Sunday, December 18, 2005

Racism and Mental Health

I found this book today, and while looking for something entirely different. But given the recent controversy over racism's consideration as an official mental illness and the Sydney Riots, I thought this was very appropriate. I hope others see this.

Racism and Mental Health
Charles V. Willie
Bernard M. Kramer
Bertram S. Brown
@1973, University of Pittsburgh Press

The forward of the book reads that "discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex, and national origin interferes with opportunities for individual expression by some and blinds others to their normal obligations. There is no health in a society afflicted by racism and discrimination."

In the chapter "Racism and Mental Health as a Field of Thought and Action" Bernard Kramer states that "mental health professional react in one manner to racism in general and in other to racism in mental health. They tend to finesse the question of race." He contends that mental health has ignored or underplayed racial aspects of the field, and gives examples to demonstrate this, pointing to a then-widely-used textbook in the field and stating that of 1,631 pages, not one concerns the topic of race or racism. He presents other evidence as well.

The book also presents a kind of history of racism and mental health and provides "definitions of mental disorder in a racist society." Before I elaborate on that, I must present what the authors give as "the essence of racism," which "lies in a relatively constant pattern of prejudice and discrimination between one party who is idealized and favored and another who is devalued and exploited in a common relationship" (p.61).

That is in a racist relationship there can't be an equality of roles, and has not been -- they basically state that relationships between whites and people of color have been imbalanced. They also go on to give other examples of similar relationships: male and female, and management and labor. "When racism is defined this broadly," Mr. Pinderhughes writes," it can be viewed as a characteristic of human nature that may be employed for constructive or destructive purposes.

The Negative Impact of Racism on African American Mental Health

The authors discuss how a declining yet historic fear among African Americans regarding seeking psychiatric treatment for the impact of racism may result in paranoid social behavior.

There is one chapter called "Racism and the Mental Heath of White Americans" which suggests that it's a form of paranoia, where a person believes that the lesser group either receives a special benefit, or is lazy, or will kill them, and so on. Thomas Pettigrew writes that "the highly prejudiced less often possess positive mental health than others," (p.292) and that there's a relationship between mental health and authoritarianism such that "it may not be possible to manifest an extreme degree of authoritarianism without being psychologically maladjusted."

The point of this is that racism has been linked to negative mental health for several decades -- it's not as new as the recent news would suggest. But considering the wealth of date and evidence, it is amazing that racism still is not officially considered a mental illness.