The Failure to Acknowledge Racism as a Mental Illness in America

I wrote How America Spreads the Disease that is Racism by not Confronting Racist Family Members and Friends, because I felt a deep responsibility as a mental health practitioner to help people understand that racism is not just an ideology, but should be considered a mental illness.

There have been over 1 million views since I wrote the article and it has taught me something very important — Americans are ready for a new way to look at racism. They are eager to do their part to stop this societal plague in the wake of the Charlottesville incident. Like me, they also feel responsible for this epidemic, because it has been a disease that has been allowed to incubate inside themselves, their families, and friends — without treatment.

Prior to writing this article, I performed a considerable amount of academic research on the concept of racism as a mental illness. What I discovered was that the idea of racism as a mental illness is not a new concept; in fact, it has existed within the psychological community for nearly a century.

In the aftermath of World War II, mental health practitioners studied racist Nazis in an attempt to prevent another Holocaust.

In 1969, a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Alvin Poussaint MD, became a professor at Harvard Medical School where he focused his studies on racism as a mental issue. In 2002, he wrote in the Western Journal of Medicine that extreme racism is a delusional form of psychotic disorders.

Most recently, Carl C. Bell and Edward Dunbar published a chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Personality Disorders in 2013 titled “Racism and Pathological Bias as a Co-Occuring Problem in Diagnosis and Assessment”. Like their predecessors, they also saw the connection between racism and mental health.

Despite all of the work that has been done to address racism as a medical problem, the American Psychological Association (APA) refuses to include racism anywhere in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), because they see racism as a social and behavioral norm in America.

The last time that racism was considered a normal behavior in America was prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. People began to realize that racism was an unhealthy and abnormal behavior in society — this is why the laws were changed in the first place. The APA is 53 years behind the times.

It is 2017, and even though we have laws in place to protect the American people from racial discrimination, we are still faced with this epidemic. As Americans, if we want to see racism eliminated, we need to stop seeing it as a normal psychological behavior. If history has taught us anything, it is that if the medical establishment fails to acknowledge racism as a mental illness — innocent people die.