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Racism and Psychopathology in the Colorblind Era

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 June 2016

James M. Thomas*
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Mississippi
W. Carson Byrd
Department of Pan-African Studies, University of Louisville
*Corresponding author: James M. Thomas, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Mississippi, 519 Lamar Hall, University, MS 38677. E-mail:


Since the early 1960s, there has been a movement among activists, scholars, and policymakers to redefine racism as a psychopathological condition, identifiable and treatable through psychotherapeutic and pharmacological interventions. This development reflects, and is reflected by, the popular framing among mass media and ordinary social actors of racism and racist events as individual pathology rather than as a social problem. This shifting perspective on racism, from a social problem and a system to an individual pathology, has increasingly become a part of academic and psychiatric discourse since Jim Crow. In this article, we have two aims: first, to trace the emergence of “psychopathological racism”; second, to illustrate the relationship between “psychopathological racism” and “colorblind racism” in the post-Civil Rights era. We argue that the psychopathological view of racism compliments colorblindness in that larger structural issues are dismissed in favor of individual pathos. Furthermore, psychopathological explanations for racism dismiss socio-political contexts, eschewing the contributions of well over fifty years of social scientific research in the process.

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Copyright © Hutchins Center for African and African American Research 2016 

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