Royce White, on his own anxiety disorder and the links between police killings, institutional racism, and our nation’s failure to address and treat mental illness.
“If some of us can’t see clearly, and others of us can’t breathe, who among the rest of us will have the courage to step forward, and name and treat these afflictions for the betterment of us all?” – Royce White
Royce White is a supremely talented basketball player. In 2012, while at Iowa State, the versatile 6-8 forward was the only player in the country to lead his team in the five major statistical categories: points (13.4), rebounding (9.3), assists (5.0), steals (1.1) and blocks (0.9), and the second ever player to lead the Cyclones in points, rebounds and assists. After declaring early, he was drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 16th overall pick of the first round.
White also is unique in his being public and very open about his mental health and his generalized anxiety disorder. His reported specific ailments include panic attacks, a fear of heights and traveling — especially by plane — and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Unfortunately, his anxiety disorder collided with his basketball career soon after he was drafted. Indeed, White never even played a minute for the Rockets because he and Rockets management couldn’t agree on plan for how to treat and deal with his anxiety disorder, which includes a fear of flying.
Since then White has bounced from the Rockets to the Sixers to the Kings to the NBA Development League to out of the league entirely.
Earlier this week, White penned a raw and compelling essay entitled “I Can’t Breathe Either,” which was published in Medium. The sub-heading reads: “I’m a 6-foot-8, 270-pound black man suffering from anxiety disorder, and I have legitimate reasons for concern.”
His essay opens by tying the struggles of our nation – police killings, racism, and social injustice – to a sort of mental illness, a kind of claustrophobia or panic attack:
“Maybe it would be too convenient to label the nationwide protests over police killings, racism, and social injustice as panic attacks. Still, it is clear our country is suffering from a collective claustrophobia that has intensified within the past year and brought us to a flashpoint. Citizens and police alike feel closed in; responses — whether the reckless and/or gratuitous use of force and weaponry, or the seemingly random and counterintuitive destruction of property and businesses — are marked by panic, irrationality, and fear . . . As someone who also deals with anxiety disorder every day, I know all about panic attacks and the inability to breathe.”
White frames himself as a living breathing metaphor for the our nation’s problematic discourse about mental health: discussions of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues remain stigmatized, and we would rather ignore mental health maladies than address them head on. As White put it, mental health is “a mirror that reflects who we really are – yet we keep running from our reflections.”
White moves from there to discuss the police, expressing sympathy for officers like Darren Wilson, human beings who – like the rest of us – are susceptible to stresses, fears, and mental issues, and criticizing the fact that our culture would rather increase the armaments of the police than focus on their mental health with universal policies on psychological evaluations.
White’s point here echoes a recent piece re-published on The Good Men Project, entitled Emotional Intelligence and Law Enforcement: A Conversation That’s Long Overdue. This is an area the desperately needs resources and training. An approach that focuses on mental health and emotional intelligence will also ensure that police officers view themselves as peacekeepers tasked with serving and protecting, rather than soldiers in a combat zone.
White also addressed the issues of institutional racism: “some of us still aren’t seeing clearly what’s right in front of us. Instead, we see only what we want to see; what we are pre-programmed to see through the lens of bias and racism,” including police officers, like those that shot Dontre Hamilton and Tamir Rice.
The fact of the matter, explains White, is that police officers in the presence of young black men feel fearful in their presence, irrespective of their innocence or intent.
As Royce White put it:
“As a young black man who deals with anxiety disorder and stands 6-foot-8, 270 pounds, this bias gives me legitimate reason for concern.”
White closes his powerful piece by proposing concrete and intelligent ideas for improvement. Specifically, he calls for structural reform that includes a national conversation about mental health, a revamping of policies and resources for our police that is consistent with that, improved diversity training, and an understanding of each others complexity and humanity.
Read the entire article here.
Royce White has been criticized throughout his career – directly and indirectly – as a problem child. Too vocal. Someone who is wasting his talent.
Reading his piece, I don’t think that’s true. I think he’s using his talent just the way he should. Just the way we all should.
By speaking out.
By demanding better.
If this is “crazy,” then we need a bigger dose of it.
We need more people like Royce White.
Photo Credit: Associated Press/File