+
upworthy
Education

Ever heard of 'drapetomania'? Why every American needs to learn about this 'disease'

Dr. Cartwright's 1815 explanation of the "malady" and its "cure" sheds a disturbing light on the "kind" treatment some enslaved people received.

Dr. Samuel Cartwright and the painitng "A Ride for Liberty" by John Eastman
Public Domain

Dr. Samuel Cartwright invented an entire mental illness to explain why Black slaves repeatedly ran away.

If you've never heard of drapetomania, you're not alone. It's a disease that doesn't exist anymore. In fact, it didn't even exist when it was coined, but plenty of people in the Antebellum South believed that it did.

After all, a renowned, well-respected doctor defined "drapetomania"—combining the Greek words for "runaway" and "madness"—as "the disease causing Negroes to run away" in 1851.

Dr. Samuel Cartwright was the first president of the Mississippi State Medical Society and a leading expert on diseases and medicine in the Southern states in the mid-1800s. He was also an unapologetic white supremacist. In a short paper titled, "Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race," Cartwright managed to pathologize the normal human desire to not be enslaved and even prescribed a "remedy" for it.

To be frank, Cartwright's explanation of drapteomania, its causes and its cures is a nauseating read, but it's also an important one. Slavery minimizers often try to argue that "not all masters treated their slaves badly," insinuating that the enslaved person's experience wasn't always terrible (as if being enslaved in and of itself is not terrible). But reading a doctor explain how to cure the "disease" of wanting to escape slavery highlights how even "care" and "kindness" toward enslaved people were often deeply steeped in racism.

I'm sharing the four paragraphs that explain drapetomania in their entirety because reading primary documents is a big part of a full education. (If you want the TL;DR version, it's basically, "Holy blatant white supremacy, Batman.")

Again, this came from one of the most renowned doctors in the American South at the time:



"DRAPETOMANIA, OR THE DISEASE CAUSING NEGROES TO RUN AWAY.

It is unknown to our medical authorities, although its diagnostic symptom, the absconding from service, is well known to our planters and overseers...In noticing a disease not heretofore classed among the long list of maladies that man is subject to, it was necessary to have a new term to express it. The cause in the most of cases, that induces the negro to run away from service, is as much a disease of the mind as any other species of mental alienation, and much more curable, as a general rule. With the advantages of proper medical advice, strictly followed, this troublesome practice that many negroes have of running away, can be almost entirely prevented, although the slaves be located on the borders of a free state, within a stone's throw of the abolitionists.

If the white man attempts to oppose the Deity's will, by trying to make the negro anything else than 'the submissive knee-bender,' (which the Almighty declared he should be,) by trying to raise him to a level with himself, or by putting himself on an equality with the negro; or if he abuses the power which God has given him over his fellow-man, by being cruel to him, or punishing him in anger, or by neglecting to protect him from the wanton abuses of his fellow-servants and all others, or by denying him the usual comforts and necessaries of life, the negro will run away; but if he keeps him in the position that we learn from the Scriptures he was intended to occupy, that is, the position of submission; and if his master or overseer be kind and gracious in his hearing towards him, without condescension, and at the sane time ministers to his physical wants, and protects him from abuses, the negro is spell-bound, and cannot run away.

According to my experience, the 'genu flexit'--the awe and reverence, must be exacted from them, or they will despise their masters, become rude and ungovernable, and run away. On Mason and Dixon's line, two classes of persons were apt to lose their negroes: those who made themselves too familiar with them, treating them as equals, and making little or no distinction in regard to color; and, on the other hand, those who treated them cruelly, denied them the common necessaries of life, neglected to protect them against the abuses of others, or frightened them by a blustering manner of approach, when about to punish them for misdemeanors. Before the negroes run away, unless they are frightened or panic-struck, they become sulky and dissatisfied. The cause of this sulkiness and dissatisfaction should be inquired into and removed, or they are apt to run away or fall into the negro consumption. When sulky and dissatisfied without cause, the experience of those on the line and elsewhere, was decidedly in favor of whipping them out of it, as a preventive measure against absconding, or other bad conduct. It was called whipping the devil out of them.

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. When all this is done, if any one of 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 require that they should be punished until they fall into that submissive state which it was intended for them to occupy in all after-time, when their progenitor received the name of Canaan or 'submissive knee-bender.' They have only to be kept in that state and treated like children, with care, kindness, attention and humanity, to prevent and cure them from running away."

Apparently, the idea that an enslaved person might want to escape because they value their own liberty—literally the idea the U.S. was founded on—never crossed the doctor's mind. Clearly, the "Give me liberty or give me death" rallying cry didn't apply to Black people.

But what's most striking about this paper is how grossly manipulative it is. First, the claim that white supremacy is God's will, which is always disturbing to see written plainly, and then the calculations of exactly how nice you have to be to your slaves in order to "cure" them of the "malady" of wanting to run away from you while still keeping them "submissive" and "governable." The dehumanization of Black Americans, even while talking about treating them with "humanity," is striking.

The other big kicker: This was a medical doctor, so a highly educated man. And it's not like he had zero experience or education outside of the South, either—he attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. Often, we associate racism with ignorance, which is a logical (and often accurate) connection. But this doctor's words are a reminder that, for some people, racism is a conscious decision arrived at through twisted, academic-ish reasoning.

It's also a reminder that we live in strange times. We have the entirety of human knowledge at our fingertips and all the resources to understand the horrors of race-based chattel slavery in the U.S., and yet we also have state authorities trying to limit what can be taught about slavery in schools. Even when an accurate history of slavery is taught, the idea that runaway slaves were thought to be suffering from mental illness might only be given a sentence or two in a history book. But diving in deeper, seeing where the idea came from and understanding how it was perpetuated by educated, respected members of medical institutions is really eye-opening.

And it's exactly the kind of thing that should not be ignored, minimized or excluded from education about the U.S. and its history.

@lindseyswagmom/TikTok

This daughter knew exactly what to get her dad for Secret Santa


Many people dream of somehow being able to pay their parents back for the sacrifices made for them during childhood. Whether that’s something physical, like paying off their mortgage, or simply being the best version of ourselves to make them absolutely proud.

For Lindsay Moore, it was finding a “prized possession” her dad once gave up to help the family, and returning it to him once again.

Moore still vividly remembers being only seven years old when she saw her father walk into a comic book store to sell a Dan Marino rookie football card from his first season with the Miami Dolphins.
Keep ReadingShow less
Pets

Parrot can't stop kissing her babies and telling them she loves them in adorable video

"I cannot believe parrots are real and we're so nonchalant about it."

Photo by Beyzaa Yurtkuran on Pexels and Photo by Mariano Mollo on Unsplash

Bird can't stop kissing and loving on her babies in adorable video


Birds can be pretty amazing companions, many birds live a lot longer than dogs, giving you a buddy for life depending on when you buy one. Some parrots can live up to 50 years, while the longest living cockatoo lived to be 82-years-old, which is why if you get one of these amazing talking feathered friends, you should make plans to put them in your will. Literally, it's advised that you put these long living birds in your will so there's a plan in place.

But their long lifespan isn't the reason people can't get enough of these birds as pets. Just like children, these birds learn to mimic what you say and how you say it, which allows them to engage in endearing moments. In a video compilation uploaded to social media by @themothergothel, you get to see their adorable behavior play out in front of you. A blue ringneck parrot is captured loving on some brand new baby birds and it's the sweetest thing.

Keep ReadingShow less


Around 1 a.m. on April 24, semi-truck drivers in the Oak Park area of Michigan received a distress call from area police: An unidentified man was standing on the edge of a local bridge, apparently ready to jump onto the freeway below.

Those drivers then did something amazing. They raced to the scene to help — and lined up their trucks under the bridge, providing a relatively safe landing space should the man jump.

Keep ReadingShow less

Millennials and Gen Z ditch top sheet to the dismay of Boomers


Once again the youngins are flabbergasting the older generations with their disregard of things they deem unnecessary. There's always something that gets dropped or altered generation to generation. We learn better ways or technology makes certain things obsolete. But it doesn't matter how far we've come, our beds still need sheets to cover the mattress.

The debate is on the use of top sheets, also known as flat sheets. They're the sheets that keep your body from touching the comforter, most Gen X and Boomers are firmly for the use of top sheets as a hygiene practice. The idea being that the top sheet keeps your dead skin cells and body oils from dirtying your comforter, causing you to have to wash it more often.

Apparently Millennials and Gen Zers are uninterested in using a top sheet while sleeping. In fact, they'd rather just get a duvet cover, though they may be cumbersome. A duvet cover can be washed fairly frequently, while some may opt for a cheeper comforter that they don't care is washed often because their distain for a top sheet is that strong.

Keep ReadingShow less
Representative Image From Canva

Imagine if everyone adhered to these guidelines.


We know too much screen time is not good for us. We also know that younger folks are particularly susceptible to screen addiction. What we don’t fully know is how to effectively help teens and tweens manage the habit, especially when screens are such an everyday part of life.

However, psychiatrist, author and dad of seven Richard Wadsworth recently went viral after showing his own personal strategy for getting his kids to do something other than scrolling. It could be the perfect solution for parents to not only break screen addiction, but instill some other healthy ritual as well.

In the clip, we first see Wadsworth’s tween son doing deltoid exercises with dumbbells. Which he apparently got up at 6:30 am to do.

What could possibly incentivize practically anyone, let alone a preteen to wake up at the crack of dawn to lift weights? Read on.

Keep ReadingShow less
via Anna Trupiano / Facebook

First-grade teacher Anna Trupiano

Anna Trupiano is a first-grade teacher at a school that serves deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing students from birth through eighth grade.

In addition to teaching the usual subjects, Trupiano is charged with helping her students thrive in a society that doesn't do enough to cater to the needs of the hard-of-hearing.

Keep ReadingShow less