Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: Dysæsthesia Æthiopica Edition

Today's post is a sequel to this one. You see, in the same article in which Samuel Cartwright discussed the disease causing slaves to run away, he also discussed another disease that bizarrely only affected blacks. This one was responsible for dulling both the body and mind of blacks. The effect this imaginary disease had on the mind made a black man dull, sleepy, and lazy; yet also somehow made him fitful--prone to tearing things up--and argumentative, prone to raising disturbances with overseers "without cause or motive." This also explains why when you beat them for the previously-described uppity behavior, they don't seem to feel pain.

So essentially, Cartwright took the common stereotypes of blacks as slothful layabouts that need whites to force them to be productive, and of blacks as being incapable of feeling pain, and called this a "disease." In fact, even though he tries explaining the physiological process by which this "disease" affects blacks, he never explains what is different about whites that they are not susceptible to it.

Cartwright also claims that this "disease" occurs mostly in free blacks, and only in slaves who live like their free counterparts. Which really means, just like his discussion of drapetomania, that slavery is good for blacks, as long as you don't treat them too well. In fact, his entire closing paragraph is dedicated to drilling this point home--abolitionism is stupid, he says, because freedom, while good for whites, is very, very bad for blacks.

This particular, ah, legacy of Cartwright's also seems slightly less well-known than drapetomania. I've seen that disease come up in blog comments and apparently is also in one of my brothers' psychology textbooks, but I don't think this one has such renown.


Dysæsthesia Æthiopica is a disease peculiar to negroes, affecting both mind and body in a manner as well expressed by dysæsthesia, the name I have given it, as could be by a single term. There is both mind and sensibility, but both seem to be difficult to reach by impressions from without. There is a partial insensibility of the skin, and so great a hebetude of the intellectual faculties, as to be like a person half asleep, that is with difficulty aroused and kept awake. It differs from every other species of mental disease, as it is accompanied with physical signs or lesions of the body discoverable to the medical observer, which are always present and sufficient to account for the symptoms. It is much more prevalent among free negroes living in clusters by themselves, than among slaves on our plantations, and attacks only such slaves as live like free negroes in regard to diet, drinks, exercise, etc. It is not my purpose to treat of the complaint as it prevails among free negroes, nearly all of whom are more or less afflicted with it, that have not got some white person to direct and to take care of them. To narrate its symptoms and effects among them would be to write a history of the ruins and dilapidation of Hayti, and every spot of earth they have ever had uncontrolled possession over for any length of time. I propose only to describe its symptoms among slaves.

From the careless movements of the individuals affected with the complaint, they are apt to do much mischief, which appears as if intentional, but is mostly owing to the stupidness of mind and insensibility of the nerves induced by the disease. Thus, they break, waste and destroy everything they handle,--abuse horses and cattle,--tear, burn or rend their own clothing, and, paying no attention to the rights of property, steal others, to replace what they have destroyed. They wander about at night, and keep in a half nodding sleep during the day. They slight their work,--cut up corn, cane, cotton or tobacco when hoeing it, as if for pure mischief. They raise disturbances with their overseers and fellow-servants without cause or motive, and seem to be insensible to pain when subjected to punishment. The fact of the existence of such a complaint, making man like an automaton or senseless machine, having the above or similar symptoms, can be clearly established by the most direct and positive testimony. That it should have escaped the attention of the medical profession, can only be accounted for because its attention has not been sufficiently directed to the maladies of the negro race. Otherwise a complaint of so common an occurrence on badly-governed plantations, and so universal among free negroes, or those who are not governed at all,--a disease radicated in physical lesions and having its peculiar and well marked symptoms and its curative indications, would not have escaped the notice of the profession. The northern physicians and people have noticed the symptoms, but not the disease from which they spring. They ignorantly attribute the symptoms to the debasing influence of slavery on the mind, without considering that those who have never been in slavery, or their fathers before them, are the most afflicted, and the latest from the slave-holding South the least. The disease is the natural offspring of negro liberty--the liberty to be idle, to wallow in filth, and to indulge in improper food and drinks.

In treating of the anatomy and physiology of the negro, I showed that his respiratory system was under the same physiological laws as that of an infant child of the white race: that a warm atmosphere, loaded with carbonic acid and aqueous vapor, was the most congenial to his lungs during sleep, as it is to the infant; that, to insure the respiration of such an atmosphere, he invariably, as if moved by instinct, shrouds his head and face in a blanket or some other covering when disposing himself to sleep; that in sleeping by the fire in cold weather he turns his head to it, instead of his feet, evidently to inhale warm air; that when not in active exercise, he always hovers over a fire in comparatively warm weather, as if he took a positive pleasure in inhaling hot air and smoke when his body is quiescent. The natural effect of this practice, it was shown, caused imperfect atmospherization or vitalization of the blood in the lungs, as occurs in infancy, and a hebetude or torpor of intellect--from blood not sufficiently vitalized being distributed to the brain; also a slothfulness, torpor and disinclination to exercise from the same cause--the want of blood sufficiently vitalized in the circulating system.

When left to himself, the negro indulges in his natural disposition to idleness and sloth, and does not take exercise enough to expand his lungs to to vitalize his blood, but dozes out a miserable existence in the midst of filth and uncleanliness, being too indolent, and having too little energy of mind to provide for himself proper food and comfortable loding and clothing. The consequence is, that the blood becomes so highly carbonized and deprived of oxygen, that it not only becomes unfit to stimulate the brain to energy, but unfit to stimulate the nerves of sensation distributed to the body. A torpor and insensibility pervades the system; the sentient nerves distributed to the skin lose their feeling in so great a degree, that he often burns his skin by the fire he hovers over without knowing it, and frequently has large holes in his clothes, and the shoes on his feet burnt to a crisp, without having been conscious of when it was done. This is the disease called dysæsthesia--a Greek term expressing the dull or obtuse sensation that always attends the complaint. When aroused from his sloth by the stimulus of hunger, he takes anything he can lay his hands on, and tramples on the rights, as well as on the property of others, with perfect indifference as to consequences. When driven to labor by the compulsive power of the white man, he performs the task assigned to him in headlong, careless manner, treading down with his feet or cutting with his hoe the plants he is put to cultivate--breaking the tools he works with, and spoiling everything he touches that can be injured by careless handling.--Hence the overseers call it "rascality," supposing that the mischief is intentionally done. But there is no premeditated mischief in the case,--the mind is too torpid to meditate mischief, or even to be aroused by any angry passions to deeds of daring. Dysæsthesia, or hebetude of sensation of both mind and body, prevails to so great an extent, that when the unfortunate individual is subjected to punishment, he neither feels pain of any consequence, nor shows any unusual resentment, more than by a stupid sulkiness. In some cases, anæsthsiæ would be a more suitable name for it, as there appears to be an almost total loss of feeling. The term "rascality" given to this disease by overseers, is founded on an erroneous hypothesis, and leads to an incorrec [sic] empirical treatment, which seldom or never cures it.

The complaint is easily curable, if treated on sound physiological principles. The skin is dry, thick and harsh to the touch, and the liver inactive. The liver, skin and kidneys should be stimulated to activity and be made to assist in decarbonizing the blood. The best means to stimulate the skin is, first, to have the patient well washed with warm water and soap, then, to anoint it all over with oil, and to slap the oil in with a broad leather strap; then to put the patient to some hard kind of work in the open air and sunshine, that will compel him to expand his lungs, as chopping wood, splitting rails, or sawing with the cross-cut or whip saw. Any kind of labor will do that will cause full and free respiration in its performance, as lifting or carrying heavy weights, or brisk walking; the object being to expand the lungs by full and deep inspiration and expirations, thereby to vitalize the impure circulating blood by introducing oxygen and expelling carbon. This treatment should not be continued too long at a time, because where the circulating fluids are so impure as in this complaint, patients cannot stand protracted exercise without resting frequently and drinking freely of cold water or some cooling beverage, as lemonade, or alternated pepper tea sweetened with molasses. In bad cases, the blood has always the appearance of blood in scurvy, and commonly there is a scorbutic affection to be seen on the gums. After resting until the palpitation of the heart caused by the exercise is allayed, the patient should eat some good wholesome food, well seasoned with spices and vegetables, as turnip or mustard salad, with vinegar. After a moderate meal, he should resume his work again, resting at intervals, and taking refreshments and supporting the perspiration by partaking freely of liquids. At night he should be lodged in a warm room with a small fire in it, and should have a clean bed with sufficient blanket covering, and be washed clean before going to bed: in the morning, oiled, slapped, and put to work as before. Such treatment will, in a short time, effect a cure in all cases which are not complicated with chronic visceral derangements. The effect of this or a like course of treatment is often like enchantment. No sooner does the blood feel the vivifying influences derived from its full and perfect atmospherization by exercise in the open air and in the sun, than the negro seems to be awakened to a new existence, and to look grateful and thankful to the white man whose compulsory power, by making him inhale vital air, has restored his sensation, and dispelled the mist that clouded his intellect. His intelligence restored and his sensations awakened, he is no longer the bipedum nequissimus, or arrant rascal, he was supposed to be, but a good negro that can hoe or plow, and handles things with as much care as his fellow servants.

Contrary to the received opinion, a northern climate is the most favorable to the intellectual development of negroes; those of Missouri, Kentucky and the colder parts of Virginia and Maryland having much more mental energy, being more bold and ungovernable than in the southern lowlands; a dense atmosphere causing a better ventilation of their blood.

Although idleness is the most prolific cause of dysæsthesia, yet there are other ways that the blood gets deteriorated. I said before that negroes are like children, requiring government in everything. If not governed in their diet, they are apt to eat too much salt meat and not enough bread and vegetables, which practice generates a scorbutic state of the fluids and leads to the affection under consideration. This form of the complaint always shows itself in the gums, which become spongy and dark and leave the teeth. Uncleanliness of skin and torpid liver also tend to produce it. A scurvy set of negroes means the same thing, in the South, as a disorderly, worthless set. That the blood, when rendered impure and carbonaceous from any cause, as from idleness, filthy habits, unwholesome food or alcoholic drinks, affects the mind, is not only known to physicians, but was known to the Bard of Avon when he penned the lines--"We are not ourselves when Nature, being oppressed, commands the mind to suffer with the body."

According to unaltered physiological laws, negroes, as a general rule to which there are but few exceptions, can only have their intellectual faculties awakened in a sufficient degree to receive moral culture and to profit by religious or other instructions, when under the compulsatory authority of the white man; because, as a general rule to which there are but few exceptions, they will not take sufficient exercise, when removed from the white man's authority, to vitalize and decarbonize their blood by the process of full and free respiration, that active exercise of some kind alone can effect. A northern climate remedies, in a considerable degree, their naturally indolent disposition; but the dense atmosphere of Boston or Canada can scarcely produce sufficient hematosis and vigor of mind to induce them to labor. From their natural indolence, unless under the stimulus of compulsion, they doze away their lives, with the capacity of their lungs for atmospheric air only half expanded from the want of exercise to superinduce full and deep respiration. The inevitable effect is to prevent a sufficient atmospherization or vitalization of the blood, so essential to the expansion and the freedom of action of the intellectual faculties. The black blood distributed to the brain chains the mind to ignorance, superstition and barbarism, and bolts the door against civilization, moral culture and religious truth. The compulsory power of the white man, by making the slothful negro take active exercise, puts into active play the lungs, through whose agency the vitalized blood is sent to the brain to give liberty to the mind and to open the door to intellectual improvement. The very exercise, so beneficial to the negro, is expended in cultivating those burning fields of cotton, sugar, rice and tobacco, which, but for his labor, would, from the heat of the climate, go uncultivated, and their products be lost to the world. Both parties are benefited--the negro as well as the master--even more. But there is a third party benefited--the world at large. The three millions of bales of cotton, made by negro labor, afford a cheap clothing for the civilized world. The laboring classes of all mankind having less to pay for clothing have more money to spend in educating their children, in intellectual, moral and religious progress.

The wisdom, mercy and justice of the decree, that Canaan shall serve Japheth, is proved by the disease we have been considering, because it proves that his physical organization and the laws of his nature are in perfect unison with slavery, and in entire discordance with liberty--a discordance so great as to produce the loathsome disease that we have been considering, as one of its inevitable effects,--a disease that locks up the understanding, blunts the sensations, and chains the mind to superstition, ignorance and barbarism. Slaves are not subject to this disease, unless they are permitted to live like free negroes, in idleness and filth--to eat improper food or to indulge in spirituous liquors. It is not their masters' interet that they should do so; as they would not only be unprofitable, but as great a nuisance to the South as the free negroes were found to be in London, whom the British government, more than half a century ago, colonized in Sierra Leone to get them out of the way. The mad fanaticism that British writers, lecturers and emissaries, and the East India Company planted in our Northern states, after it was found by well-tried experiments that free negroes in England, in Canada, in Sierra Leone and elsewhere were a perfect nuisance, and would not work as free laborers, but would retrograde to barbarism, was not planted there in opposition to British policy. Whatever was the motive of Great Britain in sowing the whirlwind in our Northern states, it is now threatening the disruption of a mighty empire of the happiest, most progressive and Christian people, that ever inhabited the earth--and the only empire on the wide earth that England dreads as a rival, either in arts or in arms.

Our Declaration of Independence, which was drawn up at a time when negroes were scarcely considered as human beings, "That all men are by nature free and equal," and only intended to apply to white men, is often quoted in support of the false dogma that all mankind possesses the same mental, physiological and anatomical organization, and that the liberty, free institutions, and whatever else would be a blessing to one portion, would, under the same external circumstances, be to all, without regard to any original or internal differences inherent in the organization. Although England preaches this doctrine, she practises in opposition to it every where. Instance her treatment of the Gipsies in England, the Hindoos in India, the Hottentots at her Cape Colony, and the aboriginal inhabitants of New-Holland. The dysæsthesia æthiopica adds another to the many ten thousand evidences of the fallacy of the dogma that abolitionism is built on; for here, in a country where two races of men dwell together, both born on the same soil, breathing the same air, and surrounded by the same external agents--liberty, which is elevating the one race of people above all other nations, sinks the other into beastly sloth and torpidity; and the slavery, which the one would prefer death rather than endure, improves the other in body, mind and morals; thus proving the dogma false, and establishing the truth that there is a radical, internal or physical difference between the two races, so great in kind, as to make what is wholesome and beneficial for the white man, as liberty, republican or free institutions, etc., not only unsuitable to the negro race, but actually poisonous to its happiness.

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