15 August 2013


John L. Jackson, Jr.
I'm a frequent viewer of C-Span's Book TV and recently there was an interview with Professor John Jackson regarding his book, Racial Paranoia. As is the case with Book TV, this was a re-airing of the interview which took place four years ago. It was the last 30 minutes of the program and what I heard was somewhat confusing to me and I wasn't exactly sure of the premise.  After reading the book, reviews of it and the author's response to a critic of his research and supposition; it seemed a reasonable perspective and one that should be considered.  The latter, is especially critical for a better understanding of  racial dynamics especially since President Obama took office.  I must confess that it was only after reading the blurb by Randall Robinson on the book, whom by the way I highly respect; that I tried to proceed with an open mind.  The word paranoia and the phrase 'political correctness' are generating the most concern for me as it relates to the racial dynamics of black folks.       

Paranoia is mainly a clinical term for me and one that as a psychotherapist, (retired) believed was used excessively by many mental health professionals when assessing the mental status of African-Americans.  This may well be the case today. It's a psychosis with delusions of persecution or grandeur, usually without hallucinations and depending on the nature and degree can lend to dire or dysfunctional consequences for the person and collateral damage for family or others.  He emphatically states in his formal talk on the book (see link) that he's not pathologizing black folks and cites that (in my humble opinion) it has become a consequence of race and racism.  Political correctness is also a perception I've come to dislike for it's been used to allow folks to say hurtful, insensitive remarks and express skewed views on ethnicity, class and gender issues at times with impunity. The discussion usually begins with..."I know this is politically incorrect but" and with this caveat she or he gets a free pass on denigrating or relating stereotypical views about others.  It doesn't matter if the latter is true or not. The author correlates political correctness in alignment with race and racism which supports his thesis on black paranoia. The social definition of paranoia is the tendency of individuals or groups to be excessively suspicious of others which lends to a lack of trust and isolative behaviors toward the identified group.  Both clinical and social definitions equal dysfunction and or lack of socialization skills. It's pathological and if any group has reason to be leery of this society's practices; it's people of color.   De Cardio racism is another term used to describe hidden viewpoints or nuances about the inferiority of black folks which he goes into detail about and believes this also lends to the state of paranoia. These are views that not only whites have about black people but other people of color as well are victimized by this mindset.  Implicit studies are cited and I wrote a post, December 14, 2009 featuring an article by Malcolm Gladwell on the  The Implicit Association Harvard Study. The purpose of the study was to expose those hidden feelings we have about various groups/individuals and the impact of societal norms and practices on how we view others who may look differently, act differently and espouse values that may also challenge the "norm".

Professor Jackson also wrote a response to critics of his book and I've provided a link to "How Not To Read Racial Paranoia".  He's quite defensive, arguably so and suggests that the critics actually didn't read the book or read parts of it and made assumptions that clearly wasn't the point he was making.  It has certainly provided another way to view and I must confess that I will again read it, for what he claims was his intention isn't exactly what I've gleaned from the first reading.  He does provide some solutions or means of diminishing the paranoia and admits that it's not a cure all.  Of course, the onus is always on the oppressed group to reach out and do the bulk of the problem solving.  I wish he had said more about 'white paranoia' because I truly believe that dominant cultures have well established patterns of distrust and suspicion towards oppressed or marginalized groups.  This in turn, feeds the 'paranoia' that he talks about in the book.  Two of several examples he gave were Dave Chappelle's and Gloria Naylor's psychotic breaks.  Which to me was more in line with a clinical presentation than a social perspective of paranoia.  Also the conspiracy theories spawned by Katrina  were used to make a point about the power of group complicity  memes that can't be substantiated.  

The professor's guarded response to critics brings to mind an incident when I was taking a course on statistics many years ago. The textbook version was giving me a headache and difficult to comprehend as it related to studies, population groups and actually the validity of some of the conclusions reached with those impressive tables and graphs.  I spoke with the professor who taught the class in her office.  She directed me to a basket in one of the corners filled with publications to use as a guide.  Similar to the "dummy" sequences.  After reading a few, it became clear and I questioned why the textbook with its wordiness and abstractions missed the mark.  I must say that I wasn't the only one struggling with it at the time. {Misery doesn't love company it needs it} She simply replied that it's called Scholarship, my dear.  The condescension aside, the intent of Professor Jackson's scholarly work may not have been to mislead; it could be just simply Scholarship. 


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