My Battle With Drapetomania
I remember the day I realized something was wrong with me but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I was in a meeting at work and the boss was speaking about our quarterly performances and monetary departmental gain. The Spirit commanded me to look around the room and what I saw shocked me. I witnessed everyone staring blankly at the speaker, slack-jawed, nodding in unison at his every word, even the ones that made no sense, agreeing with his hypothesis on how to make more and more money, never uttering anything against his policies and it was then, at that precise moment, that I realized I was a slave.
The notion stunned me into stillness.
Why did it take me this long to realize this life-altering conclusion? How long had I been a slave? Then it hit me…
From the day I was born, my purpose on this earth was to enrich and serve white supremacy. I stumbled from one despair filled job to the next, running nowhere, trying to find a way off the plantation but was lost, exhausted and was about to give up. It was purely by accident that a passage in a book caught my eye one day. It was describing a field hand who exhibited my exact same symptoms.
Drapetomania was a supposed mental illness described by physician Samuel Cartwright. In 1851, Cartwright explained that Drapetomania caused black slaves to want to flee captivity.
Cartwright described the disorder – which, he said, was “unknown to our medical authorities, although its diagnostic symptom, the absconding from service, is well known to our planters and overseers.”
When I stumbled upon my diagnosis, I felt exhilarated, confused and angry. Happy for my diagnosis at last, confused because never in my life, had whites EVER treated me as an equal and angry for the fact that no black person had ever told me I was a slave.
Why hadn’t someone, anyone, said to me, “Hey Nigger…you’re one of us. Screw your education. Screw your job. That new house you just bought? Screw that too! You ain’t worth shit ’round here.” I fell into one despair-filled spiral after another since my self-diagnosis. I ran nowhere. Took job after job only to end up on someone else’s plantation with an even tougher overseer.
I struggled for freedom. I wanted some other black person to pass me on the street and see that familiar look in my eyes and smile and wink at me and say, “Don’t worry…I have Drapetomania too! I’ve been wanting to flee from my plantation for 20 years…wanna get together and work on a plan?”
But no one came. No one winked. No one smiled and offered any solutions. I was burdened to fight my illness on my own. There are days when I still struggle with my disease to the point of praying for wings to fly away. And there are days that the plantation doesn’t seem that bad. But I know that’s all apart of the illness. To fight and struggle in confusion with everyone…including yourself.