So, I’m in J. Crew. Go ahead, insert snide references to Sly’s confirmed social location as a Preppy. I could tell you it was on account of a friend, and I much prefer Brooks Brothers, but that’s not gonna help us any.

One of my friends calls, and has an earful for me. The word she kept coming back to as she attempted to describe my content here was “tortured.” Surely, we all hope for such fond reviews, but the substance of the objection was that I’d come to produce an over-theorized, pretentious, and self-guilt assuaging discussion of racism (in particular) and social issues (in general).

As ever, she delivered this feedback with all the subtly of an anvil.

She’s got a point. Discourse can be an excuse not to get off one’s ass, and there is of course something kind of deeply suspect about another white dude who got caught red handed in J. Crew talking about race, gender, class, and colonialism. But, as I said to her, I believe that the way people think, talk about and imagine the world enables them to interact with it, and that cruelty of action is almost always preceded by cruelty of discourse.

We reached the following deal. I’d bring back more fun blogging and she’d let the rest of my “tortured” writing slide without too much mocking that might threaten my self-importance. And i really intended to bring the fun today. But the top of my feed reader had a direct and personal request for follow up.

Sorry, folks. As written in response to Max Julian, a brief missive on why I can’t stomach comparisons of racism and mental illness.

A great deal of my energy and writing go into working towards a model of mental illness that, say…doesn’t help people treat us like crap. I’m twitchy about it, no doubt.

But there’s something there, and it has to do with a very gut level revulsion against the incredibly heinous things people are willing to do to “cure” folks that they have come to understand as mentally ill.

On the other hand, I think it’s a bad way of conceptualizing something you want to do something about. From somebody who experiences mental illness…it just doesn’t strike me as a productive parallel. The choices i make have little to do with if I’m going to experience depression or not. I can’t interrupt my panic attacks the way one might be able to interrupt an expression of white privilege. Moreover, a medicalized model of “bad thing as mental illness” often gets used to imply that there’s simply nothing to be done…that person, concept, whatever are just beyond the pale, and that the only correct response is exclusion. Thus enter my objection to the casting of bush loving, anti-whatever, extremists as “crazy.”

No! They have a choice about what they do. What they’re doing is wrong and hurtul to others. And they should change their behavior. Folks with mental illness had jack shit to do with how they developed it, make the choices they are entitled to in terms of coping and living their lives as they see fit.

Nobody has a moral obligation to “cure” themselves on account of the social compact. I believe that people have the right to the most autonomous existence that is possible for them, regardless of if they are neuro-typical or not. Mental illness isn’t about pain for other people.

And this is what brings me full circle. I believe that most ill-treatment, stigma, and fear of persons will mental illness revolves around observers imagining that they are the victim. That being forced to exist in the same world as somebody who thinks, feels, and perceives differently than they do is terrible. And then the cure gets a whole lot worse than the disease.

That kind of language just doesn’t work for me…i think it risks an incomplete theory of racism, and it may well imply a toxic understanding of mental illness.

I’d be having about the same reaction as if you’d posted that racism was a sexual orientation, or a gender. Or a race, for that matter.

-sly

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