Last week was the anniversary of Heather Heyer’s death. A woman who was killed last year in Charlottesville while marching against Nazis. Many chose to remember her by hosting vigils or picking up where she left off by taking their own stands against white supremacy. While others choose to remember her by posting on social media about the impact she left. One of the tweets I came across condemned white suprmacy as a mental illness. This wasn’t the first of it’s kind that I had stumbled across, both online and in real life. A surprising amount of people seem to hold this sentiment.
Another popular opinon seems to be that white supremacists should be treated with compassion since they are similar to neurodivergent individuals. The person beckons their readers to get to know their fellow white supremacist, invite them into their lives in the hopes that it will show them that the humanity of other’s matter just as much as their own. This is something that I have seen echoed in editorials on mainstream media sites and documentaries. These bigots are described as “lost”, “misunderstood”, or “scared”.
It’s surprising the amount of compassion and understanding people are able to dig up for those who want anyone different from them dead. I find it suspcious that my mental illness is enough to make people regard me as dangerous, unstable, and unworthy of being taken seriously.
I have been fired from jobs, lost friendships, had people refuse to allow me around their children, told that I would burn in hell if I attempted suicide. I am labled as lazy because I am not able to keep a full time job or attend classes. Yet, I have seen little compassion in people who are not also mentally ill. There were no articles written about my everyday life in an effort to humanize me. No documentaries about me or people similar to myself. It seems to me that most people aren’t geniunely intrested in mental illness until they can use it as a shield against criticism.
Saying racism is a mental illness is a way for people to distance themselves from it. White supremacy makes our society uncomfortable because it is difficult to comprehend that someone can make a choice to be hateful. It also forces us to confront our own complicity in it’s continuation and our long, bloody history that is rife with it. So, we label it as a mental illness to rationalize blind hatred that we are too afraid to confront.
However, this is dangerous. It is dangerous because it allows white supremacist to be excused from their actions. It allows people (paticularly white people) to go without examining how they benefit from it. All while stigmatizing a group that is already feared and misunderstood.
Mentally ill people make up the majority of those killed in police shootings. We are more likely to endure employment/housing instability. Those of us who cannot affford treatment are likely to end up in prison. And none of this is a choice we make.
Unlike bigotry one cannot choose to be mentally ill. It is just something life deals you. Neo nazis/white supremacists aren’t these scared, lost individuals that need saving. They are bigots who want to go back to a time where they didnt have to keep their hatred hidden. When they had no one challenging them.
White supremacy, like all forms of bigotry, is about power and what privliges that power affords you. They see that marginalized groups are finally gaining some of that power and that is what motivates thier hatred. They choose not to see the humainity in those different from themselves because then that would mean giving up the power they desire.
Bigotry is a choice, mental illness is not. I did not choose to be mentally ill. However, I can choose to be prejudiced. I can choose to internalize homophobia. I can make a choice to be transphobic or ableist. To disregard a person’s humanity and justisfy taking away their civil rights would be something that I would have to do deliberately. However, that would not be a symptom or byproduct of my mental illness and being mentally ill does not exscuse me from the consequences that results from engaging in hatred.
I know so many mentally ill people who are caring, compassonate, good people. Who are themselves fighting against white supremacy. We don’t deserve to be society’s scapegoat.
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