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Sometimes a Bitch-Ass N--ga Is Just a Bitch-Ass N--ga


Considering the considerable stigmas still attached to mental health—how we talk about it, how we treat it, how we regard people who have mental-health issues—our collective tendency to shoehorn some sort of untreated psychological disorder into the profiles of people who’ve committed especially heinous crimes is (somewhat) understandable.


It allows us to finally have the big talk about mental health that’s been tabled and neglected for far too long. And it’s also soothing in a way—a self-medicating tactic that allows us to assign a reason and to blame some sort of phantom menace for evil. It’s just easier to accept that something was wrong with someone—something caused them to do that terrible thing—instead of their just being a terrible person.

This type of shoehorning, however, is extremely dangerous. Perhaps even more dangerous than not even talking about mental health at all. If we’re to give it the respect and the attention it deserves, that means we can’t pretend to be mental-health professionals, haphazardly doling out Facebook diagnoses like Halloween candy just because we watched a Criminal Minds marathon last weekend and think we know what the fuck we’re talking about.


Also, it both minimizes and criminalizes the people who are actually experiencing debilitating psychological issues. Assigning clinical depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia to criminals who may or may not even have them implies that their disorder caused the crime. Which also implies that people who genuinely do suffer from those issues are just as dangerous as those criminals, when the reality is that, for the vast majority of sufferers, they’re far, far more likely to harm themselves than others.

Conversations about mental health are, and will always be, necessary, relevant and pertinent. But sometimes a bitch-ass nigga is just a bitch-ass nigga. Steve Stephens, by all accounts, killed 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. in cold blood, recorded it, posted it to Facebook and blamed it on his ex-girlfriend. If we’re really serious about “solving” him, the focus needs to be on the malignant strain of toxic masculinity that creates and cultivates bitch-ass niggas like him instead of on some Fisher-Price medical evaluation of him.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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Thank you for saying this. As someone who worked in mental health for years, I get so annoyed by seeing people thinking they can just arbitrarily label someone a “sociopath” (which hasn’t been an actual diagnosis in years), narcissist, or whatever other mental health diagnosis they know the name of.

The fact is, unless you actually know these people, and have known them for sometime, you don’t know nearly enough about them to try to armchair diagnose someone. Least of all, diagnose someone purely based on a tragic news article.