Those who are openly racist get branded with plenty of negative terms: hateful, ignorant, backwards, vile, every name in the book—that is, except for “crazy.” The reason behind this seems obvious to me, and it betrays a common form of selective reasoning in the collective consciousness. “Hatred,” for example, is a useful term for propagating public outrage, as it has the appearance of being deliberate, of having been considered and gestated in the mind of the beholder. “Craziness,” on the other hand, engenders sympathy. Like one’s race, it is not chosen. When a new pariah emerges for the hungry public, the last thing the public is going to want to do is proffer concern for the person’s well-being, and so the offender’s mental state is overlooked lest it undermine the narrative.
After all, it’s hard to demonize a group of people whose ranks include many who believe that their coworkers and family members are actual demons, and it’s easy to play armchair psychologist from behind a computer screen (which I will be doing to an extent shortly, but I am mentally ill, so blow me). It’s so easy that when somebody commits the socially suicidal act of using racist language in a public setting, as did Janelle Ambrosia, the woman in the now-viral YouTube video “Blatant Racism in Cheektowaga NY,” that nobody even stops to consider the idea that she might be batshit fucking insane and thus have a diminished capability for controlling her own behavior.
After all, she’s wearing glasses! She’s obviously sane enough to put those on, right? And she didn’t shit herself or start cartwheeling halfway through the video, so why even entertain the notion that she’s about as stable as a three-legged chair?
Just in case you’re wondering—no, I am not asking you to feel sorry for the crazy lady. I am simply asking you to keep in mind that she is, in all likelihood, crazy. The Cheektowaga Police Department has even alluded to this possibility, and in a statement released by Police Chief David Zack, he said the following:
I feel that it would be irresponsible of me to form a premature judgment on her actions. … If substance or mental health issues are not at play here, then her conduct should be considered as nothing less than deplorable.
How often do you see such careful commentary from law enforcement when somebody flies off the handle in public and starts using the kind of language that would make Daniel Carver blush? Call me paranoid, but I have a feeling that Zack has a feeling that this woman is indeed as nutty as a fruitcake—but then again, I am a little nutty myself, so I would say that.
And call me double-paranoid, but I have a feeling that the public reaction to this event would be a little better tempered if mentally ill people were considered to be on the same level of the oppression hierarchy as are blacks, which is ironic considering that mental illness is disproportionately common in black Americans, but such is “intersectionality”—in case the name didn’t give it away, it sometimes means that the wires get crossed.
You’d be justified in reminding me that I’m not a qualified mental health professional, though a cursory examination for the symptoms of bipolar disorder provide some compelling parallels within Ambrosia’s words and actions in the video:
• extreme irritability
• talking very fast
• racing thoughts
• lack of concentration
• having a lot of energy
• a reduced need for sleep
• a sense of one’s own importance
• poor judgment
• increased sexual drive
• risky behavior
• misusing drugs or alcohol
• aggressive behavior
Yes, racism is alive and well, and so is madness. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, though they certainly seem to lend to one another. Still, feel free to continually ignore the psychological impairments of the same types of people who would have been forcibly sterilized for their disturbing behavior as recently as a century ago. I appreciate that it’s simply no fun being angry at somebody with severe psychological health problems; it’s kind of like being mad at your dog for pissing on the rug. Sure, he knows what he did, but he doesn’t really know, does he?
This whole spectacle reminds me of some similar viral videos that emerged from England a couple of years back. In one video, a woman named Emma West sits with her young son on her lap and launches an unprovoked racial tirade against the black and Polish passengers of a crowded tram. In another, an unidentified black woman stands up on a bus while screaming racial abuse at the surrounding white passengers.
Only one of these clips was featured on the news. The former video garnered national outrage and shows a number of passengers, black and white, preparing to physically attack West, while the latter went largely ignored and shows the white passengers taking their barbs in uncanny silence. Besides that, what’s interesting about the contrast between the two is that nobody stopped to consider that West was unwell (despite her released medical records showing her having spent time in a secure facility) until her appearance in court. Yet in the case of the angry black woman on the bus, you can pretty much see that assumption from the people in the video itself and from the total lack of outrage toward her from anybody in the British public.
Are we then to assume that black people are more expected by society to exhibit psychotic behavior and that it’s more of a surprise when white people do? Could you be forgiven for assuming there’s some political bias in the court’s deliberation of guilt and the public’s meting out of social justice? I think the answer is yes, and it reveals an ugly truth—there’s a little bit of racism, and a little bit of crazy, in all of us.