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My Diagnosis of Drapetomania

Recently, I have been diagnosed with the terminal dis-ease of Drapetomania. I am also an SLE survivor, so I can be fairly certain that I shall perish from one… or the other; barring some unforeseen cosmic accident.

There is no cure for either malady.

Drapetomania was discovered and identified in 1851, by Dr. Samuel Adolphus Cartwright. Dr. Cartwright was a widely known, and respected, physician trained at the distinguished University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. His papers and articles were widely re-printed on a regular basis. His medical opinions were of consequence in the field of medicine; however, none of them ever achieved the notoriety than did his discovery of Drapetomania.

Behold its clinical description…

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.

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 same time ministers to his physical wants, and protects him from abuses, the negro is spell-bound, and cannot run away.

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. If any one or 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 requires that they should be punished until they fall into that submissive state which was intended for them to occupy. They have only to be kept in that state, and treated like children to prevent and cure them from running away.

This is deep.

Very deep.

Prevention and remedy

In addition to identifying drapetomania, Cartwright prescribed a remedy. His feeling was that with "proper medical advice, strictly followed, this troublesome practice that many Negroes have of running away can be almost entirely prevented."

In the case of slaves "sulky and dissatisfied without cause" – a warning sign of imminent flight – Cartwright prescribed "whipping the devil out of them" as a "preventative measure". As a remedy for this "disease," doctors also made running a physical impossibility by prescribing the removal of both big toes.

White Prototypes

In the many opinions that I have expressed, verbally, literally, and documented, relevant to issues peculiar to the Black diaspora in the United States and its resultant manifestations, I am often met with the recurrent responses proffered by many white Americans. The monikers, and names, of these individuals change, but the responses are quite consistent; here are a few examples:

“I know other Blacks who have done well, and they don’t go around complaining” Translation: you should be like the other good Niggers; they are happy, singing Negroid spirituals…why aren’t you? There must be something wrong with you.


We’ve come a long way in “race relations”, look at the fact that there is an “African-American” President! Translation: You ungrateful black bastard, look at how “color-blind” we are. Why, we have a nigger in the “White House” which proves we have “gotten beyond race”. What is your problem?


What is it you want, Kenyatta? Why don’t you try to bring us together? How does all of your rhetoric help? Translation: Forget the fact that we have abused your people and caricaturized them for 400 years. When we kick you in your ass, as a group, it is your responsibility to accept it and find a way to be our friend. How dare you suggest treating us as we treat you as a group and suggest employing our modus operandi.


You are angry and resentful. Translation: Don’t you dare “raise your head to the level of your master and overseer”. So what if we murder you under the guise of State action and kill your 12 year old children; bomb your churches and children and beat your women on the freeway in broad daylight. You should love your master. Why do you not?


This is the greatest nation on earth; we are a “superpower”. Look at all of the rich black athletes there are. Translation: Although, when convenient, we like to talk about that “African-American” President we really still value you as minstrels and gladiators. That’s why we pay them so much money while Black teachers, scientists, and professionals in other areas receive little notoriety. Stay in your place. This is great, look at all the crap we fill our empty lives with (made in China). Because we are perfectly willing to blow men, women and children to smithereens we are “super”. How are you not in awe of this? And how could you dare not consider the United States as the Happy Meal of nations?


Your rage and anger is “unjustified” and “unwarranted”. Translation: Look Nigger, we are the arbiters of what is and is not acceptable, “justified” and “warranted”. We define the terms; your experiences mean nothing, your history means nothing, your opinions and feelings mean nothing. In other words, fuck you.

Drapetomania causes me to tell you, fuck you back.

I have spent considerable time discussing what I call Anglo Cognitive Dissonance (ACD) and, in the spirit of intellectual honesty, I think it only fair and appropriate to identify my own mental illness; Drapetomania. I’ve been knowing what was wrong with you, now you know what’s wrong with me.

So, I am the proverbial slave that is “sulky and dissatisfied without cause”. “Fuel enough to keep a small fire burning all night…” doesn’t cut it for me. I do not recognize any level of superiority in the white man; not intellectually, not physically and certainly not psycho-socially. However, I am proud to say that there have been many Black People in America that have suffered with Drapetomania. Malcolm X clearly had the illness as did: Marcus Garvey, Frederick Douglas, Nat Turner, Muhammad Ali, Miles Davis, Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, H. Rap Brown, Jim Brown, Colin Kaepernick, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Gil-Scott Heron, Sojourner Truth, Dr. Joy DeGruy, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Seals, Harry Belafonte, my children and…

My father (RIP).

At least I’m in good company.

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