If racism is a mental illness, it pushes the problem onto white people, Poussaint said. It acknowledges there’s something wrong in the way they’re thinking and feeling, and relieves Black people of the feeling that if they could act differently, then white people would stop being racist against them.“Early in my career, even in college, I felt that if I was a perfect person, I could cure white people of their racism, and that's not where it's at,” Poussaint said. “It's not rational. You can’t undo it by being a good person and being intelligent and dressing properly. That's such a psychological burden on black people. It's part of the notion that racism is curable in that way. You can drive yourself nuts doing that.”Although the APA never added racism to the DSM, people have continued giving racism clinical-sounding names, like prejudice personality, intolerant personality disorder, and pathological bias. And Poussaint has continued to advocate for thinking about racism as a mental illness since then, despite the APA's position.“Right now, there is a normalcy to it," Poussaint said. "It's a disorder among many, many people indoctrinated with the culture of insanity of slavery and Jim Crow." He thinks classifying it as a mental illness would help to fix that. "Doing so says it's a disturbance that interferes with your well-being and is an impairment.”
"They still feel that Black people are inferior no matter what you show them. That's a delusion."
“Overvalued ideas” were first described by German neurologist Carl Wernicke in 1892. But one significant change since then is the access to online information that can easily expose a person to extremist information that agrees with their belief. It’s much easier now for fringe ideas to find company online, wrote Joe Pierre, a psychiatrist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.Extreme overvalued ideas might be partially explained by cognitive distortions like “all-or-none thinking, overgeneralization, jumping to conclusions, magnification and minimization, and personalization,” Pierre wrote. Other cognitive biases like confirmation bias, where people only seek out information that confirms their beliefs, and the Dunning-Kruger effect, where people are overconfident in areas where they have the least expertise, can perpetuate and strengthen false, extreme beliefs.Rahman called for more research on the non-delusional beliefs seen in cults, mass suicides, terrorism, and online radicalization, given that violence can often stem from them and that we don't yet know the best way to intervene. What is clear is that such beliefs can take root in anyone, not just people with mental illnesses.
Such beliefs can take root in anyone, not just people with mental illnesses.