Archive for March 3rd, 2016

March 3, 2016



Drapetomania [drah-pay-too-mey-nee-uh] was a supposed mental illness described by American physician Samuel A. Cartwright in 1851 that caused black slaves to flee captivity. Today, drapetomania is considered an example of pseudoscience and part of the edifice of scientific racism. The term derives from the Greek ‘drapetes’ (‘runaway [slave]’) and ‘mania’ (‘madness, frenzy’). In ‘Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race,’ Cartwright points out that the Bible calls for a slave to be submissive to his master, and by doing so, the slave will have no desire to run away.

Cartwright described the disorder – which, he said, was ‘unknown to our medical authorities, although its diagnostic symptom, the absconding from service, is well known to our planters and overseers’– in a paper delivered before the Medical Association of Louisiana that was widely reprinted. He stated that the malady was a consequence of masters who ‘made themselves too familiar with [slaves], treating them as equals.’

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