The new Oxford Handbook of Personality Disorders, due for publication in August 2012, will include a chapter on “racism and pathological bias as a co-occurring problem in diagnosis and assessment.” The Oxford Handbook of Personality Disorders is a leading handbook that provides information concerning the diagnosis, assessment, construct validity, etiology, pathology, and treatment of personality disorders.
Noliwe Rooks, associate director of the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, wrote an op-ed for TIME and she says classifying racism as an illness is troubling:
Thinking of any form of racism as an illness is very troubling. Historically, psychiatrists, psychologists, the medical establishment and lay people have all agreed that the roots of racism are cultural or societal — a set of beliefs and behaviors that are learned and, as a result, can be unlearned. If it were to ever be declared an illness that can be treated, racists would no longer be legally or ethically responsible for their actions. Just imagine it: a medical justification for discriminating against, or even killing, those of another race.
Dr. Carl C. Bell, the coauthor of the Oxford University Press chapter and a member of the APA is, nonetheless, convinced that some forms of racism are a mental illness. He notes that many of his colleagues are “concerned about having the conversation about racism and mental illness because, for them, it is akin to medicalizing a social problem.” He thinks there is some validity to those concerns but believes that while “95-98% of racist behavior is socially, culturally or politically determined, there is still a sliver of racist behavior that may be based on psychopathology.”
Rooks goes on to point out black men in the U.S. with no criminal records, solid work histories, and college degrees, fare no better on the job market than do white men with less education who have been newly released from prison.
The question Rooks has: Does declaring racism an illness in any way remedy, address, or lead us toward a solution for this inequity?