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What's Wrong with the Poor?

Psychiatry, Race, and the War on Poverty

Mical Raz

Publication Year: 2013

In the 1960s, policymakers and mental health experts joined forces to participate in President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. In her insightful interdisciplinary history, physician and historian Mical Raz examines the interplay between psychiatric theory and social policy throughout that decade, ending with President Richard Nixon's 1971 veto of a bill that would have provided universal day care. She shows that this cooperation between mental health professionals and policymakers was based on an understanding of what poor men, women, and children lacked. This perception was rooted in psychiatric theories of deprivation focused on two overlapping sections of American society: the poor had less, and African Americans, disproportionately represented among America's poor, were seen as having practically nothing.
Raz analyzes the political and cultural context that led child mental health experts, educators, and policymakers to embrace this deprivation-based theory and its translation into liberal social policy. Deprivation theory, she shows, continues to haunt social policy today, profoundly shaping how both health professionals and educators view children from low-income and culturally and linguistically diverse homes.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Studies in Social Medicine

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

It is a great pleasure to acknowledge the many people who have supported me throughout this project. I began this research while a Polonsky Postdoctoral Fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute in 2009. I am grateful to Gabriel Motzkin and the administrative staff who supported my work and my archival research. ...

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pp. 1-9

At a White House afternoon tea in February 1965, Lady Bird Johnson announced the establishment of Project Head Start, an early childhood educational program that would serve children—many of them African American—from low-income homes. ...

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Chapter One: A Mother’s Touch?: From Deprivation to Day Care

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pp. 10-36

In 1950, eminent British psychoanalyst John Bowlby was appointed as a short-term consultant to the World Health Organization on the subject of homeless children in post–World War II Europe. This position proved to be a turning point in his career. ...

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Chapter Two: Cultural Deprivation?: Race, Deprivation, and the Nature-Nurture Debate

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pp. 37-75

During the 1960s, cultural deprivation was the conceptual axis by which poverty and its long-term detrimental effects were viewed. The theory of cultural deprivation considered poverty not simply an economic condition but rather a distinct sociocultural pathology that caused academic and even intellectual disadvantage and social disability. ...

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Chapter Three: Targeting Deprivation: Early Enrichment and Community Action

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pp. 76-111

In 1967, journalist Fred Powledge published a short book describing the early intervention program run by psychologist Martin Deutsch at New York City’s Institute for Developmental Studies (IDS). This preschool program, which had opened its doors in 1962 to African American children in Harlem, later served as a model for Project Head Start. ...

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Chapter Four: Deprivation and Intellectual Disability: From “Mild Mental Retardation” to Resegregation

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pp. 112-141

In the late 1950s and 1960s, child mental health experts created a new category of disability: “mild mental retardation” caused by deprivation.1 Profoundly influencing public policy, this diagnosis was as a highly political category and had far-reaching practical implications.2 ...

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Chapter Five: Environmental Psychology and the Race Riots

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pp. 142-168

On a spring night in 1964, as Catherine Genovese was returning to her New York apartment from her work as a night manager at a bar, she was raped and murdered. Initial reports (later found to be unsubstantiated) indicated that as many as thirty-eight of her neighbors witnessed the attack or heard her screams, and none had called the police or offered their help.1 ...

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pp. 169-176

During the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich argued that children from low-income families lacked role models to teach them the importance of a good work ethic; they thus failed to understand the concept of “showing up on Monday and staying all day.” ...


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pp. 177-222


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pp. 223-242

Further Reading

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p. 260-260

E-ISBN-13: 9781469612669
E-ISBN-10: 1469612666
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469608877
Print-ISBN-10: 1469608871

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Studies in Social Medicine