Is White Supremacy a Social Psychopathology?

 What must be done to really understand the system of racism/white supremacy is to define what it is and isn't. 
What must be done to really understand the system of racism/white supremacy is to define what it is and isn't. 

In a previous blog article entitled 'You'll Be Shocked To Find Out Who Has Been Killing Cops Around America' I broke down white supremacy by analyzing it based on what are known as the 4 D's of abnormality - deviance, dysfunction, distress and danger. White supremacy, and most definitely conscious white supremacy (but not excluded to unconscious racism), I argued fits the view of it being considered an abnormality. Specifically, I called it a type of pathological insanity. Perhaps not so much on a microscale, but moreso on a macroscale.  I gave several examples to back this up and believe there are many more, however I do think the understanding of this concept on a socio-cultural level is more important than on a medical level. I don't believe white supremacy can be ended by giving its adherents drugs.

An article was written on the website run by the African-American Intellectual History Society recently that I'd like to respond to. The article wasn't written as a response to my previous article, but touches on the same subject. I'd say much of what's in the article I agree with, but there is a tad bit of pushback I have that I'd like to share with my audience.

The subtext was palpable: racism is little more than a behavior-based psychopathology that discloses itself in discrete manifestations of bigotry, prejudice, and misunderstanding. According to such a construction, racism can only be treated with medical intervention. Racial inequity, therefore, is simply the sum of the actions of individual bigots and racial justice can be achieved by “curing” those individuals.

The presumption that one can eliminate racism by snuffing out a few “bad apples” misses the mark. In fact, such a paradigm misdiagnoses the systemic and ideological production of race itself which is squarely centered in white supremacy.

— 'White Supremacy is Not an Illness,' Petrella and Gomer - African American Intellectual History Society

The pathology of white supremacy  manifests itself through racialized laws, not through internal/external medical conditions that can be treated with prescription drugs. So in that sense I agree with the above statement that looking at it in that way is missing the point. In my previous blog article that I linked to above I was careful not to make that argument. I do believe however that racial inequity comes about as a result of individual bigotry. In the sense that the systematic lack of fairness and justice that is foundational to American life was propped up originally, and is maintained by, individual bigots - white supremacists. 

When enough of these individual racists are joined together politically and economically, what was once an individual case-by-case issue, is transformed into a collectivist and group-centered phenomenon. This is what allows racially-problematic policies like the Drug War to come into existence. 

The “racism as disease” paradigm only seems to make sense if one were also to believe that racism is 1) a matter of (mis)recognition and (mis)perception meted out in an apolitical and behaviorist colorblind present; 2) an unfortunate holdover from slavery, a past mistake that has yet to be rectified; and 3) an anomaly; a radical deviation from the telos of dominant political institutions and practices.

— 'White Supremacy is Not an Illness,' Petrella and Gomer - African American Intellectual History Society

So from my perspective racism isn't so much a medical disease (as I wrote above) as much as it is a mental abnormality - a dysfunction in logic that shows signs of a psycho-pathology. I do believe we should be careful not to displace criticisms of the systematic nature of white supremacy, and conversely  the overly apologetic and at times  dismissive discussion around white privilege, and place it on individuals who simply make bad decisions.

Structural racism is a byproduct of individual racism and bigotry - I don't believe one exists without the other when the individual bigots are members of the dominant society and in positions of power. Positions of power that can be used to turn ones individual, mental white supremacy into material reality. To postulate that you can have one without the other is to suggest that the system of white supremacy essentially created itself and exists outside of individual racial animus. No, racists conspired with each other hundreds of years ago to create structural racism - a caste system that would propel their whiteness above blackness (at least in their eyes and according to their system of hatred). Structural racism doesn't exist without individuals bigots contributing to its rise. The same has held true down to today.  Individual white supremacists get into positions of power and maintain systematic white supremacy because it benefits them.

This is why white supremacy is dysfunctional in any democratic setting where individuals liberties and freedoms exist. As a system, white supremacy perverts the whole concept of freedom.

White supremacy, however, is unexplainable by the anomaly thesis. In School Desegregation (1984) scholar Jennifer Hochschild rightly argues that “racism is not simply an excrescence on a fundamentally healthy liberal democratic body…Liberal democracy and racism in the U.S. are historically, even inherently, reinforcing; American society as we know it exists only because of its foundation in racially based slavery, and it thrives only because racial discrimination continues. The apparent anomaly is an actual symbiosis.” White supremacy is not an unfortunate, anomalous stain on an otherwise virginal tapestry of democracy but rather, to paraphrase Hannah Arendt, it’s terribly, terrifyingly normal.

In fact, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has for decades admitted that racial injustice is too normal to be considered a mental illness or a disease. In 1969, a group of black psychiatrists urged the organization to acknowledge that racism is the “major mental health problem of this country” and to include extreme bigotry as a recognized mental illness in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM). Though the APA endorsed the “general spirit of reform and redress of racial inequities in American psychiatry” it rejected the psychiatrists’ desire to classify extreme bigotry as a mental illness. In order for racism to be considered a mental illness, the APA declared, racism must deviate from normative behavior. Because racism is ubiquitous, it could not constitute a mental illness. The APA used this rationale to keep racism out of the DSM in 1980, 1987, 1994, and 2013.

— 'White Supremacy is Not an Illness,' Petrella and Gomer - African American Intellectual History Society

Here's the thing, racism/white supremacy has been normalized. There's been an attempt post-Civil Rights to undo this normalization, but the impact is debatable. Before the rise of Donald Trump it was believed that open racism was no longer socially-acceptable, but even that assumption must now be questioned. Other aspects of racism/white supremacy, outside of social relations, that manifest itself economically and politically have barely been addressed at all.

For instance Republicans ran a politically white supremacist 'Southern strategy' for decades post-Civil Rights before admitting it was racist all along. However the question is, is the normalcy of white supremacy in America normal to the human psyche? Are folks born racist or is racism taught by parents, guardians, friends, the internet or other social environs?

I make the argument that white supremacy has been normalized since the slavery era and at times codified in laws...but it is not a normal state of mind. I don't believe people are born racist with hatred in their hearts. I believe people are indoctrinated into a pathologically mental social construct based upon racial dominance at a very young age. A system designed by white supremacists and maintained by suspected white supremacists seeking to maintain a debunked, scientifically-ignorant system of racial manipulation and control.

I disagree with the American Psychiatric Association (A.P.A.). I don't believe racial injustice is naturally normal. As I wrote above, it is abnormal to the human condition. We can't confuse something being naturally normal to the human condition with an abnormal system that has been normalized. I would go so far as to say the A.P.A. is simply protecting the sizable minority of the white community from being labeled as potentially psychotic. Now perhaps the A.P.A. was using the word normal in the sense that American life has defined so heavily by racial caste back in the 1960's...and visibly so. Even if one were to give them the benefit of the doubt on that, that wouldn't still be the case today. Surely when, as I wrote already, open racism is now looked down upon by society. So the fact that they've essentially maintained the same argument until today has to be seen as problematic.

You can view white supremacy as a mental abnormality without denying the literal mechanics of systematic white supremacy if you understand a few keys concepts.

  1. White supremacy is not a normal state of mind a person is born with at birth. It is a caste system that people are indoctrinated into. A social construct.
  2. White supremacy fits the 4 D's associated with identifying a potential psychopath. Only the psychopathy here is ideological, NOT medical. The cure isn't medicine, it's reparations! The solution has to fit the problem.
  3. White supremacy isn't a medical disease, it's a social disease based on a social construct - a provably false social construct that is still believed denying logic and reality.

What is the definition of insanity again? If doing something over and over again and expecting a different result is insane, then what is clinging to a belief over and over again that has been debunked over and over again and expecting to somehow, someway be right?? Anti-scientific and anti-intellectual are terms that can be used sure, but they don't come close to calling this mentality out the way it needs to be.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Thank you for this insight! When I read the article in AAIHS I had similar thoughts. The explanation of white supremacy being about power dynamics couldn’t explain poor/working-class whites that still cling to white supremacy even though within the system it maintains a distinct class division. There is no “privilege” or “asset accumulation” other than the belief that they are better because they are white. For as long as enough poor/working-class white folks cling to their whiteness, those with the economic power will be able to manipulate them into acting against their own best interests

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