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Juneteenth: Time for American Psychiatric Association to repudiate slave-owning “Father of Psychiatry”

More than 175 years after its founding, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) issued a public apology in January for psychiatry’s “role in perpetrating structural racism” and said it hoped to make amends.

Here’s a suggestion to the APA: repudiate and discontinue all symbolic association with Dr. Benjamin Rush, the slave-owning “Father of American Psychiatry” who is responsible for the “scientific racism” at the very root of the structural racism in psychiatry that the APA now says it regrets.

And what better time to cut psychiatry’s ties to Rush than on America’s first nationwide celebration of Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

Until 2015, a seal with the image of Benjamin Rush served as the APA’s logo, and the APA still presents a Benjamin Rush award at its annual meeting.

The man in whose honor this APA award is bestowed bought a child slave, William Grubber, in the early- to mid-1770s, scholars believe, and owned him for some two decades.  Rush released Grubber from slavery in 1794, only after receiving, in his words, “a just compensation for my having paid for him the full price of a slave for life.”  In other words, Rush made sure he got his money’s worth from his slave before allowing him to go free.

However, Rush’s transgressions against African Americans go far beyond the human rights abuse of enslaving another human being.  He established a supposed biological justification for racism, setting a precedent for later psychiatrists and psychologists and their subsequent forms of “scientific racism” to oppress Blacks.

In 1792, Rush declared that Blacks suffered from a disease he called “negritude” that he theorized was caused by a variant of leprosy, the cure of which was when Blacks’ skin turned white.  Rush based his view in part on the work of another scientist who had applied a harsh and corrosive acid to the skin and hair of an African American man to turn him “white.”

With his view, Rush believed Blacks should not intermarry with other races because this supposed disease could infect their children.

Rush considered that African Americans were able to easily endure surgical operations and pain, labeling this “pathological insensibility.”

America’s first psychiatrist also treated his patients  with darkness, solitary confinement, and a special technique of forcing the patient to stand erect for two to three days at a time, poking them with sharp pointed nails to keep them from sleeping – a technique borrowed from a British procedure for taming horses.  He invented the “tranquilizer” chair into which the patient was strapped hand and foot, along with a device to hold the head immobile.

Benjamin Rush was apparently unable to recognize the human rights abuses he was committing.

By failing to disavow him, the APA may be revealing that it is as blind to human rights abuses as Rush was.

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American Psychiatric Association Apology Fails To Fully Admit Psychiatry’s Racial Human Rights Abuses and Role In Creating Racism

The American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) recent apology for its support of structural racism understates psychiatry’s racial human rights abuses and its long history of instigating racism by providing “rationales” that justified and perpetuated it.

Over the last 50 years, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) has exposed that sordid history and intensified its efforts last June by forming the Task Force Against Psychiatric Racism and Modern Day Eugenics.

The APA’s apology, issued January 18, states: “The APA apologizes for our contributions to the structural racism in our nation….”

The APA further admits: “These appalling past actions, as well as their harmful effects, are ingrained in the structure of psychiatric practice….”

But the APA glosses over “those appalling past actions” by merely admitting that psychiatric “practitioners have at times subjected persons of African descent and Indigenous people who suffered from mental illness to abusive treatment, experimentation, victimization in the name of ‘scientific evidence,’ along with racialized theories that attempted to confirm their deficit status.”

That bare-bones admission fails to adequately portray the magnitude of psychiatrists’ role as prime instigators of “scientific racism,” creating and promoting the false theories of racial inferiority that have been widely used to “justify” the oppression, segregation, and population control of Black Americans.

It is noteworthy that in the late 1700s, psychiatry’s own “Father of American Psychiatry,” Dr. Benjamin Rush, a slave owner, created a medical justification for racism by claiming Blacks suffered from a disease called “negritude,” supposedly a form of leprosy, and recommended their segregation to prevent them from “infecting” others.  A logo with the image of Benjamin Rush is still used for APA ceremonial purposes and internal documents. The APA still gives a Benjamin Rush Award.

Psychiatrists in the American mental health movement later latched onto and promoted the false science of eugenics (from the Greek word eugenes, meaning “good stock”), which claims some humans are inferior to others and should not have children.

Pushed by mental health practitioners, the eugenics idea of racial inferiority became ingrained in the U.S. and led to efforts such as Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s plan to reduce the Black population through sterilization and the Ku Klux Klan’s white supremacist activities.

Further, the APA’s brief confession of “experimentation [and] victimization” of people of color “who suffered from mental illness” not only downplays the barbaric psychosurgery and psychiatric experiments conducted on African Americans, but also fails to honestly admit that many subjects in these experiments were perfectly healthy.  Those experiments include:

  • In 1951, psychiatrist Walter Freeman experimented with lobotomies on Black patients at the Veterans Administration hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama, describing the procedure as “a surgically induced childhood.” (A lobotomy is psychiatry’s surgical procedure of cutting into the brain to try to alter behavior.)
  • In the 1950s, Black prisoners in New Orleans were used by psychiatrists Robert Heath and Harry Bailey for psychosurgery experiments that implanted electrodes into their brains. Bailey later boasted it was “cheaper to use [Blacks*] than cats because they were everywhere and cheap experimental animals.” [*Bailey’s racial slur is omitted here]
  • Psychiatrist Robert Heath conducted CIA-funded secret drug experiments on Black prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary using LSD and the drug bulbocapnine, which can produce severe stupor, to see if the drug would cause “loss of speech, loss of sensitivity to pain, loss of memory, [and] loss of will power.…”
  • In the mid-1950s at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), drug-addicted African Americans were given LSD in an experiment that kept many hallucinating for 77 consecutive days. In the 1960s, NIMH again used Black men as test subjects for an experimental hallucinogen, the chemical warfare drug BZ, which was many times more powerful than LSD.  In the 1970s, following riots in a predominantly black section of Los Angeles, NIMH experimented on African Americans, including children as young as five, to see if they had a violence gene that could be controlled by psychiatric drugs.

The APA has not admitted practitioners’ role in creating the present-day mental health system of psychiatric labeling, forced psychiatric drugs and treatment, and incarceration in psychiatric facilities that enabled racist treatment.

African Americans are disproportionately diagnosed with mental illness and disproportionately committed to psychiatric facilities.  They are more likely to be labeled with conduct disorder and psychotic disorders, especially schizophrenia, and overly prescribed antipsychotic drugs.  Black men are more likely to be prescribed excessive doses of these psychiatric drugs.  Black children are overly labeled with ADD/ADHD.

The APA is correct, therefore, in stating, “The APA is beginning the process of making amends….”  There is much, much further to go in publicly taking responsibility for psychiatrists’ essential role in instigating and perpetuating racism and for the human rights violations of its experiments and treatments.

Until it does so, its incomplete apology may be viewed as political pandering and an attempt to whitewash history to pave the way for the psychiatric-pharmaceutical industry to expand – very profitably – into the African American community.

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Psychiatric Industry Aims To Profit From Racism, Targets African Americans

While many Americans see the recent racial tension in this country as an opportunity to address the issue of racial injustice, the psychiatric-pharmaceutical industry sees it as an opportunity to expand their reach – very profitably – into the African American community.

Psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health groups, many funded by pharmaceutical companies, had already been arbitrarily asserting that African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems, and less likely to identify their own mental health problems, than the general population.

Now psychiatric practitioners are trying to create a higher level of urgency.  The American Psychological Association has announced that “we are living in a racism pandemic.”

Psychiatrists and psychologists are labeling the very real pain experienced from racism as a psychiatric disorder – post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – for which a standard treatment is antidepressants.  These are drugs that carry the risk of serious and debilitating physical and mental side effects, including emotional blunting, worsening depression, sexual problems, birth defects, anxiety, hallucinations, agitation, violence, and suicidal thoughts and actions.  Patrick D. Hahn, Affiliate Professor of Biology, Loyola University Maryland warns, “The link between antidepressants and violence, including suicide and homicide, is well established.”

American psychological and psychiatric associations have already developed guidelines on how to “treat” racism – guidelines that ensure that Black Americans are informed about psychiatric drugs as treatment.

Psychiatrists and psychologists have a long history of re-defining people’s normal responses to bad situations as “mental disorders” requiring their “treatment.”  But history shows that Blacks have been especially targeted for “treatment,” and so have good reason to beware of practitioners in the psychiatric industry.

Professors Herb Kutchins and Stuart Kirk, co-authors of Making Us Crazy: The Psychiatric Bible and the Creation of Mental Disorders, state:  “Defenders of slavery, proponents of racial segregation…have consistently attempted to justify oppression by inventing new mental illnesses and by reporting higher rates of abnormality among African Americans or other minorities.”

They further warn: “Innovations in diagnostic and treatment techniques are often proposed by those who claim to be committed to helping African Americans and other minority groups, but these innovations often perpetuate and increase racist thinking and lead to solutions that intensify persecution.“

For generations, psychiatrists and psychologists have been prime instigators of “scientific racism,” using pseudo-science to invent “racial diseases,” promote theories to “justify” segregation and racial population control, and subject Blacks to depraved “treatments” and barbaric psychiatric experiments.  Here are some key facts from that sordid history.

  • Though Dr. Benjamin Rush, the “Father of American Psychiatry, claimed he was anti-slavery in the late 1700s, in fact he purchased a child slave, whom he later freed only after being paid what he considered adequate compensation.  More importantly, he created a medical model of racism whose legacy is still felt today.  He claimed Blacks suffered from a disease called “negritude,” supposedly a form of leprosy.  Like lepers, he said, Blacks needed to be segregated to prevent them from “infecting” others.
  • In 1851, Louisiana surgeon and psychologist Samuel A. Cartwright “discovered” a mental illness among Blacks called “drapetomania” (from the Greek words drapetes, a runaway slave, and mania, meaning crazy), which he claimed caused slaves to have an “uncontrollable urge” to escape from their “masters.”  The “treatment” was “whipping the devil out of them.”

Psychiatrists and Psychologists Create Eugenics to “Justify” Racism

  • In 1883, English psychologist Francis Galton created the term “eugenics” (from the Greek word eugenes, meaning “good stock”) to encourage “better” human breeding and discourage those with “less desirable” traits from having children.  Eugenics is based on the belief that some humans are inferior to others.  Galton considered Africans inferior, writing: “These savages court [ask for] slavery.”The ideas of eugenics and “racial purification” would spread globally and would be used later “justify” many human rights abuses and atrocities, including the Nazi’s extermination of “inferior races” in the Holocaust, South Africa’s apartheid, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s push to exterminate the Black population through sterilization, and the Ku Klux Klan’s activities to eliminate non-whites – all to “protect” the white race, and all with their roots in eugenics.

    Psychiatrists and psychologists
    in the American mental health movement adopted and promoted the pseudo-science of eugenics in the U.S., spreading the racist idea of Black inferiority.

    A review of the history of the field of psychology revealed that in every decade from 1900-1970, there was a prominent American psychologist who was a proponent of the theory of the genetic inferiority of Blacks.  Many of these racist psychologists became presidents of the American Psychological Association.

  • The resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the U.S. in the early 1900s occurred at a time when psychiatry’s eugenics-based racism was being broadly promoted in America, fueling the KKK’s mission of white supremacy.  In 1923, Hiram Wesley Evans, Grand Wizard of the KKK, referenced eugenics leaders in his speech given on “Klan Day.”

Psychiatry’s Embrace of Eugenics Leads to Racist Views of Blacks’ Intelligence 

  • In the 1920s, American eugenicists claimed that the IQ of Blacks was determined by the amount of “white blood” in them.  Interracial marriages were said to lower the IQ of whites.
  • In the 1950s, U.S. psychiatrist C. Carothers published a study with the World Health Organization, stating “that in many ways the African resembles a European 8- or 9-year old child in his reaction to the environment.”  He compared the African to a “leucotomized European.”  (“Leucotomy” is another word for “lobotomy,” psychiatry’s barbaric surgical procedure of cutting nerve connections in the front part of the brain to try to alter behavior.)
  • Psychiatry and psychology have a history of using biased intelligence testing to legitimize racism, appearing to “prove” that African Americans have lower IQs.  In the 1950s, Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman, an “expert” on IQ testing, used biased IQ testing extensively, then asserted that non-whites could never be educated and that Blacks should never be allowed to have children.
  • As recently as 1994, psychologist Richard Herrnstein co-authored the book, The Bell Curve, in which he claimed that Blacks performed worse on intelligence tests than Whites and are “genetically disabled.” In an argument similar to those made by earlier  proponents of eugenics and “racial purity,” Herrnstein advocated selective breeding to limit the black population.

Psychiatry Targets Blacks for Experimentation and Barbaric “Treatments” in the U.S.

  • Psychiatric “treatment” of minorities in the U.S. has included some of the most barbaric experiments ever carried out in the name of “scientific” research.In the 1940s, U.S. psychiatrist Walter Freeman believed that Blacks, especially Black women, were among the best candidates for a lobotomy because families were more likely to give their relatives who survived the lobotomy devoted post-operative care.  (A lobotomy is psychiatry’s barbaric surgical procedure of cutting nerve connections in the front part of the brain to try to alter behavior.)  In 1951, Freeman lobotomized Black patients in an experiment at the Veterans Administration hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama, describing the procedure as “a surgically induced childhood.”
  • In the 1950s in New Orleans, black prisoners were used for psychosurgery experiments that implanted electrodes into their brains by psychiatrist Robert Heath from Tulane University and psychiatrist Harry Bailey from Australia.  Bailey later boasted about the reason they had chosen Black test subjects, saying it was “cheaper to use [Blacks*] than cats because they were everywhere and cheap experimental animals.” [*Bailey’s racial slur is omitted here]
  • Psychiatrist Robert Heath also conducted secret drug experiments, funded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), using LSD and a drug called bulbocapnine, which in certain doses produces severe stupor.  He experimented on Black prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary to see if the drug would cause “loss of speech, loss of sensitivity to pain, loss of memory, [and] loss of will power…”
  • African Americans were targeted for brutal drug experiments at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the country’s top mental-health research facility.  In the mid-1950s, drug-addicted Blacks were used in an experiment with LSD that kept many hallucinating for 77 consecutive days.  In the 1960s, NIMH again used Black men as test subjects for an experimental hallucinogen, the chemical warfare drug BZ, which was many times more powerful than LSD.

Psychiatrists Invent Racist Diagnosis and Treatment for Blacks in Civil Rights Era

  • In the 1960s, psychiatrists invented the term “protest psychosis” to stereotype Blacks participating in the Civil Rights movement as aggressive.  Claims were made that joining in protests was a symptom of “schizophrenia.”  Ads for powerful antipsychotic drugs in psychiatric journals at the time used images of angry Black men or African tribal symbols to influence the prescribing of antipsychotic drugs to Blacks.  Today, African Americans are still disproportionately prescribed antipsychotic drugs.
  • In the 1970s, following riots in Watts, a predominantly black section of Los Angeles, the National Institute of Mental Health supported a “Violence Initiative” by psychiatrist Louis Jolyon West, the head of UCLA’s psychiatry department and Neuropsychiatric Institute, which was a proposal to treat young black urban male offenders with psychosurgery (cutting into the brain to disable parts of it) and chemical castration (using drugs to reduce the drive or ability for sexual activity).  Protests led by CCHR and others caused government funding for this project to be cut.
  • A second “Violence Initiative” supported by the National Institute of Mental Health gave psychiatric drugs to Blacks, including children as young as five, supposedly to research whether African-Americans had a violence gene that could be controlled by psychiatric drugs.
  • Racism towards African Americans continued for decades at the National Institute of Mental Health.  In 1992, psychiatrist Frederick Goodwin, executive director of the NIMH, compared Black youth living in inner cities to “hyper-aggressive” and “hyper-sexual” monkeys in a jungle.

Today, a hidden eugenics agenda is still evident in the institutional racism of the psychiatric industry.  African Americans are disproportionately diagnosed with mental illness and disproportionately admitted to psychiatric and behavioral facilities.

They are disproportionately diagnosed as having a psychotic disorder, especially schizophrenia, and they are disproportionately prescribed antipsychotic drugs.  Black men, in particular, are more likely to be prescribed excessive doses of these psychiatric drugs.

“Whipping the devil out of them” has been replaced with psychosurgery, electroshock, and psychiatric drugs.

CCHR International’s Task Force Against Racism & Modern Day Eugenics

In response to the psychiatric industry’s plan to sell psychiatric drugs and mental health treatment as the answer to racism, Citizens Commission on Human Rights International and Rev. Fred Shaw, Jr. launched the Task Force Against Psychiatric Racism and Modern Day Eugenics.  Its mission is to investigate and combat institutional racism and inform and empower the African American community with the facts about racism and eugenics masked as mental health care.

Rev. Shaw is an ordained minister with over 25 years of experience as a human rights advocate.  He served as a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff and is currently the Executive Director of the Inglewood-South Bay chapter of the NAACP.  He has obtained three NAACP national resolutions against the forced drugging and electroshocking of children and teens, and he is a past recipient of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation award for his NAACP leadership and dedication in protecting children against psychiatric labeling and drugging.  He is also a CCHR spokesperson.

As a human rights organization and mental health industry watchdog, CCHR has exposed and campaigned against racism and racial abuse in the mental health system since our inception in 1969.  CCHR has worked with the NAACP since 2003 in exposing the stigmatizing labeling and drugging of African American children and, with Rev. Shaw, in obtaining the three national NAACP resolutions.

The entrenched legacy of eugenics in the mental health industry has permeated all sectors of society, paving the way for racial discrimination and abuse.  CCHR is dedicated to bringing to light the truth about how psychiatry and psychology are the instigators and peddlers of racism, not the help for it.

For more information, contact CCHR Colorado at (303) 789-5225.