Racial Diminishment Syndrome06-18-2020
Chris Lebron writes that while three medical associations now label racism to be a public health crisis, he has long spoken of “Racial Diminishment syndrome,” a disease that, if often deadly, “more commonly results in discomfort, inconvenience and the sort of pains that eventually go away but the memories of which do not. Here we are talking about being pulled over for driving while black; a hotel patron assuming I am staff while walking the hall to my own room; professional colleagues failing to consider my point of view; and on and on. Social distancing can help prevent this kind of exposure, but it goes only so far.”
At the core of Racial Diminishment Syndrome is the requirement that Lebron and others feel to conform, to fit themselves into what they perceive to be a hierarchical and oppressive white society. And his answer is to simply socially distance himself from the white world around him. Lebron concludes:
It is not only instances that can result in physical harm I avoid. I almost never attend casual faculty functions. I don’t go out for drinks. I don’t entertain for dinner parties and I don’t seek to ingratiate myself into the lives of my white colleagues. I have a great deal of respect for the many white academics I have worked with. But some of them remain vectors of R.D.S. nonetheless. I know so much about many of these people because I know what it is white America needs me to be for it to allow me inside. What they need is a version of myself that acquiesces and conforms, that is never displeased or contrary — or angry.
You can watch Lebron speaking at the 2019 Hannah Arendt Center Conference “Real Talk” here.
I won’t do it. I’ll social distance. It’s already hard enough to breathe in America. Every day you feel like you’re living with a knee on your neck. It’s a sickness. And I am not immune.