Mental illness causes suffering to individuals and families. But there are historical and cultural mental illnesses so pervasive, they feel “normal,” going against these norms “crazy.” They are based on the delusional belief that one group is superior to another and is therefore justified in exploiting and oppressing those inferior.
We can be taught to see something as good, patriotic, noble which is clearly wrong: the killing and taking land from native peoples, colonizing another's land, exploiting resources and limiting the rights of inhabitants. Slavery — the buying and selling of human beings — lynching, rampages of the KKK. When I see newsreels showing black people simply trying to vote attacked by hoses and dogs, or people screaming hate and spitting at young black children going to school, when I see the dignity of nonviolence during the Civil Rights movement, I wonder how anyone sees the white race as superior, sees a person of darker skin as, inferior, dirty, infested, criminal. And throughout history and throughout the world, how, I wonder, have men maintained their illusion of superiority, sexually harassing, raping, exploiting, controlling women's bodies and actions, doing acts of violence with impunity, as if it were their “right.” These mental delusions are rampant, easily ignited by dangerous leaders fed by greed and power.
When privilege and power are questioned, those in power feel victimized, threatened. But what is lost is unwarranted privilege and delusion, not one’s essential being.
When I taught Ellison's “The Invisible Man,” a student said: “If you take away someone's illusions you kill them.” I thought, “that's not true.” Illusions are fed to all of us by others; they separate us from ourselves, our hearts and others. To question, to shatter illusions — to become aware of what is — allows us to become our deeper selves, free of anger and hatred.
Bernice Mennis, West Fort Ann