White Mental Illness?

One Sign To Distract Them All…

On social media at least, the various dimensions of the rally last Friday, ostensibly in reaction to the news about government dropping their appeal regarding the PRC question, has been largely ignored.

Instead, the focus has been on one solitary demonstrator with a sign which, primarily amongst White Bermudians (based on a look at reactions) has caused upset.

Racist or Re-Framing Racism?

Racist or Re-Framing Racism?

The sign itself said simply ‘White Mental Illness is Killing African Bermudians – Racism’.

To many White Bermudians this statement is being seen as inherently racist and, I believe, many have latched onto this as justification for:

  • Not attending the demonstration;
  • Evidence that the Unions/PLP/People’s Campaign are racist;
  • Dismissing the entirety of the issues at hand as unimportant rhetoric being supported by racist xenophobes.

I understand that stewards spoke with her about the sign, I’m assuming primarily because they – rightfully – realised it would end up distracting from the overall message of the demonstration.

I also understand she had an alternative sign which she marched with instead, with that particular sign not being part of the demonstration itself.

I don’t see the march as one of the unions, or the PLP, although both all of them endorsed the march and called on their supporters to attend if possible, so to me that’s a non-starter.

It’s also clear from the reports about stewards speaking with her that the sign did not represent the sentiments of the march itself, so I find the fixation on her more one of ‘finding an excuse’ to criticise the march than anything else.

I think the analogy of a lightning rod is apt here – this one sign is serving to give those opposed to the People’s Campaign the excuse they need to justify their opposition (and by extension opposition to the PLP and organised labour).  Quite frankly, if it wasn’t this, I’m sure it would be something else.

All that notwithstanding, not many people are actually analysing or thinking about what her sign said and what it means.

Rather, the reaction has been knee-jerk dismissing of it as racism (largely without explaining why it is a racist), and nothing more.

So, what do I think when I read that sign?

My first thoughts are:

  1. What does she mean by ‘White Mental Illness’?
  2. What does she mean by ‘Is Killing African Bermudians’?

What does one mean by ‘White Mental Illness’?

Without speaking with her, I can’t say for sure.

However, do I think an argument can be made that the reaction of many Whites to any discussion of ongoing racial inequalities or race in general could be classified as a pathology?

Yes, I think such an argument can be made.

Do I think an argument can be made that the belief of many Whites that we live in a post-racial society today, more or less on the basis that formal segregation ended decades ago, is delusional?

Yes, I think such an argument can be made.

Do I think an argument can be made that the belief of many Whites that they aren’t racist just because they’re not overtly racist, yet they either do nothing, or actively reinforce structural racism – and as such could be seen as ‘racist’, is also delusional?

Yes, I think such an argument can be made.

Am I aware that there’s an ongoing discussion in the medical field about whether racism, at least ‘extreme racism’, should be considered a mental illness?

Yes, I am.  

And I also think that the ‘not so extreme racism’ of post-racial delusion in a still very racial world could be considered a form of mass hysteria/delusion.

So, I’m not offended by that phrasing, and I don’t see how it is ‘racist’ either.

Instead, I think it makes a valid point and re-frames the discourse in a novel way.

What does she mean by ‘Is Killing African Bermudians’?

Again, without speaking with her, I’m left to my own devices.

Do I think an argument can be made that a collective failure to address the racial inequalities stemming from our history of slavery and segregation, and the knowledge that there is statistical evidence of these racial inequalities in terms of health inequalities and different life expectancies between White and Black Bermudians could be described as a system that is ‘killing African Bermudians’?

Yes, I think such an argument can be made.

Similarly, do I think that these racial inequalities also manifest themselves in terms of violent crime and murder (especially gun crime relating to gangs) and so might also be understood as a system that is ‘killing African Bermudians’?

Yes, I think such an argument could be made.

Final Thoughts

I don’t see the sign as racist, and I haven’t really seen an explanation about what makes it racist.

Instead I see it as attempt to re-frame the issue of racism, in its entirety and its actual consequences in our society, in a novel, albeit clearly provocative, way.

The bigger question to me is, if we accept the re-framing of ongoing structural racism, a refusal to confront this structural racism, a refusal to acknowledge ongoing racial inequalities as even existing and a refusal to critically engage constructively in a discussion of any and all of the above – or anything to do with race generally – as a form of pathology, a mass hysteria, delusion or social neurosis, then what would be the appropriate therapy?


29 thoughts on “White Mental Illness?

  1. Well this is mild compared what white academics have said about black people in leading universities and other leading learning centres from slavery to the 19th. century to 1994 that’s when the book; the Bell Curve came out written by two white academics with Ph. D’s from Harvard who Challenge the intelligence of Black people? So this has been a long debate still in the mind of the white man. With this sign the shoe is on the other foot.

  2. If the march wasn’t about race then why is she bringing race into the picture with that sign? Moreover, The PLP bought race into the discussion because they are quick to point out that the majority of PRC’s are white. If that isn’t race baiting then I don’t know what is. All it does is fire up the PLP’s core supporters which are primarily people who are all about black empowerment and people who believe all white people are racists and rich.

  3. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”. (Dr King – Aug 1963).

    Perhaps it would be have been helpful if this lady – and CURB – had followed King’s thinking. Can Black people stop judging Whites because they are White, and White people stop judging Black people, because they are Black?

    Not a lot to ask surely. Thank you.

  4. I agree with what you have written . I also feel that when looking at ‘the sign’ ,and more importantly,Bermuda in general, these days, through an historic perspective people tend to stop in about 1960. I think this is not only odd , but damaging and , dare I say insulting. Its damaging because it supposes there has been no progress on the island since segregation and insulting to those members of our community who have worked long and hard against great odds to move Bermuda towards a better place. I mean people like Ottiwell Simmons , Loise Brown Evans , Alex Scott , Frederick Wade , Dr Eva Hodgson , the list is long. If we stop looking at history in 1960 we are denying the work of these people , work which brought majority black rule to our country along with the most most buoyant economy we have ever known. This is something to be proud of , something not accomplished in many other countries. When politicians stand next to ‘nana Peggy’ and stand next to ‘the sign’ its sort of giving up a power and connection to the history of the island that others have struggled to achieve, by which I mean it seems to deny a positive connection to the success of Bermuda we all share. “The Sign” re-frames the issue in a regressive way , I think , it frames in a reality of the 1960’s and not , honestly, in most peoples experiences today. Do not get me wrong I know we have a long way to go towards dismantling structural racism , but I also think taking ownership of our recent history is crucial to continuing the work accomplished in the past 60 years.

  5. Mike, that was Dr King’s vision for a future, but he also articulated, at various points, what it would take to get there, although these points tend to be ignored in the white-washed (pun intended) version of Dr King that are all too often quoted today – I’ve written on this explicitly in the past.

    The fact is our society remains racist, and the adoption of a ‘kumbaya’ post-racial perspective that believes racism is gone simply because we’ve dismantled formal racism, in the form of segregation, only masks this reality and in doing so reinforces its racist nature.

    I don’t think it’s a matter of ‘judging Whites because they are White’ – it’s much more nuanced than that. It’s looking at the racist reality of Bermuda today in the 21st Century and looking at White reactions when confronted with that reality – and the resulting reaction it triggers and asking why that is.

    Ultimately, it’s about recognising what Dr King actually said – this is the end destination, but how do we get there?

  6. In short Jonathan, if we don’t change the way we respond to certain situations, in this case CURB with it’s assumptions based on skin colour and historical factors, we (society) will not go forward at all.

    There is an argument however thin that the current script between the races is so well known as to be a cliche. Even if you accept that there has been ‘some’ improvement over the years as to how society treats Black people and vice versa, it is not difficult to conclude that the improvement has been limited and has a long way to go.

    I would contend that the current script is broken and needs fixing. Many whites really are tired of listening to the onslaught against them, based on the history of their ancestors. So much so, that they “smile and walk away” and simply put up with it.

    I can’t help but think that a different approach, i.e. putting King’s dream into practice might yield a better, higher quality and inclusive response.

    I still shudder to think that in the eyes of some Blacks (perhaps the majority), that the as yet unborn white child is racist. Guilty from the get-go.

  7. Yes, I saw that, and on Emancipation Day to boot.

    I don’t think they understood the sign properly, I’ll say that much.

    Disappointing indeed.

  8. To dismantle your argument in one simple point, OP, if that sign said “Black Mental Illness is killing European Bermudians,” everyone would be screaming racism, and rightly so. While I understand the concept of white privilege etc, that sign is still racist.

  9. Actually, people would be saying that sign ‘Black Mental Illness is Killing European Bermudians’ would make absolutely no sense, while the way it is written ‘White Mental Illness is Killing African Bermudians’ does.

    So I’d hardly say that dismantles my argument in one simple point… If anything it would underline it…

    I’ve still yet to see how the sign is racist – perhaps you could explain that to me?

  10. Pingback: Cognitive Dissonance & Race in Bermuda | "catch a fire"

  11. What about a sign that said “black mental illness is killing African Bermudians”? Would that be racist Mr. Starling?

  12. Regardless, if the sign that A Charlton suggested became a reality, there’s no doubt that it would provoke strong responses within our community, particularly if the sign was wielded by a white person.

  13. Quite possibly, although I think the majority of Black Bermudians will just look at it and realise how disconnected from reality and understanding of race issues such a White person doing so would be.

  14. What if the “mental illness” was explained to be the gangster culture the plays a role in African-Bermudian society? The idea that you have to put up a tough front and retaliate for any perceived disrespect? Is that still nonsensical?

  15. Hi Mr Charlton, you’ve actually given me an idea for a post… As such I’ll answer it more fully in that, hopefully for the weekend?

    In short though, I would think that could be seen under the general umbrella of what’s meant by ‘white mental illness’ in that sign.

  16. To be honest, that is not my original thought. I saw it on BE2012 (by Shannon I think) but no one addressed it.

    Do you think it would be considered a racist sign in that case? A yes or no will do.

  17. How so? How does the person holding it change the meaning of the sign?

    I’m inferring that you would say it was racist if a white person was holding the sign, correct?

  18. In the context of existing power dynamics and our racial history, I would expect a white person holding a sign such as the one you describe would be seen as incredibly ignorant, yes.

  19. Then how can her sign not be seen as ignorant? Both of those statements are accurate. Both white and black mental illness contribute to the death of African-Bermudians.

  20. Her sign does not appear as ignorant for the reasons I articulated in the original post above. It provides an arguably accurate assessment.

    The sign you propose does not – as I said earlier, it would be seen as non-sensical.

  21. I suggest you re-read my original post.

    The central argument being that the gang violence, the damaged masculinity behind it, the racial inequalities involved, all stem from our racial histories. And the refusal to address these root causes, of which the holding of a post-racial delusion is a key aspect, helps reinforce these inequalities. As such, the gang violence you’re referring to, is seen as part of the ‘white mental illness’ articulated by the original sign.

  22. You’re basically removing all personal responsibility from the equation. There are plenty of African-Bermudians that don’t join gangs or exhibit that mentality so to blame that on white mental illness is patently false.

  23. No one’s disputing that. However, at the same time you risk ignoring structural aspects. The ongoing inequalities are a key factor in the generation and continuance of the gangs and other issues.

  24. You are disputing it though. While saying my sign is ignorant and her sign is perfectly acceptable and justified you are implying that African-Bermudians don’t have to take any responsibility for their actions and it all stems from white mental illness.

  25. I’ll clarify – no one’s disputing that there are plenty of African Bermudians that don’t join gangs.

    Of course there’s personal responsibility, but certain choices and situations are more likely as a result of certain structural realities. While there’s a danger of focusing solely on the structural aspect, there’s also the complete opposite of ignoring the structural aspect and focusing solely on the personal responsibility side.

    Both aspects need to be considered (although I tend to think it should be more weighted towards structure), but ignoring the structural side and the legacy of our racial past, helps perpetuate these inequalities and sustains a de facto racist system – and is thus seen by many as a form of racism.

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