Hogg (2006) states that “Social Identity theory is motivated by two processes, self enhancement and uncertainty reduction”, this has been mulling over and over in my mind all week. I am stuck on its contradiction; instead of being a freeing process that enhances and reduces uncertainty instead brings about and perpetuates all of the magnificent “isms”. We as human beings categorize everything and everyone without even thinking; especially ourselves, we cannot help it; it’s how we are designed. This idea started me thinking about alcoholism. I know this is an odd jump but bear with me for a minute.
Alcoholics have a compulsion to drink. Alcohol has become such an intricate part of their person that an alcoholic becomes physically dependent on it in order to function. We have now classified alcoholism as a “disease” or a “disorder” who’s victims began their participation voluntarily but were actually taken over by the alcohol. It’s actually an “ism”, only different. What if we applied the same thought to racism?
Racism is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”. What if we were able to somehow classify it a tad bit differently and instead of stating a “belief” what if instead we were to include the verbiage “a mental disorder which includes the belief that..” prior to the rest of the definition? Hate, like any behavior is a choice initially and eventually it permeates every fiber of someones being. I wonder, if by changing the definition, how much that would change how it is viewed in society.
Alcoholics try to hide their disease initially and will rationalize how they are “fine” and still be able to function in society (i.e. they work, have families etc). Alcoholics also have support groups and rehabilitation centers dedicated to their treatment and many will never admit to having a problem even after seeking help for the disease. Do you think it would be possible to do the same with racism? Would society better understand racism’s sweeping damage and actually desire to address their own issues with regard to race or would they continue to hide it and pretend like they do not have a problem?
If we were to label (categorize) racism as a disease or a mental disorder, we would stigmatize it and perhaps make those who deem it as tolerable or “no longer an issue” realize it is a real problem; if not, at least they would attempt to hide it so as to not be “one of those”. Could we get to a place in society where there were places to go to learn how to accept one another as human beings and not a color by reprogramming the neural pathways and associations that were formed abnormally?
I am fully aware that this is a radical (and perhaps delusional) thought process however; if I am able to look at someone and classify them as “ill” then my capacity for understanding and patience increases. If I simply look at them as choosing to hate, I have less tolerance and feel less inclined to help without judging or blaming them first. Since we as human beings need to identify people as a category, why not reissue the category of “mentally ill” to include racism?