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Painted Brain | Racism Is Not A Mental Illness
We're bridging communities and changing the conversation about mental illness using arts and media.
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Racism is not a mental illness

Racism is NOT a Mental Illness

     Racism is not a mental illness.  Racism is a moral illness.  Racism is a process of denial and projection, it is taking your own internal badness, the badness we all know and feel potentially inside us, and denying it, attributing it to another.

Dave Leon – Co-founder and executive director, Painted Brain

Moral illness is doing or acting in a way that is intentionally and carelessly hurtful to others.

Mental illness is an unwanted mental experience that won’t go away simply because you want it to.

Moral Versus Mental Illness

We’re human, constantly harming one another, even the well-intentioned and kindest among us.  When we aren’t hurting others we’re either hurting ourselves to avoid hurting others or living blissfully isolated from everyone else.  When we interact with others, we inevitably hurt them.

Fortunately, this is only one of the many things we do to and for each other as social creatures.  Being mentally healthy means recognizing our flaws and pettiness and the ways in which we fail to live up to our own expectations without becoming blocked or weighed down by the recognition.

Moral illness is thinking,

“I am flawless, and if you are unable to see that, then I will force you to understand. See how many people believe as I do? You should, too. You can agree with me or get the hell out of my way.  We, the like-minded, are the perfect ones, and if it wasn’t for the others (you know who they are) things would run smoothly and we could all rest easy in our perfection.  It’s those others who stand in our way, trying to take what we have, so come on! Let’s unite against them!”

Moral illness is thinking you’re intrinsically superior, inherently better than someone else.  Moral illness is a lack of concern for the consequences of your actions.

Racism denies individuality.

It’s reductive and simplifying.

It disengages from the complexity of reality itself.

It’s expedient and lazy.

It’s accepting what you are told without questioning the source or intention or wisdom of the teller.

Racism is a mental failure, a copout, not an illness.

While mental illness is an unwanted mental experience that won’t go away simply because you want it to, racism is a choice to ignore the impact of your preconceived notions and retreat from the opportunity to engage with the wondrous complexity of the world around you.

Mental illness is not the same as moral illness.

Mental illness does not have a morality any more than cancer does.  People with mental illness can be harmful to other people.

So can people with cancer.

Moral illnesses cause more suffering in the world than mental illness.

Moral illness is acting out on our own fears, the fears we have about ourselves. It is to say:

“My life has no meaning, I don’t have any of the things I want or feel that I deserve, I feel hopeless and defeated and weak because of it, but if I put more thought and effort into my anger toward others, those I conveniently blame for my unsatisfied wants and desires, then I can spend less time with my own pain and absolve myself of the responsibility to change.”

The world is so complex, it boggles the mind.  Throughout human history, those in power enhance and strengthen their position by turning one group against another, shirking their responsibility as leaders to address the grievances of their subjects.

There were moments in American history when the ideals of an informed populace involved in the intelligent, complicated challenge of self-governance were moving toward reality.

Our definitive American decision that separate is not equal coincided with a period of tremendous economic growth and investment in infrastructure and education.  The American commitment to providing quality education to all has been slowly eroding ever since we decided that we all had an equal right to it.

The world has grown more complex as education has weakened, leaving millions susceptible to the temptation of settling for easy answers.  After all, it’s far easier to blame immigrants than to try to understand the subtle interplay between global economic forces, a hobbled welfare system, a dramatically shifting job market, and an education system barely attuned to any of this.

Racism is not a mental illness.  Racism is an easy answer to vexing, terrifying problems.  Racism is not a mental illness, it is a moral illness.

Mental illness is not a moral illness, it is only an illness.

Dave Leon is the founder/director of Painted Brain and a frequent contributor to Painted Brain News




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Leave A Reply
  1. Avatar
    February 13, 2017, 4:04 pm

    Is Mr. Leon a board certified Ph.d. psychiatrist?

    • Avatar
      February 15, 2017, 2:22 am

      No, LCSW.

      Painted Brain Team


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