Mare, thank you for your reasoned response. Your comments have given me food for thought, thanks. I write here to respond in kindness and in kind.
There were two things about your last comment that I wanted to address. First, mental illness, as you put it is something we’re born with. I disagree with you in part there. Yes, there are genetic dispositions for mental illness, and in that sense, people can be born with mental illness. But there are other forms of mental illness that are not genetic.
When I speak of racism as a mental illness, I frame it as an addiction. I have elaborated at length here:
It’s time to start thinking of racism as an addiction: a preventable, progressive and fatal…
Here’s an interesting story about a couple in Georgia who were sentenced to a combined 35 years in prison for…
It’s an older story, but it shows that I’ve been considering this line of thinking for a long time. Framing racism as a mental illness is to some, a novel idea. If you read the article, you’ll see my arguments for such framing.
The second item I wanted to address is the stigma of mental illness. I think that framing racism as an addiction, rather than just mental illness renders racism as a disability. Racism is an inability, a lack of capacity, to live with others in peace, on the basis of the color of their skin, to state it bluntly. It is a skills deficit in one sense, and my reading of your last comment above suggests that you might find agreement with my assessment.
On the other hand, racism is an addiction in the sense of obsession. People who are racist and living around people of color are obsessed with people of color. The couple cited in my article are proof of that. In nearly every example I can recall of violence on the part of racists against people of color, I see evidence of obsession, of constantly thinking of the other, of actively hating the other. Hate is an obsession.
Framing racism as a disability, as an addiction, could be like framing alcoholism as an addiction, and a disability. The stigma that you warn of, was removed from alcoholism so that people could get the help they needed to stop hurting themselves. Large employers now have Employee Assistance Programs so that functional addicts can get help before they lose everything, without judgement, without stigma. Why can’t we do the same thing for racists?
By reframing racism as an addiction, a form of mental illness, we remove the idea that racist people are morally bankrupt, and that they can recover. This is a distinction from the act and the person. Alcoholism can make people morally bankrupt, as the Big Book of AA states. But recovery from alcoholism is recovery from that moral bankruptcy. The people aren’t bad, their actions are. Forgive them for they know not what they do. And as you have noted, with the right help, former racists found the compassionate help they needed to stop their addiction.
If there is a stigma around a mental illness, then it is up to us to remove it. We’ve done just that with many different forms of mental illness like autism, addiction and compulsive diseases like OCD. I see no reason why we cannot do the same thing with racism. It is just a matter of effort and time. With the right attitude, persistence and enough time, racism can be eliminated, totally and completely. I agree with you on that point, too.