How you address your political others.

Recently, in a otherwise extremely cogent and well argued piece on the terroristic aspects of the pro-life movement, Jill of Feministe made the following statement:

These people are sick. They are seriously mentally ill.

My immediate response was a rather uncharitable anger. It’s prejudiced, and it’s bad argumentation too. As i commented, it’s a terrible ad hominem not just because of the damage that it does to persons with mental illness, but because it erases the responsibility of the person you’re using it against.

Lest you think I regret being peevish,I should say that I think I had reason to be cross with her. This is not an isolated event, but a larger pattern of rhetorics that confuses mental illness with political disagreement, generalized anti-social behavior, and/or percieved danger to the proper order of things. Race is often medicalized in this fashion, there are gendered and sexualized implications for women and for queers, class…the list goes on. If you’re part of a marginalized or oppressed group, chances are that the discourse of mental illness has been deployed against you.

Sucks, doesn’t it. But the primary victim of this particular pattern is not any of these groups. It’s persons with mental illness. Frankly, let’s admit it. The Man has plenty of ways of using political language dressed as science, social commentary or medicine on marginalized folks. If it wasn’t this, it’d be something else. But for persons living with mental illness, the fact that the powers have chosen to use this trope has been devastating.

The Wellstone Act still lingers in Congress as an indictment of all of give it lip service.

Even in disaster, mental health is ignored, sidelined, and is allowed to magnify the suffering.

Treatment of serious mental illness is still fraught with charlatans and sadists.

Costly, limited and biased access to care makes mental illness disproportionately harmful to racial and ethnic minorities.

I’m sick to death of all of this. I know there’s a lot I can’t change in a day. But this is what i do expect, and I do expect it now. Concurring with Spotted Elephant, who added to the thread:

Equating terrible behavior with mental illness MUST stop. It’s bigotry, pure and simple.

If you’re progressive, if you’re trying to change the world for the better…if you think you’re one of the good people of the world…

Stop using these rhetorics. Stop participating in this marginalization. Start interrupting, start confronting and start changing these biases and prejudices in yourself and the people around you.

For the record, I need to state that Jill did apologize, and that I accept that as sincere.

But that doesn’t change the rest of it. That’s up to all of us.

-sly

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