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Colby, K.M. (1952). Journal of Mental Science. XCVII, 1951: Frontal Lobe Function and the African. J. C. Carothers. Pp. 12–48.. Psychoanal Q., 21:594-595.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Journal of Mental Science. XCVII, 1951: Frontal Lobe Function and the African. J. C. Carothers. Pp. 12–48.

(1952). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 21:594-595

Journal of Mental Science. XCVII, 1951: Frontal Lobe Function and the African. J. C. Carothers. Pp. 12–48.

Kenneth Mark Colby

The only reason this paper merits review is that it is one of the more complete guides to the lowest levels of psychiatric thinking and writing, an example of psychiatry in the service of class prejudice.

To prove his remarkable conclusion, 'African peculiarities can be explained as due to a relative idleness of the frontal lobes', Carothers goes through the following maneuvers: first he summarizes observations made in a previous article on African (Kenya Colony) mental derangement, viz. (a) there is a low incidence of insanity among Africans living in their natural environment; (b) general paralysis, arteriosclerosis, paranoia and manic depressive insanity are rare; (c) involutional melancholia occurred but consistently without ideas of guilt; (d) 'frenzied anxiety' is common, and (e) obsessional neuroses are never seen. He then adds his current feeling that the African resembles the European psychopath in that 'his behavior is largely determined by his passing emotions, he lacks foresight, perseverance and sustained determination, and his unreliability and irresponsibility are notorious from a European viewpoint' (italics added). To illustrate the African's lack of 'social sense' the author cites an example: 'the attendants of a condemned murderer are quite likely to jest crudely about his future in his presence'.

The choicest part of the paper concerns a study of African 'reliability'. Employers of even the most intelligent and well-educated Africans are frequently 'let down' by them. Here are some examples with Carother's complaining interpretations in parentheses: A cook took a basket of vegetables out of a car and left the back door open so that it broke when the car was driven into the garage. ('From the cook's point of view the car door was merely something to open to collect the vegetables; the other aspects of the door's situation in space and time would hardly occur to him.') A good mental hospital attendant of fifteen year's service, after his normal home leave, asked for additional leave to visit a sick relative. This was not allowed and he was told if he insisted he would be discharged, sacrificing his high pay and a gratuity due him. He insisted on leaving, said he would return and begin again at the

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bottom and in fact did so. ('This is an example of the precedence accorded to primitive custom even when it may ruin the subject's prospects within the European system and the latter is treated as quite unimportant and irrelevant when it conflicts with the African.') After listening to a scientific lecture the African student is apt to ask some trivial personal question. ('His interest is mainly egocentric and unacademic.')

It never occurs to Carothers that he and his fellow white men are engaged in interpersonal relationships with Africans in which the emotions of both groups are involved. He doesn't see the hatred and resentment of the African in 'unreliability' nor does he understand the already institutionalized processes through which Africans attempt to deal with white men. In good old colonial tradition he is astonished that a people rate their values above his. In short, the attitudes of Carothers himself provide a sadly revealing example of just the sort of person the oppressed African is struggling to cope with.

The final burst of psychiatric name-calling at these people who 'let one down' consists of showing that they are like leucotomized Europeans, hence they simply must not be using their frontal lobes. This lack of frontal lobe usage, in turn, explains the low incidence of insanity among Africans, including general paralysis, arteriosclerosis, paranoia, obsessional neuroses, etc.! One wonders how such a paper could receive audience in a scientific journal.

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Article Citation

Colby, K.M. (1952). Journal of Mental Science. XCVII, 1951. Psychoanal. Q., 21:594-595

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