Race & Criminalization

Timeline Themes: race, religion, and criminalization

These introductions to student entries offer different focal perspectives across wide range of events, people, and cultural works in the art therapy timeline.

race, religion, and criminalization

Julienne Gerner, Johanna Tesfaye, Amanda Sanabria, Annalise Castro
April 24, 2019

Our entries span from 1692 to 2016 and highlight some of the ways in which race, religion, and criminalized behavior have, as interwoven themes, impacted social movements, political rhetoric, legislation, diagnoses, and acts of violence and terrorism. In addition, these entries may be used as points of reference for understanding current practices within the field of art therapy. For instance, the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, raise questions regarding diagnosis, piousness, and criminal behavior with regard to race, religion, and social status. Throughout the era of slavery in the US, the enslavement and abuse of black people was condoned through medical diagnosis, a legacy that continues well into practice today. In 1851, Dr. Samuel Cartwright coined the terms Drapetomania and Dysesthesia Aethiopica to pathologize enslaved black people mental and physical being to justify their enslavement. Similarly, the criminalization of people of color has continued to be reinforced through scientific and medical research. Dr. Mary Benheim’s 1928 discovery of the genetic enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO),  linked to the regulation of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, led to the discovery MAO-A. MAO-A, nicknamed the Warrior Gene, has been associated with aggression, depression, and other mental disorders. Studies have attempted to correlate race, class, and genetics for behavioral prediction with this research, such as Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve (1994). The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 contributed to the pathologization and criminalization of drug use within the United States’ legal system and in many treatment methodologies. The Radiant Church Roundtable with Mike Pence can be viewed as resulting in part from the previous two entries, as Pence informally pardons police brutality as part of an effort to gain support for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. In addition, since Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, he has proposed building a wall along the United States and Mexico border. The border wall efforts have [been] promoting the belief that the southern border has been a gateway for criminals and terrorists to enter the country, perpetuating racism and acts of hate amongst people of color and immigrant communities. The intersections of race, religion, and criminalization within the United States is not unheard of outside of this country, but the US has managed to back and promote those intersections within other countries. Looking to the year of 1968 the United States experienced liberatory movements for workers’ rights, protests against the Vietnam War, women’s liberation movements, and African independence struggles. In the same year the Radical Psychiatry Movement , specifically in Gorizia, Italy, lead by example for its improvement of conditions for patients and opening up asylum wards intended to confine and control people deviant from society. Ideas of anti-institutionalism, social analysis, and critique of the medical establishment were key tenets in the struggle for deinstitutionalisation and human rights for those criminalized and incarcerated in asylums in the 60’s and 70’s, as well as in the United States. A recent example can be seen in the 2013 documentary God Loves Uganda, by filmmaker Roger Williams, that highlights how the America’s Christian right participated in Uganda’s attempt to pass a bill that would make homosexuality a crime punishable by death; the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act was ultimately passed in 2014. Our timeline focuses on the interrelatedness of pathology and trauma, specifically race, religion, and criminalized behavior, throughout the history of the United States.