A tour d’horizon of the historical relationship among race, racism, and mental illness.
Although Gilman (Liberal Arts and Sciences and Psychiatry/Emory Univ.; Seeing the Insane, 2013, etc.) and Thomas (Sociology/Univ. of Mississippi; Working to Laugh: Assembling Difference in American Stand-Up Comedy Venues, 2015, etc.) journey as far back as the Enlightenment, the meat of their investigation covers the period from the 19th century to the present—and the meat is occasionally chewy, with demands placed on readers to be conversant with, say, “the crowd as a forensic concept has its origins in the Lombrosian criminal psychiatry.” Nonetheless, in the authors’ tracking of the great shift from pathologizing race to pathologizing racism, they cut through a broad swath of theorists, many of whom will be known to general readers. Furthermore, the clear, spot-on summations of the familiar theorists allow readers a measure of comfort in the treatment of less-known theorists (until the necessary supplementary reading can be done). Throughout, it’s clear that what galls Gilman and Thomas is the expropriation of the subject by one branch of learning or another, juggling among medicine, sociology, biology, and psychiatry. Jews and blacks, understandably, are the subjects of much study, with the notion of race defined first in physiology, then the susceptibility of disease, and then the inability to find social adaptation. Ultimately, scientific racism moves “from overwhelmingly a biological condition to a socially constructed category.” Although the historical transit over the subject alone makes the book valuable, equally useful are the authors’ explorations of interiority, hatred, and crowd thinking. They examine Gabriel Tarde’s laws of imitation; how Wilhelm Reich bridged the gap between Karl Marx and Freud; and, most illuminatingly, “conjunction,” a “crisis between politics, science, and ideology...a period during which the different social, political, economic, and ideological contradictions that are at work in a society come together to give [racism] a specific shape.”
A sharp contribution to a significant topic that continues to generate heated discussion and debate.