Racism Is Not Mental Illness

photo by Jerónimo Bernot

As you struggle to explain to your children why two mass shootings happened over the weekend, one definitely caused by racism and white supremacy, please refrain from blaming mental illness in your explanation.

Yes, it’s easy to say that the two mass shooters were sick individuals but, please be careful with that kind of language, especially to young people.

The truth is racism is not a mental illness. Even when it’s difficult to understand how one hates another human being because of the color of their skin or the country of their birth, it is not a mental illness.

Even when it’s difficult to understand how people, including elected officials, remain silent or give excuses for blatant racism, it is not a mental illness.

Tell them the truth about the motive of these mass shootings, especially when talking about El Paso because we know the shooter’s motive.

Tell them the truth.

Statement of APA President in Response to Mass Shootings in Texas, Ohio

“Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing. Research has shown that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness. The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them. One critical factor is access to, and the lethality of, the weapons that are being used in these crimes. Adding racism, intolerance and bigotry to the mix is a recipe for disaster.

Don’t sugarcoat racism, bigotry,  xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, white supremacy, and any other ism plaguing our society. And when they ask why are people this way, pause.

Pause before you say they’re just sick individuals.

Pause before you say they were raised that way.

Pause before you say they were bullied.

Pause before you say they didn’t know any better.

I’m asking you to pause and think about the answer because whatever you say will become their truth. Whatever you say, they will believe. Whatever you say will cause them to view the world a certain way.

Tell them the truth.

Then give them the space to reflect on the truth.

Then, hopefully, they will be inspired to make sure they are not silent when they hear racists statements, regardless of who they are from.

Hopefully, they will be able to recognize statements and behaviors that are coated in hate and violence and not stand for it.

Hopefully, they will be the change and we won’t ignore them or silence them because of their age.

Hopefully, we will tell them the truth and that way, together, we will do something different for our future. Different for our now.

Tell them the truth.

Still Hopeful,



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  4 comments for “Racism Is Not Mental Illness

  1. Dana
    August 5, 2019 at 8:16 pm

    While racism itself is not considered a mental illness. I have to believe that no sane individual would do something like this. We know these shooters were polar opposite in their whacked out views.

    Yes to saying no to racism ALL THE AMENS. But to say these men weren’t mental I just can’t agree with.

    • August 5, 2019 at 9:39 pm

      Your point is well taken Dana, thank you so much for commenting. History has shown when acts of violence like that happens, we as a country tend to move towards mental illness quickly without spending time on racism. We want to give a reason as if to seperate their heinous acts from “regular folk” who are racists in order to not group them in the same boat. We dismiss racism and white supremacy and label the actions of mass murder something else. People who are racists get to think “I’m racists but I’m not going to kill people” as if that’s better. My hope is that we call it what it is and stay in the uncomfortable place. That way we also treat people with diagnosed mental illness with dignity instead of grouping them with someone who commits violence because of hate. Mental illness should not be the scapegoat.

  2. Amy S
    August 7, 2019 at 7:51 am

    Amen! It is uncomfortable to address these shootings, especially the one in El Paso. Let the frank discussions continue!

    • August 7, 2019 at 9:33 am

      I agree Amy!! We need to continue talking without using mental illness as a scapegoat. We don’t want to deal with the real issue of white supremacy. And that is what we have to deal with, first.

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