History of Scientific Racism
The Black man, it was repeatedly claimed, was uniquely fitted for bondage by his primitive psychological organization. For him, mental health was contentment with his subservient lot, while protest was an infallible symptom of derangement.
Drapetomania, or the Disease Causing Negroes to Run Away: It is unknown to our medical authorities, although its diagnostic symptom, the absconding from service, is well known to our planters and overseers...
"Negroes" were also the only people to contract "dyaesthesia aethiopica," which caused such pathology as, "pay[ing] no attention to property."
(Drapetomania) was used to describe the mental disease that "induces the negro to run away from service, [and] is as much a disease of the mind as any other species of mental alienation, and much more curable, as a general rule."
People's stereotypical beliefs, feelings, expectations, and fantasies about Black males were investigated. The results established that there are stereotypical beliefs held by male and female educators and non-educators about Black males. Implications were drawn about the negative stereotypical beliefs about Black males that educators harbored, consciously or unconsciously, that led to a misinterpretation of Black male street corner language and behavior.
Rush described Negroes as suffering from an affliction called Negritude, which was thought to be a mild form of leprosy. The only cure for the disorder was to become white. It is unclear as to how many cases of Negritude were successfully treated.
With hindsight, we can see that much race oriented science in the past was unethical, invalid, racist, and inhumane though it was perceived to be of great importance.
According to those pushing this type of analysis, it is not that blacks and other people of color have defective DNA, but rather, that their families are dysfunctional, their values counterproductive and their behaviors pathological.
Racial equality is poorly served by insisting that differences between groups don't exist. Even a seemingly elementary matter like identifying faces involves a subtle interplay between what we see and what we perceive.
Over half of the five million African American public school students are in special education programs where psychiatrists and psychologists have diagnosed at least 38 percent of them as educationally mentally retarded or EMR.
When Africans were torn from their families and homes and sold into slavery in the United States, science stood ready to define any disobedience or insubordination by them as a "mental illness."
Much "scientific" and statistical rhetoric was used to justify slavery. One 1840 census "proved" that blacks living under "unnatural conditions of freedom" in the North were more prone to insanity.
There is a consistent difference of some 15 IQ points between the test means of American black and white citizens, and there has been a fierce debate as to whether this can be best accounted for by black intellectual inferiority or by such environmental factors as prejudice and discrimination. However, even supporters of the environmental hypothesis have neglected to apply it to the population - people with Down's Syndrome - to which it is most clearly applicable, and this failure of imagination indicates the boundaries of discourse in the field of intellectual disability. The complex relationship between racism and prejudice against people with Disability is illustrated by Dr Down's use of the term 'mongolism'. Down's characterisation of people with intellectual impairment as equivalent both to children and to people of different races fits the need for a working explanation of intellectual impairment. The characterisation is none the less worthless, and we need new frames to shape our observations.
Whenever we, as researchers, write about autistics or Jews or women, we must be cognizant that we are discussing and describing members of our society. Indeed, I submit that whenever we write for the public, we must be more not less circumspect. We can't depend on stereotype, a Hollywood movie, or a casual conversation with a colleague to provide us with knowledge of the phenotypes that NIH cares about. Instead, we must research the implication of our findings with the same rigor that we research our basic phenomena. Relevance is a prized commodity these days, but let's not buy relevance at the cost of scientific inaccuracy and societal stigma.
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In other words: Sublime or ridiculous? You decide!
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This page was last updated on 5 November 2008, 3:48 pm
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