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Whiteness as a Form of Mental Illness

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

Let me first start off by saying that Whiteness doesn’t just live in White people. We are all swimming in to waters of what is right, real, and true as White and male. Because of this we all fall into this false belief system at some time in our life.

I first heard the idea that Whiteness was a mental illness from one of my elders years ago. At the time I didn’t fully buy into it but I’m starting to see it differently now. The elder said to me something to the effect of, "Whiteness is a kind of mental illness. Because it looks at things and doesn’t see what’s there but sees what the illness has told them is appropriate to see. It lacks a true moral compass. It sees what centuries of conditioning and DNA has trained it to see."

I have seen this kind of mental blindness before in my friend who is schizophrenic. She sees and believes things that aren’t there, that aren’t true, they aren’t truth. But they are true to her in the moment, They are just as real as anything to her. This illness had my friend knock on a strangers door and demand his car keys so she could drive to New York. This story was so real to her that he had to pull a gun on her before she left his house.

The problem with Whiteness as a mental illness, is that it not only believes what it is seeing is true but it thinks its true for everyone. It reduces all other stories as just a difference of opinion. It thinks that everyone should honor this truth that they are holding and if others don’t they feel as if they are not being seen or acknowledged. You see, they can’t really see themselves so how could they think anyone else could ever really see them.

Amy Howton wrote in our book The InnerGround Railroad: A 40 Day Journey to Remembering Soul & Spirit, “Waking up to these truths can be painful. What I’ve found most painful is our not-seeing, is our willful blindness— the fact that we’ve been choosing to live all this time, unawake. The truth that somehow, unbeknownst to ourselves, we have assumed the position of purveyors of half-truths that in essence reduces the humanity of those we love and ourselves.”

I have experienced this often but it’s just been lately that I have been seeing the unconsciousness of these actions. Often it can look like forgetfulness but I think it’s deeper than that. I think there is a way that these things that don’t fit with the Whiteness story overloads the system and boots it out. Its as if it never happened.

Last year I wrote a journal entry while struggling with this very thing with two different people (who happened to be White) in my life that I love and care about. I wrote:

"I’m struggling at this moment in the middle of this sea of Whiteness to keep hold of my own sanity. I’m struggling to know if what I am seeing and feeling is true. I’m in my own kind of hand to hand combat with the angels. Can I believe what I know is true when another’s story is so very different?

Strangely enough I’m even caught in between one who says we are family where there is very little evidence around this statement besides the pictures on the wall of me and my children and the years of knowing each other that says that this is true.

And another that says we aren’t family when there is an abundance of evidence around who we are together that point to family, including when we are in trouble we turn to each other, when we have something to celebrate we turn to each other. Including we spend more time in each other’s homes than almost anyone else is our lives including our children. I don’t know what else besides blood that would make us family. But then again the story of “not blood” is a part of the Whiteness too."

Whiteness lies. It makes you think that you get to decide things that you don’t. It takes God, nature, the other person, and even yourself out of the equation. But because of wounded instinct that happens through trauma the person believes that they are seeing themselves. The only thing that matters is the Whiteness.

What I have noticed is that one of the ancestral wounds of slavery to heal for all of us from this wound of colonization. When your ancestors have been the colonizers there is often a fear of being colonized. Showing up as a kind of preemptive strike. And when your ancestors have been colonized there is often a belief of the colonizer’s story of you. Showing up as a cautious and/or guarded stance in life. These wounds keep us from love and freedom. Fear always does.

When the Whiteness shows up in White people it is really hard to heal because as the dominant culture it is so hard to even see that you are wounded.


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Such a profound piece, and so true. For fellow whites who read this, can’t we just feel that whiteness swell up inside at certain times when our psyche feels threatened? Ebbing and flowing to suit the situations that challenge us? Or other times when we feel more secure, and don‘t feel like we have to wrap up in our privilege to be seen or appreciated. I feel the latter most when I’m around people who are genuine, authentic, self and culture-refective, and willing to admit to and/ or support reparations for the damage this still largely un-acknowledged practice of whiteness has wreaked on our communities, nation and world.

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