Rather, the entirety of the mental health field and the paradigm under which it operates is a modern-day religion rife with all the familiar problems and benefits that exist in any religion. Most importantly, however, there is hope if people are willing to move beyond what society tells us we “must” do. People have been healing from great pain for 200,000 years—the mental health professions have existed for less than 200. While there are some things we have learned, we need to stop trying to re-invent the wheel. People need love, support, community, to be heard, to be valued, to be validated, to have purpose, to have health and housing, to have nutrition both physically and emotionally—it is not rocket science and doesn’t become such just because we keep saying that it is.
People who enter services are frequently society’s most vulnerable-people who have experienced extensive trauma, adversity, abuse, and oppression throughout their lives. At the same time, I struggle with the word “trauma” because it signifies some huge, overt event that needs to pass some arbitrary line of “bad enough” to count. I prefer the terms “stress” and “adversity.” In the book, I speak to the problem of language and how this insinuates differences that are not there, judgments, and assumptions that are untrue. Our brains and bodies don’t know the difference between “trauma” and “adversity”-a stressed fight/flight state is the same regardless of what words you use to describe the external environment. I’m tired of people saying “nothing bad ever happened to me” because they did not experience “trauma.” People suffer, and when they do, it’s for a reason.
If patients willingly adopt the role of defectiveness, then how is the doctor doing anything harmful or wrong? People who grew up as the scapegoat, who believe they are dirty or defective or bad, who are ashamed of their existence or believe they should be someone they are not, who have led their entire lives being marginalized and discriminated against in society-these are the people who most frequently enter mental health services. They are also those most readily vulnerable to accepting these messages under the guise of treatment and care. It is not until people are willing to start to consider that, in fact, they are not defective in the least, rather, that they are just flawed and unique human beings adapting to incredible pain that they can start to actually believe in themselves enough to heal.
Of course, there is simply the existential issue of mental health professionals that may be unbearable for them to face: If I am not fixing a distinct and identifiable problem, what, then, is my purpose? If the real healing power I have is something that any human being could ostensibly provide, if willing, why did I spend all those years in school and possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars? If these are not specific diseases related to specific biochemical or genetic flaws, why have I specialized-and who doesn’t like feeling special? And, worse, if I am not addressing people with genetic illnesses and biochemical problems, what, really, am I doing when all I have to offer are drugs and technological interventions?
This problem is not unique to mental health professionals. Medical doctors are caught in a similar dilemma when it comes to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, chronic inflammation, and many autoimmune diseases, even cancer. What do these doctors do when they realize that these problems are almost entirely due to an industrialized diet largely based on corporate interests-the sugar industry, soy bean manufacturers, Monsanto-and that if people just ate the way humans are designed to eat, these problems mostly would not exist? And, of course, these issues are entirely intertwined with mental health problems! If these are not specific diseases related to specific biochemical or genetic flaws, why have I specialized? If these problems are not really genetic illnesses and biochemically-based problems, what, really, am I doing when all I have to offer are drugs and technological interventions?
A black man spends his life being marginalized and aggressed, dismissed because of his fear and pain-should he enter the system, he is no longer “less-than” because of his blackness, now he’s marginalized and dismissed as “schizophrenic.” A sexually-abused young woman who was told she “wanted it,” was blamed, and was never given the opportunity to be angry enters the system-she now is “borderline” and once again blamed for being too sexualized, for causing staff to behave in shameful ways, and condemned for her anger, even when it is taken out on herself.
Perhaps more than any other, the most common enactment is that associated with the individual who grew up with a narcissistic parent in constant need of adulation, intolerant of discomfort or self-reflection, and who was a master in the art of gaslighting.
We live in a society that values stoicism, complete control over one’s behaviors, lack of emotional expression, “politeness” at the expense of authenticity-I love New York!-and an eerie Stepford Wife-like ideal of conformity. Mental health professionals often are selected for their ability to represent these values. Those troublemakers who tell the truth, are spontaneous(otherwise called “impulsive”), who laugh or find humor in the darkness(or “inappropriate affect”), who refuse to conform(or my favorite, “oppositional”) are ostracized and pathologized for the threat they pose to propriety. They generally don’t make it through the training process. I know I almost didn’t. It is the Anglo-Saxon way. It also is what makes most of us completely miserable.
It must be alienating to feel like one is on probation in one’s own country, that one’s presence is subject to the approval of white people. And it must be a familiar feeling, especially these days, for everyone who is not white (and male).
It occurred to me that white people rarely if ever experience questions like this, about their very legitimacy. Do they belong? Is having more of them around good for America?
On his podcast, Vox’s Ezra Klein recently interviewed Yale psychologist Jennifer Richeson, noting she “has done pioneering work on the way perceptions of demographic threat and change affect people’s political opinions, voting behavior, and ideas about themselves.”
One of Richeson’s key insights is that reminders of coming demographic decline – the notion that America will soon become a “majority minority” country, with people of color outnumbering whites – not only cause increased hostility toward other racial groups (which might be expected) but also push white people in a conservative direction on seemingly unrelated policy questions like tax rates and oil drilling.
Indeed, as research on “priming” shows, simply discussing race at all kicks up those effects among the racially dominant group. Or to put it more bluntly, in the US context: White people really don’t like being called white people. They don’t like being reminded that they are white people, part of a group with discernible boundaries, shared interests, and shared responsibilities.
After all, one of the benefits of being in the dominant demographic and cultural group is that you are allowed to simply be a person, a blank slate upon which you can write your own individual story. You have no baggage but what you choose.
The power and privilege that come along with that – being the base model, a person with no asterisk – are invisible to many white men. Simply calling them “white people,” much less questioning the behavior or beliefs of white people, drags that power and privilege into the open.
White men bridle at the notion of being part of a tribe or engaging in identity politics. (Ahem.) Alone among social groups, they are allowed the illusion that they have only their own bespoke identity, that they are pure freethinkers, citizens, unburdened and uninfluenced by collective baggage (unique and precious “snowflakes,” if you will).
No one else is allowed to think that – at least not for long, before they are reminded again that they are, in the eyes of their country, little more than their identity, their asterisk. No one else gets to pretend their politics are free of identity.
White people do. But simply saying the words “white people” is a direct attack on that illusion. It identifies, i.e., creates (or rather, exposes) an identity, a group with shared characteristics and interests. It raises questions (and doubts) about the group’s standing and power relative to other groups. It illuminates all that hidden baggage. Lots of white people really hate that.
This is my favorite of the strawban pieces. It gets into the problems with accommodation. Here are some favorite passages, but go read the whole thing.
It’s not easy or pleasant asking for help in public spaces like restaurants, because you never know what attitudes you’ll encounter: indifference, pity, or outright rejection. I don’t see these types of help as special treatment or inspirational for someone to surreptitiously post on social media as feel-good clickbait; they’re simply examples of excellent hospitality.
Starbucks’s announcement – and the news that Vancouver and Seattle recently banned plastic straws, with other cities, like New York and San Francisco, contemplating proposals – struck a raw nerve with me for several reasons (and I won’t even get into the problems of recyclable plastics and greenwashing):
- Plastic straws are considered unnecessary items used by environmentalists as a “gateway plastic” to engage the public on a larger conversation about waste. According to Dune Ives, executive director of the Lonely Whale Foundation, “Plastic straws are social tools and props, the perfect conversation starter.” But one person’s social prop is another person’s conduit for nutrition. It’s as if people who rely on straws – older adults, children, and disabled people – don’t matter and that our needs are less important than the environment. I feel erased by these attitudes.
Plastic straws are ubiquitous, whether we like it or not. Once you have something that provides access, it is difficult and harmful to take it away from a marginalized community that depends on it. I live in a world that was never built for me, and every little bit of access is treasured and hard-won. Bans on plastic straws are regressive, not progressive.
The plastic straw ban is symptomatic of larger systemic issues when it comes to the continual struggle for disability rights and justice. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 28 next week, on July 26, and yet people with disabilities continue to face barriers at eating establishments. The ADA is considered by many small businesses (and the National Restaurant Association) as a source of frivolous lawsuits brought by greedy lawyers and clients. Ableist attitudes that cast disabled people as “fakers” or “complainers” obscure the very real and painful experiences of not being able to eat and drink freely.
As demand increases for alternatives to plastic, so do the voices from the disability community sharing their concerns about how these bans will create additional labor, hurdles, and difficulties. On social media, many disabled people have been sharing their stories and keeping it 100 percent real. I observed and experienced all sorts of microaggressions and outright dismissal of what disabled people are saying online.
This is the experience of living in a world that was never built for you: having to explain and defend yourself while providing infinite amounts of labor at the demand of people who do not recognize their nondisabled privilege. There are days when I want to put this on repeat: “Believe disabled people. Period.” I refuse to apologize or feel shame about the way my body works and how I navigate in the world. Everyone consumes goods and creates waste. We all do what we can to reduce, reuse, and recycle. We should recognize that different needs require different solutions. I’m not a monster for using plastic straws or other plastic items that allow me to live, such as oxygen tubes.
What people don’t understand with bans like this is that having to ask for a plastic straw puts an unfair burden, and scrutiny, on people with disabilities. They should not have to prove a medical need or even disclose their disability status when having a fun night out with friends. This is not hospitality.
I updated “Anxiety, Ambiguity, and Autistic Perception ” with a selection from “On the Double-Mindedness Developed Among the Different – An Intense World”.
In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois says that blacks have a sort of doubleness in them not found among whites. Blacks cannot just “be themselves,” but must always think about how they are being perceived by whites. This creates a sense that you are always of two minds: that you are not only thinking and doing, but that you are thinking about how others perceive you, and adjust accordingly. Whites never have to deal with this. Being the majority and having the majority power, they can just be themselves without worry about how anybody is thinking about them.
Du Bois would probably not be surprised if he learned that other minorities were put in similar situations in the U.S., but it probably didn’t occur to him that there were people out there with different kinds of minds, and that they too would develop such a doubleness.
I know all about this double-mindedness, because I experience it constantly. I not only have to think about what I’m going to say or do, but I have to think about how others might take it. I can either just say or do whatever I want as I want and hope that I don’t do something that will set people off, or I can always consciously think about everything I say or do before I say or do it, testing against what I expect the expectations are (and hoping I’m getting those right). If it takes me a moment to respond to something, it’s because I’m going through all this nonsense to make sure I don’t say or do something wrong.
I updated “Design is Tested at the Edges: Intersectionality, The Social Model of Disability, and Design for Real Life ” with selections from “Basic Principles for Equity Literacy”.
The Direct Confrontation Principle: There is no path to equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with inequity. There is no path to racial equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with interpersonal, institutional, and structural racism. “Equity” approaches that fail to directly confront inequity play a significant role in sustaining inequity.
The “Poverty of Culture” Principle: Inequities are primarily power and privilege problems, not primarily cultural problems. Equity requires power and privilege solutions, not just cultural solutions. Frameworks that attend to diversity purely in vague cultural terms, like the “culture of poverty,” are no threat to inequity.
The Prioritization Principle: Each policy and practice decision should be examined through the question, “How will this impact the most marginalized members of our community?” Equity is about prioritizing their interests.
The “Fix Injustice, Not Kids” Principle: Educational outcome disparities are not the result of deficiencies in marginalized communities’ cultures, mindsets, or grittiness, but rather of inequities. Equity initiatives focus, not on fixing marginalized people, but on fixing the conditions that marginalize people.
“Equity initiatives focus, not on fixing marginalized people, but on fixing the conditions that marginalize people.”
The DSM-V and other diagnostic tools pathologize and marginalize us, and they’re used to clear us out of the territory of our own lives in a very real way. And then the “settlers” — people who have taken courses, completed degrees, and gotten certifications — have moved in to profit from our marginalization.