Town Hall: March 13, 2021
A Project for National Healing:
Racism, White Supremacy, and Societal Mental Health
March 13, 2021
The recent mass killing of mostly Asians at three Atlanta-area Asian massage parlors is widely seen as a culmination of escalating racism against Asian-Americans. In March 2020, when Donald Trump started calling the novel coronavirus “Chinese virus” and “Kung flu” to deflect blame from himself and to create alternative targets for his followers’ rage, mental health professionals warned that he would become the greatest risk factor of injury and mortality. With the now 550,000 Covid-19 deaths, at least 40% of which were directly attributable to Donald Trump’s mismanagement as per a recent Lancet article, and up to 97% of which were unnecessary according to a Columbia University study, the ensuing suffering has been displaced onto China, the Chinese, and anyone who looks Chinese. Just as four years of Donald Trump’s dehumanization of immigrants and desperate migrants led to unprecedented hate crimes and mass shootings, and his portrayal of mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter protests as violent descended on them the full federal forces and police brutality, his rhetoric has now placed Asian-Americans in peril.
The Trump presidency was a public health emergency that exacerbated the nation’s problems on multiple levels, and healing must follow a full accounting of its implications. The World Mental Health Coalition, which step-by-step predicted the disastrous mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic, accurately anticipated a violent insurrection such as what happened on January 6, 2021, and appropriately warned of a mental health pandemic in the absence of a referendum on the Trump presidency, is now launching a Project for National Healing with a series of Truth and Reconciliation Town Halls that will bring together leading intellectuals, mental health professionals, and other speakers of truth. Themes we will cover include racism, dangerous leadership, cultism, economic inequality, and imperialism. We will, together with interviews of prominent players and ordinary citizens, analyze what exactly happened over the last four years, where we are now, and how we can heal as a nation.
While the Democratic Party has announced a 9/11-type commission on the narrow focus of what happened around the January 6, 2021, insurrection, we believe that the politicians, the Congress, and the mainstream media are ill-equipped to provide a serious, credible, unconflicted, and professional analysis. The political parties and the country as a whole have become far too polarized and partisan without common method or agreed-upon reality. Additionally, they are unable to stand up to the attacks are bound to come to a major public effort. Hence, there is both a vacuum and a need that the World Mental Health Coalition (WMHC) can fill. Our work has always emphasized strict adherence to professional standards, scientific evidence, and independence from any political or financial obligations. We have additionally demonstrated an ability to withstand intense political pressures that would silence expert voices.
To this end, the WMHC has inaugurated its Truth and Reconciliation Town Hall series on March 13, 2021, with the theme: “Racism, White Supremacy, and Societal Mental Health.” A video recording of the event is now available. We presented racism as a non-scientific, non-factual belief that is rooted in the pathological need to assert superiority over others in order to fight a deep-seated sense of inferiority. It shields its adherents from prosecution while subjecting Blacks, Latinx, Native Americans, and Asians to various forms of violence and intergenerational trauma, stimulating societal self-annihilation, as we have seen under Donald Trump’s presidency. Kevin Washington, Ph.D., and Bandy Lee, M.D., M.Div., Board members of the World Mental Health Coalition, served as co-chairs.
The session opened with Cornel West, Ph.D., soon-to-be Dietrich Bonhoeffer chair at Union Theological Seminary and former professor of the practice of public philosophy at Harvard University. He drew attention to the fact that Blacks have been chronically hated for 400 years and yet keep dishing out love and producing love warriors. Instead of getting caught up in the weight and the impossibility of overcoming, Black and African people, who keep producing freedom fighters, are not calling for terrorizing others, or the Black version of the Ku Klux Klan, but liberty for everybody.
Wade Nobles, Ph.D., professor emeritus at San Francisco State University and co-founder of the Association of Black Psychologists, proposed as a first concept the attempted “epistemicide” of African thought, or the attempt to kill the ability even to know what it means to be African and human. Hence, Africans walk in the world fumbling, stumbling, trying to be, seeking respect and recognition from, and then ending up looking at who their oppressors really are. The assault on the capital, the very place this whole country holds to be sacred, illustrates the human savagery that is white supremacy.
Gregory Carr, Ph.D., associate professor of Africana studies and chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, noted that we need to understand what it means for a society to be mentally unwell, which has a great deal to do with the political and economic structures. Settler violence has been from the first people who came here with an intent to dispossess others of their humanity, which we are still responding to. Moving forward together may mean creating the space to be able to contribute our distinct perspectives without collapsing them.
Cristalis Capielo Rosario, Ph.D., assistant professor in counseling and counseling psychology at Arizona State University and former officer of the National Latinx Psychological Association, recounted the Puerto Rican experience. An internalized notion that their experiences, histories, and knowledge are inferior, underdeveloped, or do not exist at all allows political exclusion, economic exploitation, cultural control, and social fragmentation to take hold, much as in Latin America.
Alicia Mousseau, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and first out LGBTQ vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, highlighted that there are over 560 federally recognized tribes in the United States, and therefore she could not speak on behalf of all of them, but true American history includes the indigenous people of the nation. Going from being the majority to now one to two percent of the population is a historical trauma, but they pass on who they are in their communities through the elders.
The path to healing may be arduous and long, exposing many uncomfortable truths, but it is a course we must confront, and we hope you will join us.