This has been an abysmal seven days in what has already been an altogether bleak year. 49 innocent LGBT people murdered at the hands of a violent, homophobic bigot; a principled and inspiring public servant carrying out public service, murdered by a violent fascist. These were lives not “lost”, but taken. Lives brutally taken in the most horrendous and terrifying of circumstances.
The perpetrators may well have been mentally ill – we don’t know yet. That they were hateful and wicked is without question. But, once again, inevitably, the focus is not just on the bigotry and violent hatred behind their acts, but on what mental state these men may have been in when they committed their respective atrocities in Orlando and West Yorkshire.
Of course it is necessary to understand why these people have committed these heinous acts- be it as a way of preventing similar acts in the future, or simply to try and make sense of what are inconceivably wicked actions – but it is crushingly, depressingly, and exhaustingly repetitive.
A man commits an act of heinous violence – be it Dylann Roof, Omar Mateen, or whomever else – because they have a volcanic hatred and a weapon in their hand with which to unleash it; the papers line up, horrified by this “psycho”; this “quiet, lone wolf”; this “headcase”; this “lunatic madman”.
Dismissing murderers and bigots as simply “mentally unwell” without simultaneously emphasizing the hatred, racism, or homophobia that drove them to act does not hurt murderers and racists. It does nothing to those that spread this hatred or those that suffer because of it. Ignoring the prejudices that drive these men and instead focusing on how “mental” they may have been harms sufferers of mental illness everywhere by association and by reinforcing harmful stigma while absolving those who spread hate of their part in it.
Time and time again, be it on social media and in the press, we see right-on, well-meaning people proselytizing about “mental health awareness”. However, when one of these acts occurs, time and time again, it is easier for (often the same) people to believe that someone acts in an evil way because they are irrational, because they are “ill”, rather than consider that they are acting primarily out of hatred.
Rather than confront homophobia, sexism, and racism – which in turn may force us to look at ourselves and our own behaviours and see that we may, in some way, bear collective responsibility for these atrocities- we dismiss their actions as madness or religious fervour.
It is easier to assume the murderer of Jo Cox was simply insane rather than confront the fact that they were a violent fascist acting during a referendum campaign typified by racist imagery and xenophobic rhetoric. It is far simpler to dismiss Omar Mateen as an insane extremist acting out of Islamist fervour rather than address the homophobia which created not just him but others like him from all backgrounds- Christian and Muslim, religious and secular.
I am sick and tired of seeing “mental health” blamed for the actions of bigots. Fascists exterminated and imprisoned mentally ill people in the past because we were deemed to be burdens on society or demonically possessed- now society tries to scapegoat us rather than examine the true causes of these acts. If you speak of “mental health awareness” but your first instinct is to assume that a murderer is acting out of insanity rather than hatred, you’re part of the problem.
Fascism and homophobia have killed millions of people but we’re still supposed to believe that someone’s more likely to kill because they’re mentally ill than because they’re a fascist or homophobic. Perhaps the reason mentally ill people don’t speak out about our illnesses is because murderous fascists are called mental before they’re called fascist; because it’s easier to believe that someone who’s ill is capable of being a murderer than someone inspired by bigotry and hatred; because we’re afraid that you’re as scared of us as we are of ourselves; because fear and hatred kills.