In Under the Strain of Color, Gabriel N. Mendes recaptures the history of a largely forgotten New York City institution that embodied new ways of thinking about mental health, race, and the substance of citizenship. Harlem’s Lafargue Mental Hygiene Clinic was founded in 1946 as both a practical response to the need for low-cost psychotherapy and counseling for black residents (many of whom were recent migrants to the city) and a model for nationwide efforts to address racial disparities in the provision of mental health care in the United States.
The result of a collaboration among the psychiatrist and social critic Dr. Fredric Wertham, the writer Richard Wright, and the clergyman Rev. Shelton Hale Bishop, the clinic emerged in the context of a widespread American concern with the mental health of its citizens. It proved to be more radical than any other contemporary therapeutic institution, however, by incorporating the psychosocial significance of antiblack racism and class oppression into its approach to diagnosis and therapy.
Mendes shows the Lafargue Clinic to have been simultaneously a scientific and political gambit, challenging both a racist mental health care system and supposedly color-blind psychiatrists who failed to consider the consequences of oppression in their assessment and treatment of African American patients. Employing the methods of oral history, archival research, textual analysis, and critical race philosophy, Under the Strain of Color contributes to a growing body of scholarship that highlights the interlocking relationships among biomedicine, institutional racism, structural violence, and community health activism.
The summer issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue explore the relationships of scientists who disagreed over the nature of race, the origins of Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation Procedure, Alfred Binet’s role as editorial director of a French publishing house, and more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Race relationships: Collegiality and demarcation in physical anthropology,” by Peter Sachs Collopy. The abstract reads,
In 1962, anthropologist Carleton Coon argued in The Origin of Races that some human races had evolved further than others. Among his most vocal critics were geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky and anthropologist Ashley Montagu, each of whom had known Coon for decades. I use this episode, and the long relationships between scientists that preceded it, to argue that scientific research on race was intertwined not only with political projects to conserve or reform race relations, but also with the relationships scientists shared as colleagues. Demarcation between science and pseudoscience, between legitimate research and scientific racism, involved emotional as well as intellectual labor.
A project is underway to digitize the records of the Central State Hospital in Virginia. Led by King Davis, director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis at the University of Texas at Austin, the project includes some 800,000 documents which span the period between 1870 and 1970. The collection is extraordinarily unique both in terms of its size and its scope. Davis has described that: “This is the most complete set of records on African Americans and mental health in place in the world” (source: Alcalde).
The Central State Hospital – formerly the Central Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane – was opened in 1870. It was the only institution designated for the treatment of African Americans to operate in the state prior to the passing of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Its story is one of only a small handful of “Colored Asylums”: while institutions for the insane would open in every state in the continental US during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the vast majority served a uniquely White demographic.
The impetus for the project was reportedly the deterioration of the Central State Hospital’s records. Although digitization provides a way to preserve this rare archival collection, researchers must face the challenge of maintaining the privacy of the individual patients. To address these concerns the team is developing new Steganoscription software that will recognize the personal information contained within the handwritten documents.
Unfortunately the status of the project has been reported as “at a standstill” due to funding problems. In the meantime, a prototype of the website design can be found here.
This month the Society for the History of Psychology (Division 26 of the American Psychological Association) offers a special virtual issue of the journal History of Psychology. Entitled “Teaching Diversity: What can History Offer?” this free volume includes three pieces selected and introduced by Division President Alexandra Rutherford which “address gender, race/ethnicity, and the intersection of sexuality and disability in historical perspective” in order to highlight “that historical scholarship offers a rich and often untapped resource for instructors who wish to engage students in critical conversations about diversity issues across the psychology curriculum.” Rutherford’s introduction “outline[s] how these articles can be incorporated into courses across the curriculum to deepen students’ understanding of how psychology and psychologists have grappled with these issues and how historical analyses can inform contemporary topics and debates.”
The conclusion to Rutherford’s introductory article provides a concise synopsis of how this special issue can be a resource for the promotion of socially responsible pedagogical values in psychology, and their application in the classroom:
“The articles featured here to encourage the use of historical scholarship across the psychology curriculum demonstrate how history can facilitate forms of critical thinking that have the potential to make students better scholars and better psychologists. By encountering historical analyses that provoke critical questions about the relationship between science and culture, science and politics, and science and society, students develop the capacity to examine the preexisting assumptions that may creep uncritically into contemporary research. They develop the capacity to examine the role that psychology, as a powerful scientific and social institution, plays in our everyday lives. There is no reason that the development of these skills should be undertaken only in the history of psychology course. I hope this introduction has provided some ideas about how to use history to achieve critical learning objectives across the curriculum.”
A new issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Included in this issues are articles on racial issues in psychiatry in China and the United States, the admission of medical doctors as patients in English asylums, the history of the insanity defence in Australia, and much more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Hebephrenia: A conceptual history,” by Abdullah Kraam and Paula Phillips. The abstract reads,
This paper traces the conceptual history of hebephrenia from the late nineteenth century until it became firmly embedded into modern psychiatric classification systems. During this examination of the origins and the historical context of hebephrenia it will be demonstrated how it became inextricably linked with twentieth-century notions of schizophrenia. The first detailed description of hebephrenia in 1871 by Ewald Hecker, then a virtually unknown German psychiatrist, created a furore in the psychiatric establishment. Within a decade hebephrenia was a firmly embedded concept of adolescent insanity. Daraszkiewicz, Kraepelin’s brilliant assistant in Dorpat, broadened Hecker’s concept of hebephrenia by including severe forms. This paved the way for Kraepelin to incorporate it together with catatonia as a subtype of dementia praecox. We recognize Hecker’s hebephrenia in DSM-IV as schizophrenia, disorganized type. Although DSM-5 will probably abolish subtypes of schizophrenia, characteristic features of hebephrenia will be found within the proposed domains of disorganization, restricted emotional expression and avolition.
The November issue of the American Psychological Association‘s Monitor on Psychology is now online. This month’s Time Capsule section features a piece on psychologist and civil rights activist Olivia Hooker (right). At the APA’s 2011 convention Hooker spoke about her experience, when she was just six years old, of the Tulsa Race Riot in 1921. Hooker shares similar recollections in the above video from CUNY TV. As described in the article,
Hooker is also renowned as the first African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard and as a pioneering psychologist when there were few African-American women in the field. Her other noteworthy accomplishments include writing a German vocabulary guide for psychology students, leading a Girl Scout troop in a town where she was the only black person, helping to establish APA’s Div. 33 (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) and teaching people of all ages — from preschoolers to PhD candidates — to embody the Golden Rule.
The entire piece on Hooker’s life and work can be read online here.
Arthur Jensen, who suggested in a now infamous 1969 article in the Harvard Educational Review that genetic differences between races were the root cause of differences in intelligence test scores between black and white students, has died. As reported in the New York Times,
In the article, Professor Jensen posited two types of learning ability. Level I, associative ability, entailed the rote retention of facts. Level II, conceptual ability, involved abstract thinking and problem-solving. This type, he argued, was roughly equivalent to general intelligence, denoted in psychology by the letter “g.”
In administering I.Q. tests to diverse groups of students, Professor Jensen found Level I ability to be fairly consistent across races. When he examined Level II ability, by contrast, he found it more prevalent among whites than blacks, and still more prevalent among Asians than whites.
Drawing on these findings, Professor Jensen argued that general intelligence is largely genetically determined, with cultural forces shaping it only to a small extent. For this reason, he wrote in 1969, compensatory education programs like Head Start are doomed to fail.
Unsurprisingly, this suggestion of a link between race and intelligence ignited intense controversy.
Jensen’s death comes on the heels of the death of Philippe Rushton, also known for his controversial views on the relationship between race and intelligence.
Controversial psychologist John Philippe Rushton (above), best known for his views on the relationship between race and intelligence, has died. Rushton passed away after a battle with cancer on October 2nd. He was 68.
Rushton was born in Bournemouth, England, in 1943. While still a child, he emigrated first to South Africa and then to Canada. He went on to receive his PhD from the London School of Economics in 1977. Prior to receiving his PhD, he taught for a time at York University (1974-76) in Toronto and then at the University of Toronto (1977). He joined the faculty at the University of Western Ontario (UWO, now Western University) in 1978 and became a full professor at the university in 1985. In addition to his work on race and intelligence, Rushton also produced controversial research on the relationship between race and crime, and race and penis size.
In the late 1980s, Rushton’s views on race-based differences in intelligence sparked vehement protest at UWO. (More photographs from these protests can be seen here.) Despite calls for Rushton to be fired – by UWO students and Ontario’s premier – and although he was relieved of teaching duties during the height of these protests, he remained on the faculty of UWO for 25 years. The attention Rushton received for his controversial views on race and intelligence also led to a prominent debate between Rushton and geneticist, and environmentalist, David Suzuki on the subject in February, 1989 (the full debate can be viewed below).
Notice of Rushton’s death can be found here. Further discussion of Rushton’s passing can be found here, here, and here.
This post is written by Thomas Teo, York University and is part of a special series of bibliographies on topics in the history of psychology.
Adapted from: Teo, T. (2008). Race and psychology. In W. A. Darity (Ed.), International encyclopedia of the social sciences (2nd ed.) (Vol. 7, pp. 21-24). Detroit, MI: Macmillan.
Before the formal institutionalization of psychology in the nineteenth century, academics attributed psychological qualities to specific ethnic groups (doing so can even be found in Aristotle’s writings). However, the systematic combination of psychological characteristics with race occurred in the eighteenth century when Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) combined varieties of humans (“races”) with psychological and social characteristics in his taxonomy. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840) advanced the concept of the Caucasian based on his idea that European culture originated in the Caucasus. The term Caucasian, still used in empirical studies of psychology, has no scientific validity.
In the second half of nineteenth century some European scholars suggested that the Caucasian variety divided into two branches, identified as Semites and Aryans. Both were associated with different psychological characteristics and formed the theoretical basis for Hitler’s ideology. In the 1860s John Langdon H. Down (1829-1896) studied the structure and function of various organs in idiots and imbeciles. He observed a group of individuals that he characterized as having round faces, flattened skulls, extra folds of skin over their eyelids, protruding tongues, short limbs, and retardation of motor and mental abilities. Continue reading Bibliography: Race and Racism→
In 1947, Kenneth and Mamie Clark published as study in which children were shown two dolls, one black and one white, and asked a number of questions about them: who was good and bad, who was pretty and ugly, who the children themselves most wanted to be like. The results were that both white and even African-American children preferred the white doll on most dimensions. The study, and others like it, were used as evidence in the Brown v. Board Supreme Court case of 1954 that stuck down segregated schooling in the US.
The study was replicated in 2006 by Kiri Davis, a high school student form New York. Davis found essentially the same result as the Clarks, and presented her study in her award-winning video, “A Girl Like Me.”
Now CNN has commissioned a replication by the University of Chicago child psychologist, Margaret Beale Spencer. Her “pilot study” (133 participants were used) found many of the same prejudices among white children, but seemed to show that many African-American children now have a more positive attitude toward children of their own race. You can read about the CNN study and see some video clips of the study here.
Tip o’ the hat to the Society for the History of Psychology Facebook site, which alerted me to this item.