The Forgotten Tale of How Black Psychiatrists Helped Make Sesame Street, the children’s television show entranced preschoolers—and helped teach impressionable black kids.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Photos Getty

In the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, a newly formed group called the Black Psychiatrists of America began to challenge their white colleagues to think about racism in a new way. Its members had been discussing for some time the possibility of creating an organization that would address their lack of representation within the key bodies of American psychiatry. But now, as one of these men, Dr. Chester Pierce, later put it ”we anguished in our grief for a great moderate leader,” and it seemed that the time for moderation on their side was also over. In Pierce’s words: “As we listened to radio reports and called to various sections of the country for the on-the spot reports in inner cities, our moderation weakened and our alarm hardened.”

Racism had led directly to King’s assassination, and not only had white psychiatry consistently failed to take racism seriously; it had, in ways both subtle and overt, enabled it.

The decision was thus made to organize black psychiatrists into an independent body that would use tactics of the civil rights movement to force American psychiatry to acknowledge both its own racism and its professional responsibility to address the scourge of racism in the country.

On May 8, 1969, representatives from the Black Psychiatrists of America interrupted the trustees of the American Psychiatric Association while they were eating breakfast, and presented them with a list of demands. These included a significant increase in African-American representation on APA committees, task forces, and other positions of leadership; a call for the APA to commit itself to desegregating mental health facilities; and a demand that any individual member of the society who was found to be guilty of racial discrimination be barred from practicing psychiatry.

The most fundamental demand made that morning, however, was that the profession begin to think about racism differently than it had in the past. Racism did not just happen because some bad people had hateful beliefs. Unlike many of their liberal white colleagues, who were fascinated by the potential mental pathologies of individual racists, the Black Psychiatrists of America (drawing on new sociological work) insisted that racism was built into the systems and structures of American life, including psychiatry itself. For this reason, as some of them put it in 1973, “institutional change (as opposed to personality change) are needed to root out and eliminate racism.”

Chester Pierce—the founding president of the Black Psychiatrists of America—was most concerned about the pernicious influence of one institution in particular: television. By 1969, virtually every American family home had at least one set. As one commentator at the time observed: “American homes have more television sets than bathtubs, refrigerators or telephones; 95 percent of American homes have television sets.”

Small children of all ethnicities were growing up glued to TV screens. This worried Pierce, because he was not just a psychiatrist but also a professor of early childhood education. And from a public health standpoint, he believed, television was a prime “carrier” of demeaning messages that undermined the mental health of vulnerable young black children in particular. In fact, it was Pierce who first coined the now widely used term microaggression, in the course of a study in the 1970s that exposed the persistent presence of stigmatizing representations of black people in television commercials […]

 

via The Forgotten Tale of How Black Psychiatrists Helped Make ‘Sesame Street’ The children’s television show entranced preschoolers—and helped teach impressionable black kids. — TheConfirmationFiles

5 thoughts on “The Forgotten Tale of How Black Psychiatrists Helped Make Sesame Street, the children’s television show entranced preschoolers—and helped teach impressionable black kids.

  1. Sasame street was uplifting and helpful to so many. Black Kids , white Kids, brown kids. It was not fake hope or religious bullshit. From Mean little, dysfunctional , red-necked towns to inner-cities, there was hope that kids and people could look beyond the stereotypes with some degree of empathy and see each other as human-beings

    Like

  2. There is no way that Black people, who are mentally ill, can go to whites and expect and receive help because the main reason why many Black people are mentally ill is due to the horrendous racism that we are exposed to, constantly. How then are we supposed to get relief from the very ones who are why we are mentally ill?

    When I was in Minnesota, my cousin was seeing white mental health ‘care’ professionals and they filled him so full of poisons, I went to that mental health ‘care’ facility and threw fits. I pointed out the obvious in that the place was filled to bursting with descendants of slaves who had been sent to that facility by the courts which are set up to set up descendants of slaves. I pointed out the fact that there were no Black doctors or therapists on staff and I even filed a complaint with the board. I’ll have you know that the next time I visited that establishment with my cousin, he was asked if he wanted to see a BLACK psychiatrist and a BLACK therapist. There had been none before that time! I refuse to sit somewhere and allow us to get mistreated. If we don’t speak up for ourselves, we will continue to be mistreated and I am having none of it!

    He now has to see a Black psychiatrist via Skype since no Black psychiatrist in their right mind would come down here to Hillbilly Hollow, but he requested to see a Black psychiatrist and even though it is via Skype, that is who he is seeing. He requested a Black case manager and that is who he has. His primary care doctor is Black and everyone he sees for his care is Black. We insist upon it and we ALWAYS will. If one refuses to come to us, we come to them or via Skype, but we would have it no other way! And it shouldn’t be any other way! And Black psychiatrists are very much aware of why Black people request them! They know the deal! Just as those depicted in this article knew the deal. It may be a ‘forgotten tale’, but this shit cannot be ‘forgotten’ by us since we still suffer from untold atrocities from being caught up in a system we wanted no part of because we did not immigrate here, our ancestors were dragged here. This shit’s not on us!

    Like

  3. That’s brilliant, Shelby. There is a strong movement here in NZ to train Maori doctors and nurses – much stronger than the movement to train Black doctors in the US. It’s equally important for Maori patients to see Maori health care providers. The racism is really bad here and not helpful to any kind of healing. Moreover there is a strong emphasis on family involvement in health care in the Maori community that is absent in the Pakeha (European) community.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the problem here as well; there is no strong family involvement and that is why we are failing each other. I will never give up on my cousin so long as I shall live!

      And I did reblog this and included my take, as usual. Also, on the other blog of mine that you commented on, I included some pictures of what 5G technology looks like. Please peruse it at your leisure, Dr. Bramhall. But please be very careful in how you go about dismantling that shit! I have my own way in which I intend to handle it, to be sure!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.