I have two sons. One is a young adult who has taken the scenic route to college, while carving out a career in art. In this way, he has taken an unconventional path unconventionally. I am not being repetitive here. Not only is he taking a unconventional path- the artist’s path. He has even shaken the few conventions of this path and turned them on their heads. He has a perspective of the world that is expansive, complicated, and utterly uncomfortable. Fortunately for him and for us (by “us” I mean the world as a whole), he is able to relieve some of the overcrowding in his head by allowing it to spill out onto paper. As his mother, I believe him to be brilliant and gifted and totally beyond me intellectually.
In the 1850s, American psychiatrists believed enslaved blacks who ran away from white enslavers were suffering from a mental illness called drapetomania. This illness, psychiatrists maintained, could be cured by excessive whipping. (here Madsen-Brooks quotes Melissa Harris-Lacewell’s article, Who You calling crazy?.)
We have to admit that a goodly chunk of mental illness is not so much based on physiological or medical conditions, but on social norms and expectations. This realization is not new. But it’s just plain scary in the context of little black boys’ lives. How about in the realm of the current ADD/ADHD phenomenon? It is well established that ADD and ADHD are grossly over-diagnosed and the accompanying medication hugely over-prescribed. Fifty percent of the kids in special education are diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. Ritalyn is the fifth leading drug in America, after nicotine, alcohol, cocaine and marijuana. For black boys, the ADHD/ADD conundrum is profoundly alarming. Black children make up 15 percent of the school population and yet they constitute over 30 percent of the children placed in special education. Black boys represent nearly 80 percent of the black kids placed. (Jawanza Kunjufu, 2010)
African American males are overrepresented in most categories of learning, emotional, and behavioral disabilities. They are most severely overrepresented in areas of disability that are descriptive of disruptive and inappropriate behavior at school compared to categories of disability that describe specific learning problems (Colpe, 2000). Although they comprised only 15% of the U.S. population in 2001, African American children were overrepresented in specific learning disabilities (18%), mental retardation(34%) and emotional disturbancecategories (28%) (Office of Special Education Programs, 2005). African American males also make up a majority of the students identified as emotionally disturbed in the U.S. (Colpe) and are far more likely than their Euro American or female peers to be suspended, expelled, or subjected to corporal punishment (National Center for Education Statistics,2001)
For now, that seems to be enough.