The politics of race and mental illness in the Post-Emancipation US South : Central Lunatic Asylum for the Colored Insane in historical perspective

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2014-05

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Abstract

In "The Politics of Race and Mental Illness" I explore the relationship between conceptualizations of black mental health and white social control from 1865 to 1881. Chapter one historically contextualizes black mental health, highlighting psychiatrists', slaveholders', and black slaves' perspectives on black mental illness. In this chapter, I argue that the current racial disparities in psychiatric treatment and diagnosis stem from a legacy of cultural incompetence, that is, a failure to fit diagnoses and treatment methods to the needs of culturally diverse populations. The second chapter analyzes the nature of racial power relations in the US South during Reconstruction. It asserts that not only did racism thrive, but that the white population also sought methods of re-subjugating the black population during this period. Using primary sources, I argue in chapter three that whites institutionalized blacks in Central Lunatic Asylum for the Colored Insane (CLA) for non-mental health reasons as both a punishment for attempts at economic independence and in order to culturally censor them. While most modern mental health literature avoids discussing social control, my research examines the reasons for black commitments to CLA within the context of white re-subjugation of the black population in order to emphasize the centrality of social control to black mental health care in the Post Emancipation era.

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