations of Racism Overused?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Some people feel like allegations of racism is overly used and exploited by people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to upset the black masses. There is the hidden assumption that if Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton did not stir up so much controversy over racism, people will normally be pacified.

Some people believe that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are using controversies to shakedown corporate executives. But then I ask: What does all that have to do with color-blind people like me?

Even for people who are above the fray, the mere mention of racism ignites a gut-wrenching feeling; and rightfully so, because it is a word that excites a neurological trigger to our emotions. We are still a racially sensitive society.

We have recently seen a series of “incidental Freudian slip of the tongue” by public personalities. Out comes bigotry on one side of the mouth and denial of racism on the other.

So, I asked, Has America gone mad in race obsessions?

The best answer comes from Francis Holland in Brazil. He says “Yes”, when madness is defined as a psychological disorder.

The American Psychiatric Association recognizes that racism and racial discrimination adversely affect mental health by diminishing the victim’s self-image, confidence and optimal mental functioning. Racism also renders the perpetrator unprepared for the 21st century society that is becoming increasingly multicultural and global. (“Resolution Against Racism and Racial Discrimination and Their Adverse Impacts on Mental Health, prepared by the Committee of Black Psychiatrists of the Council of Minority and Health Disparities, approved by the Board of Trustees, July 2006)

It is not a debate whether racism exists or not. Everyone concedes that it does. But it seems that no one can find this disease of themselves in the mirror. And, therefore, it presents itself as a form of mass psychosis.

Clinical experience informs us that racism may be a manifestation of a delusional process, a consequence of anxiety, or a feature of an individual’s personality dynamics. However, racism may also be learned behavior that has no relationship to individual psychopathology… More psychological interpretations of racism emphasize self-aggrandizement, entitlement and degradation as character defects needed to falsely bolster the perpetrator’s poor concept of self at the expense of his or her victims. Some clinicians have hypothesized that racism and racist behavior and beliefs may in some cases constitute a mental disorder for which treatment is indicated. (A Research Agenda for DSM V, Washington, D.C., American Psychiatric Press, Inc., 2002)

As for the victims of racism, in a 10-year clinical study measuring blood pressure reactions and acute psychological stress, a mounting body of scientific evidence demonstrates impairments of physical and mental functioning when an individual is subjected to racism… Even populations that have been victims of racism may unconsciously take on the same beliefs as that of the perpetrator, i.e. the victimized population affects its own brand of inferior thinking and/or behavior on itself, making choices and behaving in self-destructive ways that conform to negative stereotypes. (“Resolution Against Racism and Racial Discrimination and Their Adverse Impacts on Mental Health”)

There is correlation and direct causal relationship between self-destructive behavior and “learned and conditioned” patterns instituted by machination of (inadvertent?) racism.

The other interesting observation is the clinical behavior of the racist (as a subject). In this, psychologists recognizes the racist inability to see him or herself, that such prognosis should be “treated” opens up a whole new dimension and demand for more “diversity” programs and “sensitivity” training… and for many, some ADHD medication.

As for the psychological effect upon the African-American victim of racism, besides replicating negative self-images, self-destructive behavior, self-alienation, it induces a self-delusional ideation of victimization. Finally, that is to say, that everything is not racially offensive.


  1. Francis turned me on to this theory a while back. It sounds plausible, and like a derivation of The work of Francis Cress Welsing and Neely Fuller. But are there really enough psychoactive drugs in this whole world to treat every white person who has unconscious latent white supremacy tendencies?

  2. I'm sure the pharmceutical companies would love it... just another case of altism or ADHD... and another 100 billion. But you know just about how far such diagnosis will go. No further than the mirror.

  3. Exodus Mentality: We don't have enough dentists to go around, but that doesn't mean we don't have cavities. For some reason, we always want to look at the policy implications of considering ECEIBD a disease before answering the much easier question: "Is it a mental disorder or isn't it?"

    If we simply look at the DSM-IV and consider how many features of "ECEIBD" are also defining symptoms of other conditions that ARE already recognized, we see that they only reason for refusing the recognize this as a disease are reasons based in the denial of the disease itself, just like denial is a part of alcoholism, drug abuse and manic depression.

    We don't know that medication is the best treatment for mild, moderate and severe CEIBD, because no one has studied it to find out what works. But, if there's someone on the streets today who cannot control his desire to insult or assault me - be it due to schizophrenia or ECEIBD, I welcome any medication regimen for that person that may keep me safe and keep that person out of jail.

  4. Eddie, racism's contribution to poor health, poor performance in school and careers are certainly issues we must better deal with. I am not color blind but will treat people with dignety and respect reagrdless of race or postion. However when confrounted with white supremacy, I react poorly.Thank you for compelling insight

  5. First, I do not buy into the racism as mental illness theory. I do like this statement:

    "It is not a debate whether racism exists or not. Everyone concedes that it does. But it seems that no one can find this disease of themselves in the mirror. And, therefore, it presents itself as a form of mass psychosis."

    That's a great point. However I think that's true more on an allegorical as opposed to clinical level. I find more interesting the bigger question of "are allegations of racism overused?"

    There's a First Amendment sense in which allegations (or for that matter expressions) of racism can't be "overused," though their propriety and usefulness may be debated, because everyone gets to decide for themselves whether making such allegations is just, reasonable, or helpful.

    For me, the answer depends on one's goals.

    In Texas, the black community makes up 11% of the total population. So bottom line, come hell or high water, for the black community to accomplish anything politically it must convince some percentage of white folks to support the agenda. That means if you're looking for concrete change in the laws that govern us, it might be counterproductive to overuse racism allegations, or else wise to focus only on extreme examples, or to frame arguments in terms of "institutional" instead of the ephemeral, personal racism, which like a vampire cannot be seen in the mirror and therefore is prone to be disbelieved.

    OTOH, I know many people who believe that "speaking truth to power" is worth sacrificing a short-term political agenda, and for them, if they believe the allegations are true, it would be wrong within their belief system not to speak out.

    Personally, I'm an incrementalist, and think that reframing race issues away from the same, tired dynamics might help progressives get more accomplished. But that approach isn't for everybody and I've been at this long enough to respect those who disagree.

    You're right about one thing, Eddie - Big Pharma would LOVE such a diagnosis to be approved.

  6. Thanks James and Grits for your insights. James admits that he reacts poorly to racism... I would imagine his "fuse" on patience is not as long as mine. I appreciate how Gritsforbreakfast watches the Texas legislature. I would imagine Grits knows Texas well enough to know that allegations of racism can become a stumbling block in negotiations in race related matters. Even the hardhearted can be won over with logics and reasons rather than by accusation of a mental disorder he or she cannot see or acknowledge. It takes a willing patient to go on meds for a psychological disorder called "racism". In Texas, you may as well bring your six-shooter to the party, 'cause it ain't happening. Any volunteers? Thought so.