What's wrong with the poor? Psychiatry, race, & the war on poverty by Mical Raz.

Author:McMillan, Rebekah O.
Position:Book review

Raz, Mical. What's Wrong with the Poor?: Psychiatry, Race, and the War on Poverty. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014. xiii + 242 pages. Cloth, $39.95.

Under the impetus of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, American policymakers in the 1960s sought ways to relieve, cure, and prevent the onset of poverty within American society. Physician and historian of medicine Mical Raz analyzes welfare programs, such as Project Head Start, and their connections to mental health theories produced by psychiatrists and psychologists during the 1950s and 1960s. Raz utilizes an interdisciplinary approach combining studies of medicine and social policy to argue that the welfare policies of this period were based on mental health theories that understood poverty as originating from the deficits of men, women, and children who belonged to the underprivileged class. By focusing on what these individuals were missing, policymakers hoped to design programs that would make up for what was lacking. For programs like Head Start, government reformers described low-income children as coming from dungeon-like homes where they did not know their own names or had never seen a flower. Raz contends these perceptions found their basis in psychiatric theories that placed lower classes and African American homes at the crux of need.

Raz's work focuses heavily on the study of sensory deprivation and its emergence as a viable field of research in the 1950s. Sensory deprivation posited that certain stimuli were necessary for the progression of normal intelligence. The growth of this field in turn fostered the growth of new areas of research within the deprivation framework, such as maternal deprivation, which analyzed the appropriate role and relationship of mother and child. Raz suggests that mental health experts' research took on a distinct class-based interpretation and thus informed American day care policy. For instance, these researchers concluded that middle-class mothers who placed their children in day care facilities allowed them to be at risk due to separation from their capable mothers. Low-income mothers, however, benefited from placing their children in day care because it mitigated the sensory deprivation that occurred in the home. The seemingly contradictory nature of these two views, according to Raz, reinforced a conservative view of the family, which upheld the middle-class ideal of a male-breadwinner, female-homemaker model. Raz is...

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