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Is Racism a Form of Mental Illness?
In 2012, “pathological bias” was included in the Oxford Handbook of Personality Disorders.
Sitting across from a known racist at a family party or social event can make us uncomfortable. But chances are, that person isn’t going to go out and firebomb a black church or spray paint a swastika on a synagogue. It’s also easy to point the finger, but harder to consider our own words and actions and how they might be viewed by others. The Broadway musical Avenue Q points this out in their song, “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist.” And in fact, we may all indeed fall somewhere on the spectrum.
Though some take for granted that their “in” group is the best, there are others who completely reject any notion of prejudice, and yet display small forms of it, unwittingly. The point of the song, is that we all have presuppositions of others, be they subtle or outlandish, conscious or not, that may not be true. So run-of-the-mill racism isn’t considered a form of mental illness. But what about extreme racism?
While it isn’t in the DSM V—the manual containing all anointed psychiatric conditions, some experts believe that extreme racism should be. Oxford psychiatrists for instance did include “pathological bias” in their own version, the Oxford Handbook of Personality Disorders, last revised in 2012. Pathological bias is defined as extreme racist and supremacist views that could lead one to commit acts of violence against a person or persons of another race.
While Oxford psychiatrists regard extreme racism as a mental disorder, the APA thinks this designation may undermine personal responsibility.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) decided not to include extreme racism in the DSM V, also updated in 2012, because otherwise perfectly normal, law-abiding people in America might be implicated. The APA was also worried that if it classified racism, it would send the message that racists couldn’t control their beliefs, and so they would do little to change them.
Unfortunately, no biological causes of racism have been discovered, not for want of trying. Neuroscientists say our brain is wired to make us feel concerned or fearful toward anything in the environment that looks different. After all, over millennia, traditional hunter-gatherer societies had to worry about the raiding parties of other bands. Not only that, but thinking one’s own group superior may have aided social cohesion and survival.
Though we no longer live in such societies, we did for most of our existence on this planet. The fear of those who look, speak, or act different may be an epigenetic holdover from our ancient past. This was a survival mechanism that in the modern world became misconstrued as certain forms of prejudice.
Of course, there’s a difference between ignorance and hostile racism. Usually, experiences with different kinds of people can replace ignorance with understanding. But what about in extreme instances, such as the case of Dylann Roof, who in 2015, shot and killed nine parishioners at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina? Would his pathology have pushed him into violence, if his mind hadn’t been filled with vitriolic racism?
Most in the psychiatric community deny the idea that extreme racism in and of itself is a mental illness. But not all. Dr. Carl Bell of the University of Illinois is a psychiatry professor who believes that racism may be a disorder. He says 98% of racism is learned, but perhaps two percent may have something to do with some sort of personality deficiency. These people he gathers, project their problems onto a target, usually people from a different race. Paranoid disorder sufferers for instance might “project unacceptable feelings and ideas onto other people and groups.”
Memorial in the aftermath of the Charleston church shooting. Would mass shooters simply pick another target if racism was taken out of the equation?
Such racism is only considered pathological when it begins to interfere with a person’s day-to-day living. Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Poussaint has another point of view. The African-American scholar has been petitioning the APA since 1969 to include extreme racism in the DSM. He wrote in a 1999 New York Times article that, “Like all others who experience delusions, extreme racists do not think rationally.”
Though a debate that’s decade’s old, recent mass shootings and other tragic events have revived it, and launched a book. Historian Sander Gilman and sociologist James M. Thomas are the authors of, Are Racists Crazy? How Prejudice, Racism, and Antisemitism Became Markers of Insanity. The authors promote the idea of personal responsibility. At the beginning of the 21st century they write, a conference in France gathered around the idea that fMRI scans may be able to pinpoint racism inside the brain. So far, no dice.
Another claim is that science can develop a pill for overcoming racism. No such drug is available, nor a target for one. Despite being a personal issue, more and more scholars, journalists, and even the general public, are considering extreme racism a pathology.
One reason might be that politicians often link cases such as the Charleston shooting with mental illness. This has entered our national psyche. So much so that in 2005, California’s Department of Corrections was found treating some forms of racism with antipsychotic drugs, according to The Washington Post.
Though extreme racism is alive and well, a lack of tolerance among the greater society may see it end.
Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone says that out of the 235 mass murder cases he’s studied, 22% of the perpetrators suffered from clinical mental illness. The rest were extreme narcissists or suffered from paranoid personality disorder. It’s likely that if it wasn’t racism that set such a person off, another target would preoccupy their minds, leading to an incident of carnage. Most of these perpetrators, all men, wrestle with “murderous rage, utter hopelessness, and suicidal despair,” Stone said.
If the aftermath of the 2016 election taught us anything, it’s that racism is still out there. But those who are overtly racist are becoming far more isolated and looked down upon by wider society. Racism itself may be with us for some time to come, but extreme racism won’t be tolerated, as the large number of protests attended by multitudes, in the aftermath of the hate crimes following the election, illustrated.
This intolerance for hate may call more violent extremists out of the woodwork periodically to do terrible, heartbreaking acts. Hopefully, these are the death shakes of an ideology that is enduring its final hours. Extreme racism’s demonization by our culture will ultimately bring it to an end. But wider prejudices and systemic ones don’t seem to be going anywhere, at least for the immediate future.
To learn more about the scientific basis of racism, click here:
A new study finds that dogs fed fresh human-grade food don't need to eat—or do their business—as much.
- Most dogs eat a diet that's primarily kibble.
- When fed a fresh-food diet, however, they don't need to consume as much.
- Dogs on fresh-food diets have healthier gut biomes.
Four diets were tested<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjY0NjIxMn0._w0k-qFOC86AqmtPHJBK_i-9F5oVyVYsYtUrdvfUxWQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="1b1e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="87937436a81c700a8ab3b1d763354843" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: AntonioDiaz/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tested refrigerated and fresh human-grade foods against kibble, the food most dogs live on. The <a href="https://frontierpets.com.au/blogs/news/how-kibble-or-dry-dog-food-is-made" target="_blank">ingredients</a> of kibble are mashed into a dough and then extruded, forced through a die of some kind into the desired shape — think a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_extrusion" target="_blank">pasta maker</a>. The resulting pellets are sprayed with additional flavor and color.</p><p>For four weeks, researchers fed 12 beagles one of four diets:</p><ol><li>a extruded diet — Blue Buffalo Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe</li><li>a fresh refrigerated diet — Freshpet Roasted Meals Tender Chicken Recipe</li><li>a fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Beef & Russet Potato Recipe</li><li>another fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Chicken & White Rice Recipe.</li></ol><p>The two fresh diets contained minimally processed beef, chicken, broccoli, rice, carrots, and various food chunks in a canine casserole of sorts. </p><p>(One can't help but think how hard it would be to get finicky cats to test new diets. As if.)</p><p>Senior author <a href="https://ansc.illinois.edu/directory/ksswanso" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Kelly S. Swanson</a> of U of I's Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences, was a bit surprised at how much better dogs did on people food than even refrigerated dog chow. "Based on past research we've conducted I'm not surprised with the results when feeding human-grade compared to an extruded dry diet," he <a href="https://aces.illinois.edu/news/feed-fido-fresh-human-grade-dog-food-scoop-less-poop" target="_blank">says</a>, adding, "However, I did not expect to see how well the human-grade fresh food performed, even compared to a fresh commercial processed brand."</p>
Tracking the effect of each diet<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NjY1NTgyOX0.AdyMb8OEcjCD6iWYnXjToDmcnjfTSn-0-dfG96SIpUA/img.jpg?width=980" id="da892" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="880d952420679aeccd1eaf32b5339810" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: Patryk Kosmider/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tracked the dogs' weights and analyzed the microbiota in their fecal matter.</p><p>It turned out that the dogs on kibble had to eat more to maintain their body weight. This resulted in their producing 1.5 to 2.9 times the amount of poop produced by dogs on the fresh diets.</p><p>Says Swanson, "This is consistent with a 2019 National Institute of Health study in humans that found people eating a fresh whole food diet consumed on average 500 less calories per day, and reported being more satisfied, than people eating a more processed diet."</p><p>Maybe even more interesting was the effect of fresh food on the gut biome. Though there remains much we don't yet know about microbiota, it was nonetheless the case that the microbial communities found in fresh-food poo was different.</p><p>"Because a healthy gut means a healthy mutt," says Swanson, "fecal microbial and metabolite profiles are important readouts of diet assessment. As we have shown in <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jas/article/92/9/3781/4702209#110855647" target="_blank">previous studies</a>, the fecal microbial communities of healthy dogs fed fresh diets were different than those fed kibble. These unique microbial profiles were likely due to differences in diet processing, ingredient source, and the concentration and type of dietary fibers, proteins, and fats that are known to influence what is digested by the dog and what reaches the colon for fermentation."</p>
How did kibble take over canine diets?<p>Historically, dogs ate scraps left over by humans. It has only been <a href="https://www.thefarmersdog.com/digest/the-history-of-commercial-pet-food-a-great-american-marketing-story/" target="_blank">since 1870</a>, with the arrival of the luxe Spratt's Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes—made from "the dried unsalted gelatinous parts of Prairie Beef", mmm—that commercial dog food began to take hold. Dog bone-shaped biscuits first appeared in 1907. Ken-L Ration dates from 1922. Kibble was first extruded in 1956. Pet food had become a great way to turn <a href="https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/choosing-dog-food/animal-by-products/" target="_blank">human-food waste</a> into profit.</p><p>Commercial dog food became the norm for most household canines only after a massive marketing campaign led by a group of dog-food industry lobbyists called the Pet Food Institute in 1964. Over time, for most households, dog food was what dogs ate — what else? Human food? These days more than half of U.S. dogs are <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/magazine/who-made-that-dog-biscuit.html" target="_blank">overweight or obese</a>, and certainly their diet is a factor.<span></span></p><p>We're not so special among animals after all. If something's healthy for us to eat—we're <em>not</em> looking at you, chocolate—maybe we should remember to share with our canine compatriots. Not from the table, though.</p>
What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?
Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.
Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.
- A massive new study confirms that five servings of fruit and veggies a day can lower the risk of death.
- The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
- Not all fruits and veggies are equal. Leafy greens are better for you than starchy corn and potatoes.