Transition - Vol. 115

Transition - Vol. 115

Transition - Vol. 115

Transition - Vol. 115


Published three times per year by Indiana University Press for the Hutchins Center at Harvard University, Transition is a unique forum for the freshest, most compelling ideas from and about the black world. Since its founding in Uganda in 1961, the magazine has kept apace of the rapid transformation of the African Diaspora and has remained a leading forum of intellectual debate. This issue of Transition focuses on “Mad.” The editors look at connections between blackness and psychology, examining Richard Wright’s attempts to bring clinical psychotherapy to Harlem and revealing the links between schizophrenia and fears of black “psychos.” As Ferguson, Missouri becomes the latest community to rage against the state-sanctioned murder of unarmed black men, we ask what James Baldwin and Stokely Carmichael might have to tell us about why African Americans continue to be pushed to the margins of American society. The editors also examine the marginalized community of black Palestinians, doubly imperiled by Israeli slaughter and internal racism. And finally, on a lighter note, discover music and art that we’re “mad” about—from Otis Redding and Vijay Iyer to Kara Walker and Christopher Cozier.


Carina del Valle Schorske

In his excavation of the history of the Lafargue Clinic in Harlem, Gabriel Mendes enters into the paradox of “a world in which the mental health of African Americans was either an invisible, underground absence or something over which many professionals in the human sciences obsessed.” He is describing the United States of the midcentury, but this paradox has proven remarkably durable both in the Americas and in other historically colonial cultures. Both perspectives deny the connection between mind and world that is the ground zero of mental health.

But even when this connection is denied or attacked, it continues to communicate a powerful charge. Jonathan Metzl’s deep reading of the trope of schizophrenia in rap music elaborates this wisdom: if racism is, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, a “mass psychosis,” then black madness—whether inborn or bred, clinical or metaphorical—is not only a natural response to this psychosis, but an argument about the natural responsiveness between self and society, minority and majority.

Robin Hammond exposes the nightmarish side of this feedback loop in his documentation of the lives of the mentally ill in South Sudan and Somalia. It is always a risk to disseminate images of this nature, reinforcing, as they seem to, notions of African abjection. But the inhumanity he witnesses is not just an African problem. in the United States, the prison of Rikers Island has the notorious distinction of being the largest psychiatric “institution” in the nation; 4,000 of its 11,000 inmates have been diagnosed with a mental illness. in July of this year, the New York Times published an investigative report on the rampant guard-oninmate violence that takes place at Rikers, aimed disproportionately at those suffering from psychological conditions: brutal “punishments” for suicide attempts and stomach-turning incidents like the following, in which “correctional officers handcuffed [inmate Andre Lane] to a gurney and transported him to a clinic examination room beyond the range of video cameras where, witnesses say, several guards beat him as members of the medical staff begged for them to stop.” Accounts like . . .

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