My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
So often I am asked—as all black writers are asked—how their message might be packaged to appeal to those who have no appetite for what we are saying. The interlocutor is usually a person of good faith, who is in agreement, but the question is always a trap. Any writer who takes as their starting place any doubt as to their own humanity, or the humanity of their subject, has already lost…. For black writers, this is a formula for never evolving, for writing the same thing over and over. For black writers the danger is having their work devolve into workshop on racial sensitivity.BACK TO TOP