emory | In the third and final CMBC lunch talk of the 2013 fall semester, Dr. Sander Gilman (Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts, Emory) treated participants to an engaging presentation on the interconnected history of racism and mental illness in Europe and America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The topic of the talk grew out of a CMBC-sponsored undergraduate course and graduate seminar offered by Dr. Gilman last fall, titled “Race, Brain, and Psychoanalysis.”
Gilman opened by citing a 2012 study conducted by an interdisciplinary team of scientists at Oxford. Based on clinical experiments, they reported that white subjects who were given doses of the beta-blocker drug Propranolol showed reduced indicators of implicit racial bias. The authors of the paper wrote that their research “raises the tantalizing possibility that our unconscious racial attitudes could be modulated using drugs.” Time Magazine soon thereafter ran a headline story with the title “Is Racism Becoming a Mental Illness?” Dismissing these claims as unscientific, Gilman instead posed a different set of questions: at what point, historically, does racism come to be classified as a form of mental illness? Why? And what are the implications of such a “diagnosis”?