Origins of Racism in American Medicine and Psychiatry

  • Kimberly Gordon-AchebeEmail author
  • Danielle R. Hairston
  • Shadé Miller
  • Rupinder Legha
  • Steven Starks
Part of the Current Clinical Psychiatry book series (CCPSY)


Like most structures, American medicine has been susceptible to the effects of racism. In matters of racial oppression, the field of psychiatry has been both slowly responsive and complicit in its reaction to the cultural challenge of racism; all too often it avoids matters of social justice. Unwittingly, it contributes to the perpetuation of health disparities. This chapter reviews the history of racial oppression in medical education and organized medicine by examining its origins in American colonization and slavery, which have engendered mental health disparities for black Americans. It also explores racial stereotypes in psychological theory, clinical practice, and health policies that adversely affect blacks in America, and it highlights the medical community’s role in creating historical trauma in the black community. Psychiatrists play a crucial role in the development of interventions that will help shape healthy racial identities for blacks, and they can also foster psychological well-being for all Americans by recognizing racism as a mental health disorder. Girded with an understanding of the historical context of how blacks view medicine and psychiatry, health care systems, policy makers, and providers can undo racism and racial mental health disparities by engaging in antiracism work and advocating for this work to be implemented and embedded in all aspects of organized psychiatry and medical education.


Racism Mental health disparities Eugenics Medical experimentation Racial identity Organized medicine Medical education Racial health equity and policy 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kimberly Gordon-Achebe
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Danielle R. Hairston
    • 3
  • Shadé Miller
    • 4
  • Rupinder Legha
    • 5
  • Steven Starks
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesTulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA
  2. 2.Hope Health Systems, Inc.BaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.Division of Consultation—Liaison PsychiatryUniversity of Maryland Medical CenterBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.Queen’s UniversityKingstonCanada
  5. 5.Department of PsychiatryUCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human BehaviorLos AngelesUSA
  6. 6.Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesBaylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA

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