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Gone with the Wind, the Confederacy, and preserving art.

There is art. There is propaganda. And there is a point in the middle where they sometimes intersect. Stone Mountain is at an intersection. Gone With the Wind sits at that same intersection. You can appreciate the art, but it’s impossible to divorce it from its white supremacist foundation. Because it’s impossible to divorce it, it’s our responsibility, as a country trying to correct our past mistakes, to make sure the conversations we are having are responsible and authentic.



^ That’s a shot from Gone With the Wind.  Don’t let anybody tell you it’s not an ode to the Confederacy and the “brave men” who died committing treason.

I watched Gone with the Wind for the first time (all four excruciating hours) because a friend from boarding school is vehemently against the news of the Orpheum Theater’s decision to stop playing the film.

A Memphis theater’s decision to cancel its traditional screenings of “Gone With the Wind” has angered fans of the classic movie.

The Civil War drama, starring Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, had been shown at the Orpheum Theatre for more than three decades as part of its classics series.

According to The New York Times, it was last shown on Aug. 11, the same night white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, Va., carrying tiki torches and chanting anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans.

(cont. Lexington Herald)

It’s her favorite film (I assume, since one of her daughters is named after the main character) and she made a very impassioned argument over the course of a couple of days explaining why Gone With the Wind deserves to retain its position on a pedestal in the history of film.  I’m going to provide that argument in full and respond to all of her points, which I couldn’t do on her page because I was so upset after watching the film, I couldn’t believe people I know were fighting so hard to justify their love for this particular piece of art.  If you’ve never seen Gone with the Wind, it starts with the credits and right off the back, please note that these are slaves:

Not servants.  The revisionist history comes at you fast.  After the credits, we have the set-up for the movie.

This movie is a love letter to the Confederacy set against an overly long and somewhat awkwardly told love story and spectacular costume & set design.  It’s also a stunning piece of film-making (the first two-thirds anyway) and a genuine work of art.  So where do we draw the line between preserving art and promoting shameful histories?

All Confederate Symbols Aren’t Created Equal

There are quite a few pieces (by myself and others) about why the South needs to let go of their Confederate history and put it in a museum where it belongs.  If, for example, you still believe the Confederate flag should be flying above the Capitol in Columbia, South Carolina, then the rest of this piece isn’t for you because I’m not wasting anymore time teaching that lesson.

If you agree that the flags should come down but you have an issue seeing the statues destroyed or removed, we can start there, because not all Confederate symbols should (or were even meant to) carry the same level of importance.

The vast majority of Confederate monuments were erected as a show of force against Black people.  There’s no debate about that.  You can see when they were erected:

(click here for a larger picture)

Just after Reconstruction, as Federal troops moved out of the South and the Ku Klux Klan was allowed to blossom, and during the Civil Rights Movement as Black America fought for our place in this country, we see a boom in Confederate reverence.  Most of these statues aren’t works of art.  Instead, they were mass produced, cheaply, and oftentimes funded by one group – the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  If you wanted to show the colored folk in your city who’s boss, just write the UDC and they’ll help fund a cheaply made statue that you can put up in the town square as a monument to white supremacy.  This is why, when they come down, they crumple like this:

They were cheap and no thought or care went into it other than putting it up fast as a united show of force across the South.  This is not art and there’s no reason to be proud of the premise – racists had them made to remind everyone of the good ol’ days of white supremacy.  If you accept both of those facts, you should have no problem with them coming down.  So what happens when the monument in question is actually an impressive piece of art?

Stone Mountain

One of my best friends is from Georgia and in a group chat with his best friends growing up, they were all discussing whether or not Stone Mountain should come down.

To me, Stone Mountain is the most conflicting example of exceptional art and Confederate history.  The stone depiction of three Confederate generals – Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson – on the side of the mountain is the largest bas-relief carving in the world.  The initial design was done by Gutzon Borglum, the same artist who designed Mount Rushmore – another monument that deserves its own in depth discussion for different, but similar, reasons.  It’s a work of art, and I don’t think that’s up for debate.  The history of it is even worse than the spate of cheap Confederate monuments we saw popping up in the 10s and 60s.

Before the carving, Stone Mountain was still a notable landmark and it’s the birthplace of the revival of the KKK.  Brothers Samuel and William Venable bought Stone Mountain in 1887.  The precise history is a little cloudy, but by most accounts, Sam was the more white supremacist of the two and was involved with the second formation of the Klan.  In 1915 there was a cross burning at Stone Mountain for the rebirth of the KKK, and the Venable Brothers granted the Klan land usage rights over one face of the mountain to commission a carving.  The idea for the carving came from Helen C. Payne, a charter member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the UDC was given 12 years to complete the monument.

So while other cities were erecting cheap statues to signal the end of Reconstruction and the second coming of the KKK, the UDC went all out for Stone Mountain, commissioning a record-breaking sculpture.  Money ran out, sculptors came and went, and progress stopped from 1928 until (surprise) 1958 when the South was once again in the midst of promoting white supremacy.  The governor at the time, Marvin Griffin, convinced the state legislature to purchase Stone Mountain.  It took some years to secure funding and find a new sculptor, but work started again in 1964 and the project was finally completed in 1972.  Because of the size and the timing, Stone Mountain is the single-most impressive monument to white supremacy in this country.  At the same time, it’s also a work of art that you can’t move or preserve.  Is there a way to preserve artistic expression while still accurately honoring history when the work of art has a revisionist background?

Change the Conversation

When white Southerners passionately supportive of the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments cry out about erasing history or losing their heritage, it’s obviously a hollow argument because none of them are regularly visiting statues of Robert E. Lee to lay flowers and pay their respects.  America is trying to correct something that never should have happened in the first place if the country had taken steps to definitively draw a line between right and wrong after the Civil War.  

In Germany, there were no memorials to Nazi generals erected after WWII, so they don’t have to go through an upheaval where all of those monuments need to come down.  That didn’t happen here.  We allowed white supremacy to once again become the foundation of American government after Reconstruction because of a backdoor political deal that took Federal troops out of the South in exchange for the South’s support in the Presidential race.  For twenty years after the Civil War, free Black people were making enormous strides in education, business, government & public office, and upward mobility because the Klan and white supremacy was being kept in check by the federal government.  After the federal government left, the Klan took its place in law enforcement, and white supremacy infiltrated all levels of government to an unprecedented degree.  

During slavery, white supremacy was the norm and Black people weren’t even people, so the feeling toward slaves wasn’t hatred so much as complete disregard.  The feeling after the Civil War and Reconstruction was hatred, because Black people were people now, had used our rights as people to vote for other Black people, and had used our new status as people to build businesses and communities.  The white supremacists running the South from Reconstruction onward set out to punish and terrorize Black people, and they built monuments to their ideals to reinforce to the public that white supremacy was not only acceptable but should be celebrated.

Imagine a Germany after WWII where half of the country said Nazis were bad and the other half was being run by Nazis who enacted laws against Jews and built monuments to themselves to remind the Jewish community of what happens when Nazis have complete control of the government, not just a strong influence in one part of it.  A Nazi-controlled part of Germany after WWII is the same as a Klan-controlled South after the Civil War.  America allowed the losers to keep control of part of the country.  

With that control, they got to rewrite history and paint it as a war of gentlemanly Southerners looking to assert their rights and simply go their own way with class and manners against a brutal Northern government with dirty, crowded cities and a bunch of know-it-alls who just want to destroy everything good and beautiful about The South.  That is the Civil War as it was re-imagined in the late 1800s and parts of that still linger.  The gallantry and the manners and the civility have mostly faded to the background, but we’re still left with Southerners who feel patriotic in their devotion to these brave men who fought for their rights to live and govern themselves as they saw fit.  They celebrate these men, not as treasonous losers of a war they started with their mother country over the right to own people, but as brave revolutionaries who would rather die than acquiesce to the demands of Yankees who knew nothing about Southern living.  

We have to change the conversation, and there are steps to accomplish that:

  • taking down their flags which should’ve never been allowed to fly
  • destroying their cheap paens to white supremacy which never should have been commissioned en masse
  • moving to museums the Confederate monuments which have historical value and should be remembered as part of American history
  • ending celebrations centered around men who openly committed treason and lost

Obviously, everything I write is editorial in nature and it’s just my opinion, but my feelings on Stone Mountain are certainly debatable and I welcome other points of view:  I don’t think Stone Mountain should be destroyed.  

Even though it’s a monument to white supremacy commissioned for the sole purpose of celebrating white supremacy in perpetuity, I also think it’s a snapshot of American history as well as being an important work of art.  For those reasons, I think the conversation has to be changed and we cannot allow this history to be celebrated.  A fireworks and laser show at a monument to treasonous white supremacists is not the conversation we can have going forward:

Leave it as a monument to the enduring legacy of white supremacy as a carving on a mountain.  Add to the mountain a more inclusive example of progress to show how far we’ve come.  Don’t throw a big party in front of it multiple times a year for folks to drink Budweiser out of Confederate-print coozies crying about their brave ancestors.

Gone With the Wind is Stone Mountain

If Stone Mountain is the most artistic sculptural monument to the Confederacy, Gone with the Wind is the most artistic cinematic one.  

This whole blog entry started because my friend (the light blue in the upcoming comments) tagged me to her comment section along with some other friends to see how we felt about the Orpheum in Memphis deciding to cancel their annual showing of the film.  I thought the conversation deserved a wider audience than her thread, so that’s why I’m putting it here.  I’m breaking it up in chunks so I can respond to individual points.

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” only applies to the past that has been accurately preserved.  A better comment in this situation is “Those who rewrite the past will make the same mistakes again.”  

If the argument holds that erasing the memories of the Confederacy means white supremacy will make a resurgence, how do you explain our current state of affairs where the Klan endorses our President and white supremacists are openly walking the streets?  We’re here because we didn’t thoroughly stamp it out the first time, not because anybody forgot it happened.

No one is erasing or banning it.  I’ll be honest, white people have a way of taking any action they don’t like and internalizing it as “if we give an inch they’ll take a mile.”  You see it over and over.

  • If we let the immigrants into our country, what’s next?  They’ll replace white people?
  • If we let them pass gay marriage, what’s next?  They’ll marry toasters?
  • If we let them pass stronger background checks on guns, what’s next?  They’ll take all my guns?

One theater deciding to cancel their once-a-year showing of this movie does not equate to erasing the movie, removing it from print, or banning the movie.  This overreaction makes it hard to take the conversations seriously.

And it was obviously a privilege, as a Black actor, to be involved in such an epic movie back in the 1930s.  That doesn’t mean the movie isn’t without fault or that the Black community isn’t offended by our depiction because the people in it are just fine with it.  A comment from Butterfly McQueen in 1996 is wholly irrelevant.

Also, in 1996 you know what else was happening?  The Atlanta Historical Society was still having a Gone With the Wind exhibition with a section on how slaves weren’t all brutally treated.  The history of this movie is wrapped up in idealizing the Confederacy from top the bottom.

Now would be a great time to remind everyone that if not for the Far Left dragging the country into the light, those in the middle wouldn’t have voting rights for women, integrated schools, or same-sex marriage.  The natural tendency of people is to be static, without change, and without someone on the edges pushing for change, things would always stay the way they are.  People en masse rarely care about the rights or concerns of the smaller factions.

I would also like the point out that every huge fan of Gone with the Wind that I’ve ever met was a white woman and every person I’ve seen who is angry about this decision from one theater is also a white woman.  If the vast majority of the people who agree with you on any given position look just like you, you may want to think about why that is.

This is where I was tagged in and I want to make a note about Huckleberry Finn.

When kids read Huckleberry Finn in school, there is a discussion.  The conversation can be such that the obvious racial offenses can be discussed, talked about, and given the importance necessary to get everyone on the same page.

When Gone With the Wind is shown in an annual celebration of the movie, a bunch of white women just go watch it with their daughters, say “Ugh I love this movie so much,” and then go home.  There’s no conversation.  And again, no one is destroying this movie.  It’s simply being removed from a place of prominence.

Pay attention to this next comment, because now we’re getting into arguments I would have made if this other white woman (purple) hadn’t beaten me to it.

I just want to point out how the only close friend I have in this discussion is the one white woman (purple) who is actually seeing this issue from the other side.  I know how to pick my team, and it gets better.  The mom of the purple friend (purple & white) stops by (I know her too, lovely woman, I’ve stayed over at her house) and this is what I mean by pushing your family to see things from new perspectives.  If y’all aren’t challenging your family when they fight against progress, what are you really doing with your allyship?

Again, this is the exact argument I would have made if I’d seen this sooner:  “There aren’t any movies about SS officers falling in love, with their cheerful concentration camp prisoners as supporting cast.“

Along those lines, there’s an award winning book I read a few years ago set during the Holocaust but it isn’t necessarily about the Holocaust.  The Kindly Ones is about a German and his participation in the Holocaust as a backdrop for a character study about morality and intimacy and host of other themes.  It’s not a love letter to Nazi Germany the way Gone With the Wind is a love letter to the Confederacy.  It’s not pining for a time when things were better and painting this revisionist image of who was right and who was wrong.  It doesn’t shy away from the Holocaust and its horrors.  It’s a piece of art set during a tumultuous time that isn’t about the tumultuous time but about someone who is complicit in the horror.  Gone with the Wind is about people who are complicit in the horror of slavery, but there’s no horror and no reason to dislike these genteel, polite white people in their gorgeous clothes.  Still, these are honest-to-god evil people who owned other people and there’s no way any modern, progressive person could love this movie as much as they do if the horrors of their complicit evil were made plain.

This is where she makes her last argument and where I truly was upset.

This is a movie that she has seen countless times and, because she loves it so much and she’s a white woman who doesn’t deal with the lasting effects of the Confederacy, she has conveniently forgotten how offensive it is.  She says “cringe at tropes” as though she actually cringes at them.  We should be more upset about current racial stereotypes in entertainment, as if we aren’t, as if we don’t protest about this, as if we aren’t always starting social media campaigns.  And then she said this movie was unconsciously offensive.  And I lost it.

I had just finished the movie, so of course it was fresh on my mind, but for someone so passionately defensive of it, you’d think she would remember just how uncomfortable it really is.  She forgot about the whole prologue to the movie, so I wonder what else she forgot?

During a discussion about war and why people go to war, Ashley says, “When the wars were over, no one ever knew what they were about.”  I wonder why that is?  Maybe because white people re-write their histories?  The South literally obfuscated the purpose of the Civil War to the point where our politicians will cry “states rights, states rights” like seagulls as if that states right wasn’t the right to own people.

At a party to raise funds for the Confederate Army, the decision is made to have an auction where the men bid on the first dance with the lady of their choice.  One of the white women says, “How can you permit your husband to conduct this slave auction?”  Nevermind that all of these characters have been to actual slave auctions where human beings were being bought and sold.

As Scarlett and Prissy (one of her slaves) are set to deliver Melanie’s baby, Prissy is woefully unprepared.  We have these great lines:

“I’ll sell you South.”
“I oughta take a strap to that Prissy.”
“Don’t be upsetting her or I’ll whip the hide off ya.”

The scene culminates in Scarlett actually slapping prissy hard across the mouth.  Yet, after the war and Scarlett returns home to Tara, Prissy is right there with the other two Happy Negro House Slaves even though all of the field slaves had run off.  Funny how all of the slaves threw down their farm tools and ran off to freedom when the war was over, yet a few scenes earlier we see all these happy slaves singing songs marching off to go dig ditches for the Confederate army.  If they were so happy, why didn’t they stay on working for free when the war was over?

At the lumber mill after the Civil War when slave labor wasn’t available, Scarlett decides to use white convicts because they’re cheaper than freedmen.  Ashley tells her, “I will not make money out of the enforced misery and labor of others.”

Scarlett:  You weren’t so particular about owning slaves.

Ashley:  That was different.  We didn’t treat them that way.

Putting aside the image of the benevolent slavemaster that has been shoved so forcefully down our throats that people now believe the majority of slaves were treated nicely, let’s talk about servitude real quick.  Picture yourself in prison for life, but you didn’t commit a crime.  You were wrongly accused and convicted, and now you have a life sentence.  Do you feel any better about your predicament because the guards are nice to you?  Regardless of treatment, no one wants to be locked up for life and no one wants to be owned.

Then we have a whole sequence glorifying the KKK.  Scarlett gets attacked by a couple of carpetbaggers so her husband and other good, gallant, chivalrous Southern gentlemen take it upon themselves to form a lynchmob and go hang some folks to defend her white woman honor.  Do y’all know how many Black men have been killed in this country for just *looking* at a white woman?  And then the Klan outsmarts the Union soldiers (because remember, the Federal government kept troops in the South to maintain peace and order for a couple of decades until they left and the Klan really took over) and no one is arrested.

But my personal favorite quote comes from Ashley late in the movie.  He’s reminiscing about the time before the Civil War with Scarlett and says, “We’ve traveled a long road since the old days, haven’t we Scarlett?  Oh the lazy days, the warm still country twilight, the high soft Negro laughter from the quarters, the golden warmth and security of those days.”  He is literally wanting to Make America Great Again and go back to a time before the world turned upside down and everyone knew their place.

And this is your favorite movie?  You can’t be cringing at these scenes the way I did.  Y’all should see the text chain as I watching this movie for the first time.  I was blowing up my friend’s phone because for every scene where I was just blown away by Vivien Leigh (who is simply stunning) or swept into the story or the characterization, here is a gratuitous shot of slaves with ostrich feathers keeping a nice breeze over the sleeping white women.  I would see red and have to text someone.  I will never in my life sit through this movie again, and the only reason I did it is because I wanted to have an informed opinion.  It doesn’t make me upset that it was made so much as it upsets me that so many white women are so fervently passionate about how good it is, even today.  The fact that so many white women can watch this over and over and over again and not cringe is enough reason for it to be taken down from its pedestal because any film depicting slavery in any way should make you cringe.  You should not be able to have a favorite film that depicts slavery in any way.  If slavery is depicted and you do not feel uncomfortable enough to debate turning off the movie then it is not responsible film-making – it is propaganda.   

Gone with the Wind is Confederate revisionist propaganda with a sweeping love story driving the stagecoach.

There is art.  There is propaganda.  And there is a point in the middle where they sometimes intersect.  Stone Mountain is at an intersection.  Gone With the Wind sits at that same intersection.  You can appreciate the art, but it’s impossible to divorce it from its white supremacist foundation.  Because it’s impossible to divorce it, it’s our responsibility, as a country trying to correct our past mistakes, to make sure the conversations we are having are responsible and authentic.  A laser show at Stone Mountain is akin to a theater with an annual showing of Gone With The Wind.  Neither has to be destroyed, but a celebratory context is no longer morally acceptable.
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The 19th Amendment gave white women the right to vote.

It was another 40 years and change before Black women could vote.



Need to see less “today is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote” and more “today is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving WHITE women the right to vote.”

It was another 40 years and change before Black women could vote.

Also want to point out that Black women worked right alongside white women for equal suffrage, but they were working for women AND Black people. When Black men got the right to vote in 1870, Susan B Anthony was upset white women didn’t come first. The American Equal Rights Association was working for equal suffrage for all — including Black people — so Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton left because Black men got the right to vote before white women, and they started the National Woman Suffrage Association.


So let’s recognize the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment but keep in context that the white women who benefited from it did so with the groundwork of Black women working alongside them that they subsequently abandoned in favor of whiteness.

(Oh and in case anyone needs clarity, the 15th Amendment gave Black men the right to vote, but the end of Reconstruction made it effectively null and void because states just threw up barriers to voting anyway. We had voting rights on paper, but not in practice.)
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Happy White Independence Day

Where do Black people fit into Independence Day history?



The British were the first to promise freedom after the war to any slaves who fought with them instead of the colonists, and freedom is quite the motivator to take up arms…as noted by the white colonists who were taking up arms to “free” themselves from British rule.

Throughout the colonies there were slaves fighting alongside the British because they’d rather be free and heavily taxed (assuming they were even aware of the political landscape and why their white masters were going off to war) than continue to live as property in a “free” country with the same ol masters.  One lasting record of the Brits’ promise to free slaves is The Book of Negroes, a list of slaves who signed up to fight for Britain and were then shipped off to freedom in Nova Scotia and England by Lord Dunmore after they lost the war.

How’s that for making good on a promise?

Britain wasn’t the first to have the idea to free slaves in exchange for participating in the war.  It was also discussed in the colonies.  Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers, was in favor of allowing slaves to form their own troops to fight alongside the colonists, and those who fought would be freed after the war.  The legislature was obviously against that because arming slaves – after what they’d been through – was a frightening prospect.  Plus, the South needed its economic engine to keep chugging along (Northern colonies were more receptive to the idea).  By the end of the war when manpower was running low, some colonies would allow free Blacks to serve and some would offer freedom to slaves who fought, but most plantation owners went back on that promise after the war was over.

In the end, more Blacks (free and slave) actually fought alongside the American rebels in the hopes that they’d receive freedom or a bounty or a pat on the head or even a thank you after it was over if the Americans prevailed.  The Americans did win…and the majority of those slaves went right back to the fields for another eighty years unless they managed to escape in the confusion of the war.  The revolution did turn some individual slave owners into abolitionists, especially in communities of Quakers where slaves were freed after the war because they recognized the hypocrisy of fighting a war for freedom from another country while you kept humans as property in your “new” country.

So when some uber Patriotic white guy you went to high school with (who is still your Facebook friend for some reason) posts a status update at the fireworks show tonight about his ancestors fighting for freedom, remember that ours did too.  And most of them didn’t even get a thank you.
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A brief history of psychiatry as a weapon against the powerless.

Psychiatry is a great help to many people but psychiatry has frequently been used by those in power to rid themselves of inconvenient undesirables.



“Hysteria” as a diagnosis is almost 4,000 years old. Back in Ancient Egypt, women whose behavior deviated from accepted norms were given medications by doctors for their hysteria. Only women could be hysterical, which is why the name itself comes from the Greek word for uterus — hystera. Women who behaved abnormally were thought to have problems related to the uterus wandering around the body, being in the wrong position, or having various defects. Egyptian doctors would put medication on the vulva to encourage the uterus to return to its normal position. Greek doctors would give women medication to make the uterus healthy. Later, Christian doctors would perform exorcisms to relieve the womb of demonic possessions. Some of the behaviors that led to a diagnosis of hysteria were an inability to have children or the lack of desire to get married.

So, if you were a woman living in pre-modern times who had a miscarriage, had a stressful menopause, or didn’t want to be stuck to a man for the rest of your life, you may end up with a strong salve between your legs, medications that make you sick, or a priest telling Satan to get out of your uterus.

The first recorded instances of hysteria were around 1900BC, and from then up through the 17th Century, hysteria was considered a physical illness that a doctor could diagnose. In the late 1600s, there was a shift in the scientific community and hysterical women were now thought to have a mental illness instead of a physical one. Since mental illness was (and still is in many ways) poorly understood, women who behaved badly were put into asylums. Men in medicine diagnosed women with hysteria for a wide range of symptoms from seizures and hallucinations to being annoying and not knowing their place in society. If you’re a man whose wife doesn’t follow the societal norms of the time, you get her diagnosed with “female hysteria” and a doctor prescribes some pills to knock her out or you have her sent away, either to the country to get some air (if you like her), or to an asylum to be locked up (if you don’t).

Psychiatry was a convenient resource to rid men of women who questioned their authority. One of the most famous cases is that of Christine Collins, a single mother whose son was abducted in 1928.

christine collins

The nationwide publicity made the LAPD look bad and, after they found the wrong boy and tried to convince Collins it was her son, the captain of the police department had her committed to a psychiatric ward.

Captain Jones called her a lunatic and claimed she was trying to get the state to take care of her child and believed she was just trying to embarrass the police department. He threw her into a psychiatric ward in Los Angeles County General Hospital on a “Code 12” which allowed police to get rid of troublemakers by throwing them into psychiatric hospitals.

(cont. Crime Museum)

Collins was eventually released and sued the department twice (winning the second one, though she never received her payment ordered by the court), and California made it illegal for the cops to put someone in a psych ward without a warrant.

“Drapetomania” was a mental illness invented by a pro-slavery physician in 1851. Drapetes is Greek for “runaway slave” and mania is Greek for “madness or frenzy” so we have another illness with Greek root words to make it sound important thrown at a disenfranchised community. Samuel A. Cartwright was a typical white man in the antebellum South who believed Blacks were inferior to whites, and it was one of his missions to “prove” it scientifically in order for slave-owning whites to have a factual line of reasoning for keeping Africans and their descendants in chains.

samuel cartwright

A slave running away from captivity wasn’t just another human longing to be free — that slave was afflicted with drapetomania. Blacks were supposed to love slavery, and it was up to slave-owners to ensure that by treating their slaves like children.

If treated kindly, well fed and clothed, with fuel enough to keep a small fire burning all night — separated into families, each family having its own house — not permitted to run about at night to visit their neighbors, to receive visits or use intoxicating liquors, and not overworked or exposed too much to the weather, they are very easily governed — more so than any other people in the world. If any one or more of them, at any time, are inclined to raise their heads to a level with their master or overseer, humanity and their own good requires that they should be punished until they fall into that submissive state which was intended for them to occupy. They have only to be kept in that state, and treated like children to prevent and cure them from running away.

(cont. PBS)

On the other hand, if treating them like children didn’t work, you should cut off their big toes so they can’t run. Or just whip them. Those are the only two options — infantilization or brutal violence. (x)

Slaves who wanted to be free had a mental illness, but what about free Negroes? They needed a mental illness as well, so whites could justify their brutal treatment of all Black people. Cartwright had an answer for that too: dysaesthesia aethiopica, which basically meant all Black people were lazy unless prodded by whites to be productive. Slaves were naturally lazy, but if you gave them a structured workday and just enough food and a clean place to sleep, you could keep dysaesthesia aethiopica at bay. One of the symptoms was skin insensitivity, so the slave should be washed, oiled, whipped, then put to work in the sunshine. (x) Another symptom was skin lesions…which would be caused by whipping, so Cartwright built a nice circle for himself there.

There was no hope for free Negroes. They were all lazy because they didn’t have any white people to tell them what to do.

On the other side of that coin, too much initiative could also result in a diagnosis of mental illness. In 1958, the University of Mississippi was still an all-white institution of higher learning, and Clennon Washington King, Jr. sought to change that. He applied as a graduate student, but he never made it past registration.

clennon king

In the summer of 1958 King attempted to enter the graduate program in history at the University of Mississippi. No African American had ever applied to the university, and the white power structure struck back quickly and devastatingly. When King arrived in Oxford to register, Gov. J. P. Coleman, members of the state highway patrol, and several plainclothes officers greeted him. After forcibly removing King from the registration area, state authorities carried him to jail. Two physicians then declared King insane, and he spent nearly two weeks in a state asylum before his younger brother, civil rights lawyer C. B. King, secured his release.

(cont. Mississippi Encyclopedia)

Inconvenient Black people are still sent away when white people are uncomfortable. I started thinking about the abusive history of psychiatry this weekend when I saw a story from a Black man who worked at Cards Against Humanity and was locked up by his bosses because he wanted to keep the n-word out of the game.

nicolas carter

Nicolas Carter was the only Black person in the original writing room, and he spent much of his time at CAH censoring himself because he needed the job. Speaking up can get you fired. Once he got a job elsewhere and CAH became a secondary source of income, his disposition changed. Not only was he less stressed about money (and therefore in a more positive headspace), he wasn’t as afraid to bring criticisms to the floor because he wasn’t afraid of losing his job.

That positive attitude alongside his newfound ability to tell white people when they were wrong landed him in a psychiatric ward.

From what I’ve been able to gather, Andy, Jo, Jack, and Eunji felt that my behavior had changed so dramatically that I must have been facing a mental break. One of the side-effects of having money was my mood improving, who could have known, and the combination of me saying what I really thought and being happy didn’t seem like my normal self to them.

Andy reached out to my sister who was a senior in college. He told her that I was going to be disciplined at work for my behavior and could lose my job, which so frightened my parents that they drove from New York to Chicago overnight. My dad came to my apartment and asked me to “see someone.” I agreed, since I was imagining a therapist on a couch asking me if I was suicidal. He drove me to Illinois Masonic, where the combination of my parents’ concern and the collateral of a co-worker who was operating with the head writer were enough to have me forcibly kept there.

I was admitted on a Friday at 6pm so I didn’t see a psychiatrist until Monday. She was tall, blonde and flanked by two med students. When I told her I had been in a stressful home environment growing up due to poverty and the fact that my parents told me I had to be better than the white boys to compete, she told me that was preposterous. Why would two anti-racist scholars teach their son to see white boys as competitors? Anti-racists would teach their son that race didn’t matter at all. I asked her if we could bring a single person of color into the room besides me to illustrate how common I felt it was to be taught this, she said no. She later listed my concerns as “spontaneous delusions” on “racial topics.”

I had realized I needed to lie to get out after my conversation with the psychiatrist, so I spit my 5mg Abilify pills into the water fountain and said I was grateful until they let me out after five days.

(cont. Medium)

4000 years after women were vaginally medicated for not wanting to have children, 150 years after Black people were whipped to cure the mental illness of laziness, 100 years after a woman was locked up for knowing a runaway boy was not her child, and 60 years after a Black man was put in a mental institution for the crime of wanting to go to a white school, we have a Black man admitted against his will because he didn’t want his bosses to put the n-word into a card game.

Psychiatry is a great help to many people (self included) but psychiatry has frequently been used by those in power (usually white men) to rid themselves of inconvenient undesirables. If your experience with psychiatry falls along those lines, remember you’re not alone and that there are caregivers who recognize this and will treat you with the respect you deserve. Do your research and seek recommendations from people you trust. And if you know someone who needs emergency assistance, make sure you do your research before you turn them over to a profession with a history of gaslighting and marginalization.
Venmo: Rafi-DAngelo
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