Thursday, 24 September 2020

The Problem with Suggesting that Racism is Caused by ‘Mental Illness’

If you haven’t heard news of Roseanne’s Tweet about Valerie Jarret (a black woman born in Iran who served as   Barrack Obama’s senior advisor)… Well, then you’re probably not reading roseanne newthis either. A brief summary:

On May 29, Roseanne Barr Tweeted the following:

Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.

There was immediate criticism following the Tweet calling out Roseanne for being racist. But, not long after, a number of people also began to rush to Roseanne’s defense, suggesting that her bigoted statements were the result of her “mental illness”.

Now, in fairness to Roseanne, to call her a ‘racist’ as if racism is rare and existing only in a small group of people is off track. In reality, racism is a systemic issue that is about prejudice plus power and the voices and experiences that are centered and prioritized in society. In some ways, Roseanne’s words said less about her than they did about where we are at as a country right now. Yet, none of that excuses her bigoted remarks, and the problems with asserting that racism is the product of psychiatric diagnosis are many. They include:

  • It’s another excuse for participating in bigoted behavior and racist systems without personal accountability
  • It re-enforces the idea that people with psychiatric diagnoses cannot be held responsible for their actions
  • It misses the mark on the real history of the intersection between psychiatry and racism (including that individuals of color are much more likely to be given more severe psychiatric diagnoses and subjected to forced treatment)

Ultimately, we do not need another excuse to make space for systemic racism in our society, nor do we need additional messages circulating that people with psychiatric histories are so “out of control”. Instead, we would be much better served by making space to support one another through our darkest moments, while still holding high expectations that we treat each other with basic respect, and that we work together to undo all systemic oppressions that exist around us.

For more on this topic, read ‘Dear Roseanne, The Blood is At Your Doorstep’ by Sera Davidow by clicking here!!




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