Tag Archives: modern/primitive

The Racialization of Mental Illness

Cross-posted at Jezebel and AOL’s Black Voices.

In a new book called “The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia became a Black Disease,” psychiatrist and cultural critic Jonathan Metzl draws on a variety of sources — patient records, psychiatric studies, racialized drug advertisements, and popular metaphors for madness — to contend that schizophrenia transformed from being a mostly white, middle-class affliction in the 1950s, to one that identified with blackness, volatility, and civil strife at the height of the Civil Rights movement.

The racialized resonance between emerging definitions of schizophrenia and anxieties about black protest seem clear in pharmaceutical advertisements and essays appearing in leading American psychiatric journals during the 1960s and 70s.  For instance, the advertisement for the major tranquilizer Haldol that ran in the Archives of General Psychiatry shows an angry, hostile African American man with a clenched, inverted, Black Power fist.

The deranged black figure literally shakes his fist at the assumed physician viewer, while in the background a burning, urban landscape appears to directly reference the type of civil strive that alarmed many in the “establishment” at that time.  The ad compels psychiatrists to conflate black anger as a form of threatening psychosis and mental illness.  Indeed the ad seems to play off presumed fears of assaultive and belligerent black men.

As the urban background suggests, this fear extended beyond individual safety to social unrest.  In a 1969 essay titled “The Protest Psychosis,” after which Metzl’s book is named, psychiatrists postulated that the growing racial disharmony in the US at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, reflected a new manifestation of psychotic behaviors and delusions afflicting America’s black lower class.  Accordingly, “paranoid delusions that one is being constantly victimized” drew some men to fixate on misguided ventures to overthrow the establishment.  Luckily, pharmaceutical companies proposed that chemical interventions could directly pacify the masculinzed, black threat depicted in advertisements like the above.  “Assaultive and belligerent?” it asks.  “Cooperation often begins with Haldol.”

Moreover, ads for Thorazine and Stelazine during this period often conjured up images of the “unruly” and “primitive” precisely at a time when the demographic composition of this diagnosis was dramatically shifting from a mostly white clientele, to a group of predominately black, confined, mental patients.  It is telling that within this context, the makers of Thorazine would choose to portray the drug’s supposed specificity to schizophrenia in their advertisements by displaying a variety of war staffs, walking sticks, and other phallic artifacts from African descent.

The below ad for Thorazine, for example, exclaims western medicine’s superiority in treating mental illness with modern pharmaceuticals, by contrasting the primitive tools used by less enlightened cultures.

Notably, these claims of superiority and medical efficacy drew from a particular set of pejorative ideas of the “primitive” that were already well established within some sectors of psychiatry that equated mental illness with primitive, animalistic and regressive impulses.   As Metzl contends in his book:

…pharmaceutical advertisements shamelessly called on these long-held racist tropes to promote the message that social “problems” raised by angry black men could be treated at the clinical level, with antipsychotic medications.

These adds are in sharp contrast to previous marketing campaigns that framed schizophrenia in the 1950s as a mental condition affecting mostly middle class patients, and especially women.  Also shown below, ideas of schizophrenia were at that time an amorphous collection of psychotic and neurotic symptoms that were thought to afflict many women who struggled to accept the routines of domesticity.

While schizophrenia is certainly a real, frightening, debilitating disease, Metzl reminds us that cultural assumptions of the “other” shape how psychiatry understands and treats the condition.

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Arturo Baiocchi is a doctoral student in Minnesota interested in issues of mental health, race, and inequality.  He is writing his dissertation on how young adults leaving the foster care system understand their mental health needs.  He is also a frequent contributor to various Society Pages podcasts and wanted to post something related to a recent interview he did about the racialization of mental illness.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

 

Muslim Women and their White Saviors

Recently at Feministing, Maya Dusenbery wrote about an ad from Germany’s International Human Rights campaign that, as she put it, is “a lesson in how not to advocate for women’s rights.”

The translation of the text is “Oppressed women are easily overlooked. Please support us in the fight for their rights.”

As Dusenbery writes,

It seems the folks who created this ad not only have a hard time seeing agency but actually went out of their way to erase it as thoroughly as possible and then stomp on it some more. And then equated women who wear the burqa with bags of trash. Literally.

I completely agree, and would like to add some broader context.  This is not at all surprising, given the recent of attempts in the West to obscure the agency of Muslim women in juxtaposition to their white, Western saviors. One of the more blatant examples of this was the discourse of the United States government that it was going to war in Afghanistan in part to save Afghan women from the Taliban. Laura Shepherd argued in an excellent 2006 article in The International Feminist Journal of Politics (which I’vecited before) that the US discursively constructed Afghan women as the “Helpless Victim” that was submissive and lacking agency, under the oppressive control of the “Irrational Barbarian.” This discourse, was used, of course, to posit the United States (specifically, its military) as the saviors who could rectify the situation for these women. Much as the agency of the women in the German PSA was erased, this narrative denied the agency of Afghan women, who, as Shepherd writes, are afforded “only pity and a certain voyeuristic attraction” (p. 20).

Of course, this specific discourse hasn’t ended. As this TIME Magazine cover from last year shows, it continues to serve as a means of justifying the US occupation of Afghanistan.

(Cover to the August 9, 2010 edition of TIME)

This discourse assumes, obviously, that the US presence in Afghanistan is a clear benefit for women in the country, a position at least some women’s organizations in Afghanistan contest. Samhita Mukhopadhyay at Feministing had an excellent post on this issue last summer.

I should also mention France’s recently-instituted ban on the full-faced veil, which Dusenbery argues – citing Jos Truitt – is a similar erasure of agency. I agree with her, and again would add that this fits in with this general (Orientalist) discourse about Muslim women, their uncivilized oppressors, and their White saviors.

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John McMahon is a Ph.D. student in Political Science at the City University of New York Graduate Center, where he also participates in the Women’s Studies Certificate Program.  He is interested in post-structuralism, issues relating to men and feminism, gendered practices in international relations, gender and political theory, and questions of American state identity.  John blogs at Facile Gestures, where this post originally appeared.

See also our post in which we criticize a set of public service ads that compared women the genital cutting to blow up sex dolls.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

Women are Wild Animals; Men are Hunters

Dmitriy T.M. sent in another example, via Jezebel, of the use of hunting as a metaphor for dating/attaining sex with women.  The metaphor portrays men as predators and women as prey,  suggesting that women are inherently unwilling and men inherently deceitful, coercive, and aggressive.  This sets the stage, discursively, for sexual assault.

Throw in a couple men representing a non-specifically “primitive” culture to remind us that such a relationships is “natural,” and you’ve got this Dos Equis ad:

For more of this metaphor, see Sex and Dating as a Hunt, Beer, Sex, and the Hunt, Taxidermied Girl Parts, and Hunting for Bambi.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Privileged White Vacationer in a Cruise Ship Ad

Nicole sent in this Australian commercial for P&O Cruises. Nicole was struck by the obvious racial divide, in which the privileged customers are all White, while non-Whites serve them, either literally (and with a smile!) or as a form of cultural entertainment:

It’s another example of a common tourism marketing theme, in which supposedly “traditional” and/or “native” cultures are provided as cultural experiences to “modern” tourists. This commercial just stands out because of the particularly stark division of the world into those who are entertained and attended to, and those who do the attending.

Vintage Images of African Americans

A while back Kale let us know that the New York Public Library had made their images collection available online.The collection has images on a huge array of topics, from fashion to the military to slavery to insects to a whole category for stilts, and including political cartoons, illustrations from publications, photographs, and so on.

Kale found the collection particularly interesting as a way to look at historical racism and rhetoric about race relations in publications aimed at White readers. This 1875 cartoon, titled “A Privilege?”, presents segregation as actually protecting African Americans from the scourge of alcohol:

Text:

A PRIVILEGE?

Wife, “I wish you were not allowed in here.”

It’s a fascinating example of the use of institutionalized racial inequalities that hurt African Americans to, instead, garner sympathy for White women and children and present African Americans as, really, better off.

Another, published in Life in 1899, implies African American men are burdens on their families, making their wives take on the role of providing for everyone:

Text:

Parson Featherly: De Lawd hab took yo’ husban’ an’ lef’ yo’ wid six chilluns; but ‘membah, Sistah, dat dar’s some good in all de Lawd does.

“I does, Parson. I realizes dat dar’s one less for me to perwide foh.”

This 1860 cartoon from Harper’s Weekly shows an African American woman (presumably a slave) in the South using the “Bobolitionists” — that is, abolitionists, who wanted to outlaw slavery — as a threat, a type of monster that will come steal him if he’s not good:

Text:

“Now den Julius! If yer ain’t a good litte nigger, mudder’l call de big old Bobolitionist and let um run away wid yer.”

I’m sure it must have been very comforting to some readers to think of slaves viewing abolitionists as threats rather than potential allies.

Other cartoons mock African Americans’ physical attributes, marking them as laughable or even grotesque:

Text:

“Would de gemman in front oblige by removing de hat?”

“Would de same gemman oblige by puttin’ de hat on agin?”

(Details.)

Text:

“Now we’ll see ef dat sawed off Peterson man kin escape de issue dis time.”

(Details.)

There are also examples that criticized U.S. race relations, such as this 1848 cartoon from Punch [Note: a reader thinks this might be about France, which banned slavery in 1848, but the NYPL has it listed as relevant to U.S. slavery, so there may be so lost context here]:

Enjoy!

[Note: A commenter has expressed concern that I ended this post with "Enjoy!" I apologize for my insensitivity. I meant it in terms of "Enjoy browsing this fascinating archive," of which racist imagery is only a small part, not, I hope it would be clear, "Enjoy looking at racist cartoons!" I wasn't thinking about how it might appear immediately after those set of images, and I should have been more careful.]

Color Photos of the U.S., 1939-1943

Months ago, Abby Kinchy,  Eden H., Aydrea of The Oreo Experience, and Dmitriy T.M. all sent in a link to a striking set of Great Depression and World War II era photos posted at the Denver Post. Unlike most of the photos many of us are familiar with that depicted life during that time, most of which were black and white, these were taken in color. Here are just a few of the 70 photos; I highly suggest you go look at the Denver Post site, where the photos are much larger.

[Children gathering potatoes on a large farm. Vicinity of Caribou, Aroostook County, Maine, October 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.]

[Children in the tenement district. Brockton, Massachusetts, December 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.]

[Chopping cotton on rented land near White Plains. White Plains, Greene County, Georgia, June 1941. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.]

[African American's tenant's home beside the Mississippi River levee. Near Lake Providence, Louisiana, June 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.]

This one struck me because the two individuals in the photo are identified as “migrant workers,” and yet they seem so young:

[African American migratory workers by a "juke joint". Belle Glade, Florida, February 1941. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.]

[Women workers employed as wipers in the roundhouse having lunch in their rest room, Chicago and Northwest Railway Company. Clinton, Iowa, April 1943. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Jack Delano. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.]

[Shasta dam under construction. California, June 1942. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.]

I was trying to decide why the images were so fascinating, and I think Dmitriy hits on part of it:

What strikes me the most (besides awesome pictures) was how much my perception of the depression years was filtered by only viewing it through the black and white (aka dreary) pics. When I see these color pictures, not only does it seem less depressing and dreary, but the people seem to be more like me (and not just an image from a long, lost era).

The full set includes a range of topics, set both in rural and urban areas, including both images of poverty and of industrial productivity. Quite fascinating.

New Barbie Dolls Put the Japanese Back in Time

There is a tendency in Western culture to envision white people are more modern and progressive than people of color who are seen as more traditional, even tied to ancient ways of life (see this post and its links).  This tendency is illustrated in Mattel’s new Japanese Ken and Barbie dolls, released this year:

When was the last time you saw a Japanese person dressed like this?  Regarding Ken, Dolls of Color put it:

Right, because an Asian Ken can’t be wearing jeans and a tshirt? Or a tuxedo if one must get fancy? An Asian Ken must be some kind of exotic fantasy and not just that cool dude next door? Right.

We’ll know that we respect people of color as people when we start portraying them as people instead of exotic objects or historical artifacts.

UPDATE: Of course, as several commenters have pointed out, these costumes aren’t at all historically accurate.  Instead they exoticize a stereotyped notion of the traditional Japanese person.

Via Racialicious.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Romanticizing Ancient Chinese Wisdom

This 40-second commercial for HSBC bank, sent in by Michelle F., is an excellent example of the way that non-white and non-Western people are often portrayed as more deeply cultural, connected to the past, and closer to nature than their white, Western counterparts.  Sometimes this is done in order to demonize a culture as “barbaric,” other times it is used to infantilize them as “primitive.” In this case, it romanticizes.

Running on both English and Chinese language channels, the commercial contrasts the wise Chinese man with the young, white man.  The music, the boats, their clothing and hats, and their fishing methods all suggest that the Chinese are more connected to their own long-standing  (ancient?) cultural traditions, ones that offered them an intimate and cooperative relationship to nature. Simultaneously, it erases Chinese modernity, fixing China somewhere back in time.

Other posts on the modernity/traditional binary:

Caveman Courtship

The White Woman’s Burden
De-Racializing the Modernity/Tradition Binary

Africans as Props for White Femininity
Women’s Bodies and the Modernity/Tradition Binary

Which Images Represent India?
The Unseen Middle East

The Primitive and the Modern in Kanye’s Love Lockdown
Our review of Avatar, the Movie
Porn Producer with a Heart of Gold

What Counts as Indian Art?
Whites can Reconquer the America’s with Kahlua

Primitive Child Offers Cures for Modern Ills

Or browse our tag on the false modern/primitive binary.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.