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Book and Media Reviews
May 19, 2010

The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease

JAMA. 2010;303(19):1980-1985. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.629

Citing drapetomania, a “mental illness” that caused African American slaves to flee captivity, or the claim still popular at the turn of the 20th century that “Negroes” were “psychologically unfit” for freedom, psychiatrist Jonathan Metzl argues that race and insanity share a “long and troubled past” continuing well into the 20th century. In his most recent book, The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease, Metzl adds more fuel to this troubled past by showing how schizophrenia was shaped as a “black disease.” To make his case, he uses US medical journals, newspapers, magazines, pharmaceutical advertisements, studies of popular opinion, music lyrics, oral histories, and films to examine how assumptions about race and schizophrenia in the United States changed dramatically during the civil rights era; the result is a fascinating, penetrating book by one of medicine's most exceptional young scholars.

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