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Racism as Mental Illness

Point-Counterpoint. Is extreme racism a mental illness?

Is Extreme Racism a Mental Illness? Yes. It can be a delusional symptom of psychotic disorders
By Alvin F Poussaint

Professor of psychiatry
West J Med. 2002 Jan; 176(1)


The American Psychiatric Association has never officially recognized extreme racism (as opposed to ordinary prejudice) as a mental health problem, although the issue was raised more than 30 years ago. After several racist killings in the civil rights era, a group of black psychiatrists sought to have extreme bigotry classified as a mental disorder. The association's officials rejected the recommendation, arguing that because so many Americans are racist, even extreme racism in this country is normative—a cultural problem rather than an indication of psychopathology.


The psychiatric profession's primary index for diagnosing psychiatric symptoms, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), does not include racism, prejudice, or bigotry in its text or index. [fn1] Therefore, there is currently no support for including extreme racism under any diagnostic category. This leads psychiatrists to think that it cannot and should not be treated in their patients.


To continue perceiving extreme racism as normative and not pathologic is to lend it legitimacy. Clearly, anyone who scapegoats a whole group of people and seeks to eliminate them to resolve his or her internal conflicts meets criteria for a delusional disorder, a major psychiatric illness. Read more

Is Extreme Racism a Mental Illness YES
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Is Racism an Illness? Time Magazine online

Members of the Ku Klux Klan burn a cross at a night rally in 1946. Hank Walker / Time Life Pictures / Getty

Is Racism an Illness?
Time Magazine online
By Noliwe M. Rooks @nrookie
May 04, 2012


Some psychiatrists believe that racism is a mental disorder, but medicalizing social ills gets us no closer to a solution


Is racism an illness? Psychiatrists and psychologists are debating the issue. The forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Personality Disorders, due for publication in August 2012, will include a chapter on identifying and assessing pathological bias. This is the form of racism that could lead supremacists to violently and randomly maim or massacre those of another race. Meanwhile, a team of British psychologists recently announced they had stumbled upon a secondary use for Propranolol, a commonly prescribed medication for high blood pressure. They claim it could cure implicit bias, or the form of racism that can even occur in people "with a sincere belief in equality." Scientists believe the discovery can be explained by the fact that implicit racism is fundamentally founded on fear, and the drug acts both on nerve circuits that govern automatic functions, such as heart rate, and the part of the brain involved in emotional responses. Read more

2012, 05-04-12, TIME - Is Racism an Illness
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Commentary-The Trauma of Insidious Racism-J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 37.41-4, 2009 9p
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Bigotry as Mental Illness Or Just Another Norm - NYT
January 15, 2000
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