One way that Whites can continue to control the language by which people of colour–and most often Black people (since anti-Blackness means Black bodies are used as ground zero for oppression in juxtaposition to or “antithetical” to Whiteness itself, and primarily because so much anti-oppression research and scholarship is created by Black people, which is regularly appropriated as we are erased from it)–discuss oppression is to invoke the notion of people of colour as unilateral oppressors of Whites who are oppressed for other facets of their identities. Obviously this is anti-intersectional because the single issue approach to oppression does not account for the fact that oppression types vary and intersect and none of them erase White supremacy itself. In other words, Whites who are oppressed for other facets of their identities (i.e. gender, sexual orientation, class, ability) still have White privilege and still benefit from racism and White supremacy. And since Whiteness determines what is deemed “accurate” and “valuable” scholarship–even about the oppression that Whites do not face, such as racism–this same Whiteness is used to control and police how Black people can speak about oppression.
One way to silence and control is to view oppression through an anti-intersectional lens at best and just straight up make up false claims of bigotry at worst. I mentioned experiencing false claims from Whites in my essay I Will Not Tolerate Whites REGULARLY Making FALSE Claims About Me Being Bigoted. These are the same Whites that often think that using Black experiences as “metaphors” to explain their own White privilege away because of some other form of oppression is them “practicing intersectionality.” Practicing what I actually live, intersectionality, a concept first articulated by a Black woman, Kimberlé Crenshaw (though Black women been living it) and expounded upon by Patricia Hill Collins and other Black women scholars. I explained this anti-Blackness being mistaken for intersectionality in White People Using Blackness and Anti-Black Racism Analogies For Their Experiences Is NOT Intersectionality.
One of the most common areas where false claims of bigotry and White supremacy thrives (through racist notions about Black bodies, which I discussed in a Storify, Racist Myths About Black People As Inherently Able-Bodied and Neurotypical) is in discussions and discourse about ableism, though as I mentioned in the essay at the end of the last paragraph, literally every oppressed group has a White person or a White “ally” as the face of that group. That’s White supremacy. In regards to ableism, rarely how White supremacy, racism and anti-Blackness actually create mental health issues for Black people is discussed, how it impacts already detrimental mental health issues for Black people discussed nor does how the healthcare system is virulently racist comes up. (I discussed this in more detail through my own experiences in On Blackness and Perceptions of Able-Bodied Privilege.) Rarely is PTSD for Black people who live in poverty ever addressed. Rarely is how the violence inflicted upon Black bodies where disabilities that occur in response to violence addressed (i.e. I grew up and live in an area where seeing young Black men in wheelchairs because of violence is common and daily), nor is the stress upon Black people who can become pregnant where those issues impact the pregnancy and the physical and mental health of offspring of concern in these White-centered discourses on disability. And now when Black people discuss the sociopathy inherent in White supremacy, that’s referred to as “ableist” by Whites? This is not ableism.
While Anti-Social Personality Disorder and psychopathy are regularly conflated with sociopathy, the latter includes when a belief system results in learned behaviors that can have mass anti-empathetic consequences. While Anti-Social Personality Disorder speaks to an individual mental health issue that impacts daily interaction, speaking of collective social and learned antipathy, resentment and even hatred (though oppression doesn’t require hatred) as sociopathy because of White supremacy is not a mental health diagnosis whereby mentioning it in a derogatory way is ableism. It is a social condition that fosters oppression and is in response to being oppressors. Oppression does not only change the oppressed; the oppressor is also changed. Sociopathy is not even a mental health diagnosis and does not refer to an individualized mental health issue, though its manifestations can be individualized. The sheer pleasure that someone like George Zimmerman gets from the attention he receives by harming others and murdering Trayvon Martin directly connects to anti-Blackness and White supremacy and an entire system supporting his behavior. (And do not dare mention his mother’s heritage right now because anti-Blackness allows him to access White male privilege despite his ethnicity.) This same mass disregard for Black life can be seen in Renisha McBride’s death or Jordan Davis’ death or the multiple other ways that Whites disregard Black life and how it seems common place and learned. The common nature of this in addition to the power ascribed upon White supremacy is why Black and other people of colour also internalize the lack of empathy and worthlessness ascribed upon non-White bodies.
Whites seeking to silence the truth about White supremacy are ever too glad to denounce the existence of what reads as sociopathic or where a group of people have a long term pattern of manipulating, exploiting or violating the rights of others. When research confirms that Whites feel lack of empathy towards Black pain, feel that Black bodies are made for handling pain (which would be the actual ableism here–i.e. the Strong Black Woman and Angry Black Woman stereotypes are inherently ableist–however conveniently ignored) and when they learn that Black people are harmed more by police, the criminal justice system and Prison Industrial Complex, they want stricter regulations to continue that harm, that at the core is a learned lack of empathy as a social condition, while feeling zero responsibility for how that lack of empathy in addition to their own privilege actually oppresses Black people. How do you classify people who are glad to see Black people die? How do you classify people who teach “inherent inferiority” of Black people as the foundation of their own identities? How do you classify people who think it is acceptable or even funny to dehumanize and reduce Black people to costumes, tropes, stereotypes or slaves? How ha ha funny is it to wear a Trayvon Martin Halloween costume now or gather around for a Saturday picnic as a Black man or a Black woman was lynched and castrated or raped in the past? How do I classify a White woman in another continent who tried to derail a campaign I created for my brother who was brutally attacked solely because our lives are automatic lies to her and being right about “fraud” for which she had no proof mattered more than his life? (He’s doing a lot better over these last few months.) The actual collective emotional politics are more than abstract laws, institutions or policies. It is human choice and interaction and while not a mental health illness, Whiteness as a social position (not solely being White and from a particular place) has many sociopathic facets.
As Flavia Dzodan notes in her essay Whiteness As Social Disease and Ableism:
I am not trying to gloss over the implication for mental health and for the stigmas associated with mental illness. Yet, I also realized that for many of us, myself included, whiteness can only be described as a social disease. We lack words to explain this in ways that do not further stigmatize people. I am aware that saying racism is sociopathic could be interpreted as ableist and yet, how do we describe a culture wide phenomenon that kills us? how do we describe a political system founded on our shared inhumanity? how do we describe an oppression that is rooted in lack of empathy and love towards us?
Then it becomes a matter of what language is “acceptable” and when this language is controlled by Whites in a White supremacist society, conveniently they have the power to decide what language can be used to describe how they oppress people of colour. She also notes:
One of the consequences of epistemic injustice is that we do not have accepted frameworks to explain our lives. By “accepted,” I mean, frameworks that are society-wide accepted and recognized as valid throughout academia, mainstream media and public discourses including but not limited to policy and laws.
The same White supremacy that refuses to acknowledge “womanism,” wants to erase Blackness from “intersectionality,” and thinks that “misogynoir” is make-believe since the word was created by a Black woman, Moya Bailey, and not by Whites and is “new” though the concept and experience is centuries old is the same White supremacy that conveniently wants White supremacy left without critique and conflates social conditions with diagnosed mental health issues. In fact, this conflation is what is ableist.
Using mental health issues as a shield or conflation in order to escape critique for White supremacy is not new. In fact, last year when Hugo Schwyzer’s abuse of several women of colour including Flavia who I quoted here and others came to “mainstream” light, many tried to blame his mental health issues for the fact that White supremacy is why he was given a platform and impunity to abuse. No one wants to explain why a Black male feminist could not have the same opportunity to abuse for years on end with White women’s support. And then his mental health issues were used to silence critique of White supremacy, which I alluded to in How EVERYONE Works Together To Silence Women of Colour’s Critiques of Mainstream Feminism. While suggesting that anyone with mental health issues is an abuser is in fact ableist (as I do not abuse people despite having anxiety and PTSD), not holding someone accountable for their abuse because of mental health issues is also ableist. It implies inferiority and lack of accountability are acceptable for them as if they are not fully worthwhile human beings like everyone else. The same mental health scapegoat to protect White supremacy stance is regularly used in cases of White male terrorism. No such mental health analyses are provided when Black people commit crimes. The very racist in addition to ableist notion that criminality is inherent in Blackness and thereby uncontrollable is used to mask how racism and inequality contributes to Black criminality in the first place.
But this is not the same thing as saying a social and culturally taught lack of empathy, responsibility, accountability and sense of fairness that is at the core of White supremacy is a mental health issue. It is not. It is social and it is taught and reinforced through institutional racism and socially via media. It is why the extrajudicial killing of Black people does not even remotely awaken the senses of Whites, many of which think we deserve to die while in the same breath will yell about intraracial crime (which is common for every race) as “Black on Black crime” as if that itself is arbitrary and unrelated to the impact of White supremacy. Are they individually “sick” where we are “mocking” their illness when we mention White supremacy and sociopathy? No. But the oppression that is White supremacy cannot be ignored nor viewed solely as intellectual or legislative experience. It most certainly is behavioral and emotional. But it being the latter does not make it a mental illness. It makes it the status quo, actually.
Conveniently organic epistemology is not acceptable nor is using “standard” terms to describe what oppressors do because those oppressors decide that they’re “oppressed” when how they oppress is critiqued. And the DSM-IV-TR itself is not without critique nor safe from the confines of White supremacy. The racism involved in schizophrenia diagnoses for Black men and depression versus anxiety diagnoses for Black women, or the fact that being gay was long considered a mental health issue in previous DSM editions needs to be considered before this book becomes the standard for what is ableism or not through White policing. Oh and since Whites and White credentials are what is “accepted” in determining what terminology can be used and how in regards to oppression, I do have 3 degrees in the behavioral sciences and over a decade of research on the matter. Is this acceptable…since living as a Black woman and facing what reads as sociopathy supported by ideology, culture and institutions as the foundation of White supremacy does not count as acceptable knowledge?
Black people–especially ones like me who deal with mental health issues and physical issues–have to be willing to interrogate why is White supremacy okay in disability discourse if it is not okay in anything else. I say this since many Black feminists, womanists and other social justice advocates are perfectly okay with Whites setting the agenda and controlling what is deemed “ableist,” what matters in terms of mental health, making disability a “raceless” or anti-intersectional conversation, and ignoring how disabled Whites can still be racist and use White supremacy to shape their discourse on disability as well as on mental and physical health. White supremacy must be interrogated anywhere and everywhere it appears. Obviously the concern that people will inaccurately process sociopathy as a “diagnosis” and thereby excuse racism and let Whites off the hook is a legitimate one. However, I am not suggesting that “sociopathy” replaces the word “racism” or “White supremacy.” For what? Those terms work. What I do suggest is acknowledging that racism is not solely an intellectual exercise plus privilege but also collectively learned behaviors of abuse, manipulation and a lack of empathy that is supported by the status quo. White supremacy is why calling the very same White supremacist actions that fit existing definitions of sociopathy can be called “ableism” by the same people who get to decide what is “ableist” or not because of White supremacy. It’s a feedback loop dedicated to the status quo.
“I will state flatly that the bulk of this country’s White population impresses me, and has so impressed me for a very long time, as being beyond any conceivable hope of moral rehabilitation. They have been White, if I may so put it, too long; they have been married to the lie of White supremacy too long; the effect in the personalities, their lives, their grasp of realty, has been as devastating as the lava which so memorably immobilized the citizens of Pompeii. They are unable to conceive that their version of reality, which they want me to accept, is an insult to my history and a parody of theirs and an intolerable violation of myself.” - James Baldwin