Raising Awareness on Racism

Article excerpt

During the same week in which thousands of people of all hues waited in line at the U.S. Capitol to pay their last respects to civil rights heroine Rosa Parks, Air Force Academy football coach Fisher DeBerry said his team lost a game because "the other team had a lot more Afro-American players than we did."

Is racism a part of human nature, or is it a learned behavior that can be changed? If it can be changed, how can we as psychiatrists help?

Courage Needed for Study

The issue of racism is very complex, and such behavior is often multidetermined. I suspect that 95% of racism is learned.

Still, some forms of racist behaviors might arise out of psychopathic motivations that could range from psychosis to affective to anxiety or to personality dynamics. But psychiatry has never had the courage to pick apart and examine those dynamics out of fear of raising the question about which aspects are under its purview. Ultimately, those in our specialty fear being criticized of medicalizing a problem that has 95% of its origins in learned behavior.

Another huge problem is that when race relations are examined from a European American perspective and an African American perspective, two very different views emerge.

My experience is that if you talk to most European Americans about racism, they tend to focus on the ideal that this country holds, which affirms that a person should be "judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin." But when you talk to most African Americans about racism, they tend to focus on the reality that they have repeatedly experienced, in which they are judged by the color of their skin and subjected to microaggressions and microinsults based on stereotypic notions about their lack of capacity and status--not to mention the times in which African Americans are subjected to overt racist hostilities and violence.

Psychiatrists should stop pandering to public opinion. Before coming down on whether racism is a psychiatric issue or not, the profession should be willing to do some serious research on the issue to test my hypothesis that 95% of racism may be attributed to learned behavior, while the other 5% may be attributed to psychopathology of psychotic, affective, anxiety, or personality dynamics.

Carl C. Bell, M.D.

Chicago

Racist Personality: A Glaring Omission

The very word "racism" stirs so many conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings that most people prefer to ignore it. Unfortunately, many mental health professionals are no different. As such, it is not surprising that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals make no mention of racism.

A few years ago, during my fellowship in child psychiatry at Children's National Medical Center, Washington, the department was invited to participate in the initial pilot research for the revised version of the DSM-III. Having used the previous editions of the DSM as part of my training for 10 years prior, this universally accepted reference source seemed sorely lacking.

As we know, the DSM includes classifications for tobacco withdrawal, generalized anxiety disorder, shyness disorder, fictitious disorder, and even "unspecified mental disorder"--yet the disorder that causes people to treat other human beings with venomous hatred and ignorance, based on the learned myth/concept of superiority, has never been mentioned.

In 1979, I published the "Chains of Psychological Slavery: The Mental Illness of Racism" (Maryland: ICFP Inc., 1990). Copies have been presented to the leadership of the World Health Organization, as well as to the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association.

This effort has laid the groundwork for additional scholarly examination of this subject by others and invited a reexamination of works previously done. The ultimate goal of this effort was and continues to be to bring the DSM in line with current conditions in the world. …