"What is a Black Man Without His Paranoia?" : Clinical Depression and the Politics of African American Anxieties Toward Emotional Vulnerability
Stewart, Tyrone Anthony
Parks, Sheri L
MetadataShow full item record
In an interview after his departure from television and a rumored "breakdown," the comedian Dave Chappelle asked Oprah Winfrey, "What is a black man without his paranoia?" This question forms the crux of a dissertation which addresses African Americans' attitudes toward clinical depression, in general, and black men's anxieties toward emotional vulnerability, in specific. Using the concept of "paranoia" as an indicator of a healthy skepticism toward medical authority, this dissertation deconstructs the concept of depression as a discursive construct and moves it out of the bounds of science and into the precincts of cultural emotion theory. Opting for theory over science, this dissertation argues against the erasure of social and cultural narratives and explores how race and gender can inform our interpretation of depression. Using textual readings, historical comparison, and ethnography, this dissertation examines the politics involved in addressing the emotionality of black men. It is concerned with how definitions of blackness, manhood, crisis, worth, and belonging impact black men's understandings of emotional wellness and inform African Americans' attitudes toward the emotional performances of black men. Two popular books on African American's mental health (Black Rage by William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs (1968) and Black Pain by Terri Williams (2008)) are examined within their respective historical and social contexts to track the changing cultural discourse on African Americans' mental health and the role of gender in understanding narratives of wellness. And concepts family, labor, and responsibility are explored as implicit elements in black men's attainment of manhood in a comparative examination of the Sanitation Workers Strike (1968) and the Million Man March (1995).