Letter to the Editor
Response to 'Hate and mental illness — a deadly combination' column
Thursday, April 15, 2021
This letter is in response to the recent opinion piece titled “Hate and mental illness — a deadly combination.”
First, we would like to be clear that this response is meant to be a pushback to the piece so that we might start a dialogue around the topic of racism within our community. Our intention is both to share another perspective and to let members of the community that might feel marginalized by the piece’s rhetoric know this is not how the community as a whole feel. We are not trying to change anyone’s mind, nor do we want to shame anyone. The perspective within the piece represents a common perspective present not just within our community, but throughout our country. This response is meant to shed light on the very real fact that racism doesn’t always equal being a member of the KKK or waving a confederate flag. Racism can, and often does, take on much more subtle forms.
The piece is correct in stating that mental health is a concern, as is hate. That being said, the only time racism is a mental health issue is when we are talking about those that are oppressed and the effect racism has on their mental well being. Racism can intersect with mental health and hate because it is an effect of cultural, historical, political and economic institutions and systems. One neither equals nor cancels out the other.
We agree with the piece’s view that racism needs to move beyond politics. Keeping dialogue about racism stuck within politics decenters the compassionate act of caring about the welfare of all members of this community and country, how they are treated, and in what ways they are excluded. Denying that racism is an issue isn’t going to help it move beyond politics, nor is it going to encourage conversation. Denying racism is actually going to allow it to continue. Putting racism in quotes mocks both its seriousness and its existence.
Nevertheless, race has been a political issue since this country’s creation. Black Americans weren’t considered citizens until 1868 with the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It was another 100 years before Black Americans were given full protection under the law and discrimination was outlawed. Even after the Civil War the south created Jim Crow laws, laws that enforced racial segregation and restricted the power of Black voters. We are seeing echoes of these laws now in Georgia. Rather than commending democracy working as it should, representatives have placed restrictions, such as the availability of “Souls to the Polls,” a traditional practice organized by Black churches in which they offer voter drives after weekly Sunday services.
Using phrases like “I don’t see color,” or “But I have black friends,” or “Racism is a mental health issue,” denies the very real issues that Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian and multicultural citizens of our country have and are experiencing. These phrases, and others like them, are concerning because they gloss over the racist policies and misconceptions that propel inequality. Authors such as Austin Channing Brown, Ibram X. Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Rachel Cargle, Isabel Wilkerson and Sonya Renee Taylor share that even the most well-meaning white individuals have implicit bias. It is important to look to non-white individuals when understanding what is biased and/or racist language.
White people often grow weary of having to think about racism. However, this is not a luxury people of color are afforded. They receive no breaks from either overt racism or instances of micro-aggression. While the systems and institutions that propel racism, that have been in place for hundreds of years, might not be of our making it is our responsibility to give attention to how we are benefitting from them. This is not about feeling guilt because these systems and institutions exist. Rather, it is about seeing where there is imbalance in order to create a more just and equitable society for everyone.
Ijeoma Oluo wrote, “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” It’s not enough to not be a racist. We must actively work against the bias that has been handed down, through generational, historical and political means to become anti-racists. This work is two-fold: it falls on to us each, as individuals, and to our systems and institutions.
Amanda Melita Green
Joy K. Johnson
Phyllis Hoeppner Slawson
Liz and Jake Kluver
Dave and Lean Jacobsen
Sharon Baxter Eckhart