Modernity, race and mental health care in Jamaica, c. 1918-1944

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Henrice Altink


Revisionist histories of colonialism have presented Empire as a modernising, benevolent and non-discriminatory force. While recent scholarship on Caribbean health and medicine has done much to contest the idea of a modernising and benevolent Empire, it has thus far done little to challenge the claim that there was no institutionalised discrimination in the Empire. By exploring conditions in Jamaica's mental hospital from 1918 till 1944, this article tries to fill this gap in the scholarship. Based on amongst others official correspondence and newspaper reports, it examines the extent to which dominant ideas of race informed the treatment meted out on the overwhelmingly black patients and staff and explores the colonial government's response to demands made by black politicians to improve patient care and enhance the promotion opportunities of local staff. Informed by Critical Race Theory, this study argues that not only the colonial government helped to uphold the island's racial and class status quo by bypassing local staff for promotion and protecting incompetent white senior officers but also black politicians as they failed to call this racial discrimination and worked more to enhance the promotion opportunities and working conditions of local doctors and nurses than improve the care of the patients, who tended to be a lower class and darker shade.

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Author Biography

Henrice Altink, University of York, Heslington, York

Department of History