By Frederick H.Lowe
Black men, it’s time to turn off the television, shut off Facebook and pick and read three books that will change the way we think about ourselves and our history.
The books are: “The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease,” “Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association,” and “Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide.”
“The Protest Psychosis,” which was written by Jonathan M. Metzl, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, opens with a discussion of the way physicians viewed black slaves who escaped or attempted to escape from slavery.
Medical journals of the period said the runaway slaves suffered from drapetomania, a form of madness. Later, the journals said runaways suffered from a condition known as dysaesthesia aethiopis, a form of madness that disrespected the master’s property.
The cure for such behavior was brutal whippings, the medical community said. Even in the 20th century, leading academic psychiatrists said that blacks were ‘psychologically unfit’ for freedom.
During the civil rights era of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, American psychiatrists believed black men were mad for challenging white society’s system of segregation, limited job opportunities and low wages.
Psychiatrists said black men suffered from schizophrenia, a mental condition first associated with white housewives, white artists of unusual sensitivity and later, white gay and bisexual men. Psychiatrists, however, labeled angry black men paranoid schizophrenics, the most-complex form of the psychiatric disorder.
Metzl’s book studies the treatment of blacks and whites at the now-closed Ionia State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Michigan. He notes that when mental hospitals closed the nation’s prisons began filling up.
After reading Marcus Garvey’s biography, I wish African Americans would have listened to him instead of resisting him.
Garvey was best known for having formed the Black Star Line, a steamship line he and his supporters created to transport blacks back to Africa. The Black Star Line failed but not because Garvey took the money raised to buy the ships and deposited it into a numbered Swiss bank account.
Garvey was an selfless true believer. The Universal Negro Improvement Association, which was based in New York, awarded him a salary of $10,000, but he lived on only $6,000.
Garvey and the men he hired did not know how to buy ships that were seaworthy and in some cases they did not know how to sail them.
It’s unfortunate Garvey is remembered only for the Black Star Line, because he fostered black pride. He wanted black men and black women to do business with each other and to build our communities. With the high unemployment rate always plaguing our communities, he was right.
He urged African Americans — Negroes at the time — to worship a God in our image. Not a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus and a white Madonna, but a black Christ and a black Madonna.
But Garvey faced significant challenges. He experienced the usual racism from whites, but he was also involved in significant conflicts with the NAACP, A. Philip Randolph, Chicago Defender and other black-owned newspapers that considered him a charlatan and did their best to destroy UNIA.
Garvey died in 1940 in London, following a stroke. His death was little-noticed, but many years later his enemies realized that his ideas lifted the spirit of black people who had been beaten both physically and psychologically for decades.
“Britain’s Black Debt” reveals England’s leading role in the transatlantic slave trade and how slaves were used at a terrible cost of human life to build the British empire.
There are many of difficult and disturbing passages in this book, but the one I had the most trouble reading was the account of the Zong Massacre. This incident occurred when blacks were thrown overboard and fed to sharks in order to conserve food and water for the white crew of the slave ship, Zong, which had gotten lost at sea. By throwing slaves overboard, the ship’s owners could collect insurance for their lost property, which they did.
As in “The Protest Psychosis,” we learn that major institutions supported the debasement of black men and black women.
One of the largest British slaveholders was the Church of England. Finally, white sailors aboard slave ships regularly raped black women, although no one called it that.
Rape did not become a crime until black men and white women chose each other as sexual partners, according to the book “The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex and Secrets in the Jim Crow South.”