This is adapted from an article about 11 Ways White America Avoids Taking Responsibility for its Racism. It didn’t take much editing to make it relevant to those of us who challenge stigma for the mentally ill — not much at all. I see the same games being played all the time in certain advocacy groups “for the mentally ill” to prevent and avoid frank discussions among caretakers and patients about stigma.
Here are the “rules of the game” that they impose on us:
1. Do not give me feedback on my sane privilege under any circumstances.
If you break the cardinal rule:
2. Proper tone is crucial – feedback must be given calmly. If there is any emotion in the feedback, the feedback is invalid and does not have to be considered.
3. There must be trust between us. You must trust that I am in no way stigmatizing before you can give me feedback on my stigmatizing.
4. Our relationship must be issue-free – If there are issues between us, you cannot give me feedback on stigma.
5. Feedback must be given immediately, otherwise it will be discounted because it was not given sooner.
6. You must give feedback privately, regardless of whether the incident occurred in front of other people. To give feedback in front of anyone else—even those involved in the situation—is to commit a serious social transgression. The feedback is thus invalid.
7. You must be as indirect as possible. To be direct is to be insensitive and will invalidate the feedback and require repair.
8. As a sane person I must feel completely safe during any discussion of mental illness. Giving me any feedback on my stigmatizing will cause me to feel unsafe, so you will need to rebuild my trust by never giving me feedback again. Point of clarification: when I say “safe” what I really mean is “comfortable.”
9. Giving me feedback on my sane privilege invalidates the form of oppression that I experience (i.e. classism, sexism, heterosexism). We will then need to focus on how you oppressed me.
10. You must focus on my intentions, which cancel out the impact of my behavior.
11. To suggest my behavior was stigmatizing is to have misunderstood me. You will need to allow me to explain until you can acknowledge that it was your misunderstanding.
There are a few other tricks that the sane pull:
12. If you oppose “Assisted Outpatient Therapy” (AOT) aka “Forced Outpatient Therapy” (FOT) or even, like myself, want strict control on it, they say that you are against the mentally ill and an antipsychiatrist (which is definitely not true in my case.)
13. If you post alternative views to theirs, they ignore you, especially if you are mentally ill.
14. If you identify with your illness in a manner that they don’t approve — e.g. by saying “I am bipolar”, they will tell you that you are thinking that you are your illness and divert attention to that issue.
15. They invoke a concept called “self-stigma” which puts the the blame for the problems of the mentally ill on the mentally ill.
16. Finally, they will only discuss the issues with members of their own sanity class. I saw D.J. Jaffe and Robert Whitaker carry on a conversation about mental illness in which they completely ignored the mentally ill participants including their followers! And both claim to be “friends of the mentally ill”! Of course, I fall into an inconvenient category — people who are pro-patient rights and pro-medication, one which Jaffe and Whitaker both despise.
The author goes on to suggest a different pair of responses for people who are sincere about investigating and changing themselves. Again, I have slightly modified it to apply to sane privilege:
1. How, where, and when you give me feedback is irrelevant – it is the feedback I want and need. Understanding that it is hard to give, I will take it any way I can get it. From my position of social, cultural, and institutional sane power and privilege, I am perfectly safe and I can handle it. If I cannot handle it, it’s on me to build my stamina on these issues.
2. Thank you.