There’s a lot of discussion these days about racism, xenophobia and other social dysfunctions. But is there a connection to mental health? When a white person kills nine black people in a church, some call it racism; some attribute it to mental illness. When polls find that the majority of the U.S. doesn’t want to allow Syrian refugees into the country; some call it racism, some call it xenophobia. The examples go on, and on.
Is racism a mental health disorder? “Probably not”, according to the research. However, it is clear that racism and mental health issues are on a spectrum. Someone can be prejudiced and not have a paranoid disorder; someone can dislike interacting with people of another race and not have xenophobia, clinically speaking. In fact, people are rarely either racist or not-racist; almost all of us fall along a spectrum of beliefs about others.
At the heart of all prejudice, whether systemic discrimination, an individual’s belief that one race is superior to another, is selfishness; in a word, sin.
God’s intention for people is a radical equality between races, genders and socio-economic classes. Humility, submission and thinking of others as better than yourself are common themes throughout scripture. As Christians, we should be at the forefront of dialogue and movements promoting equality, freedom, and social justice. God commands us to care for the poor, the marginalized and the foreigners among us as a community.
Both racism and mental illness thrive in silence and isolation.
It’s God’s transforming power, the light of Jesus, that overcomes the darkness. “If we claim to be in the light and hate someone, we are still in the dark” 1 John 2:9 (CEV).