Saturday, December 10, 2005

"I don't think racism is a mental illness, and that's because 100 percent of people are racist,"

...said Dr. Paul Fink, in WAPO ("Psychiatry Ponders Whether Extreme Bias Can Be an Illness").
"If you have a diagnostic category that fits 100 percent of people, it's not a diagnostic category."
We already have diagnostic categories for delusions, obsessions, anxiety, phobias, and depression. Do we need a separate category for "pathological bias?" Would it change our approach to these patients? Would their treatment be any different? Should we be doing research to find out? Personally, I don't buy this, but is that just my prejudice?

What do you think?

8 Comments:

Blogger Fallen Angels said...

I don't buy it either. "If you have a diagnostic category that fits 100 percent of people, it's not a diagnostic category." I don't believe it DOES fit 100% of people; a large percentage, perhaps, but not 100%.

Perhaps it is your prejudice, and mine also, but as I just recently learned in Sociology, prejudice and extreme bias/racism are not the same thing. Prejudice can be negative or positive (ie. I believe that college students have a better chance of moving up in the world...positive prejudice). Racism is ALWAYS negative.

Sera

12:13 PM  
Blogger Zennie Abraham said...

I do think that racism is a mental illness, and I'm glad the psychiatric community -- or some in it -- are begining to look at it this way.

If there's some resistance to this within the community -- as is the case with Dr. Paul Fink -- it may be because they don't want their own racist thoughts to be called into question.

Look, anytime a person avoids sitting next to you on a train because you're black and male -- even when you're wearing a suit -- that's certainly a mental problem on the part of the person.

I once tried this as an experiment on BART's (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Concord-Bay Point line in 1995. I got on at Civic Center during rush hour, and sat down.

The seat next to me remained empty for the next four stops before the train reached the point where it goes under the waters of the SF Bay. This, even as the train was getting crowded with workers, mostly white. I got off at Embarcadero, the last SF stop, back tracked (got on a train going back to Civic Center, and did the same thing six times. Only once was my seat occupied, and that was by a white man.

I've noticed that as blacks have become more part of the work force in downtown SF, that problem has occurred less and less -- but it still does happen.

This has terrible impacts on the self-esteem of the people who have to deal with the behavior. In my case, my defense mechanism has been to believe that I was far more intelligent than the people who acted that way, and therefore didn't need their company. But to be ostracized for being black -- for something you not only have no control over, but like being -- is purely mentally unhealthy.


Why?

Think about the extra and unncessary energy racist people spend just to avoid people who are different. Think about the women in modern society who remain unmmarried because they can't find a person within a certain racial group, when the man best for them may not be "the right color."

A woman friend, white, once told me about the "Angry White Woman" problem in San Francisco, because if they met someone who was white and male, that person may be Gay, or married, and then the woman didn't want to really date anyone who was Black or Asian. So, she makes herself unhappy and almost suicidally depressed.

All of this because of a racial / ethnic fear.

Now, you're going to tell me that's mentally healthy? Ha!

3:31 PM  
Blogger shrinkette said...

No, it's not mentally healthy. But we already have categories for unreasonable fears and avoidance, for fixed false beliefs, for anxiety, for personality disorders, and for suicidal depression. Is the extreme bias an independent "disease," or might it indicate something else, something deeper?

Interesting, how this article has stimulated this discussion...

5:43 PM  
Blogger Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Hmmm. I've met at least one person whose prejudice against black men did sound a whole lot like a fixed paranoid delusion (this was in a volunteer job where I encountered a lot of people with odd delusions, paranoid or otherwise, and the way she would flip into irrational beliefs about black men really was very similar to the delusions some of the others had on other subjects).

8:16 PM  
Blogger Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Provocative topic. It seems to me that racism is like a character disorder.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Joel said...

Been thinking about this ever since I saw it on my first visit to your blog.

It's a tough call. I doubt that it is due to an organic brain dysfunction. On the other hand, as Dr. Serani points out, it has all the intransigence of a personality disorder in some cases. Those who suffer the worst don't want to give up their beliefs.

Now, to take another tack with this: why isn't there a personality disorder for those who obessively want to collect large amounts of money and defend that at all costs?

1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We all have prejudices and biases. There is no way to be objective. Humans are subjective creatures.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

I spent the week thinking about this issue and wrote them down here:

http://paxnortona.notfrisco2.com/?p=3610

2:36 PM  

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