Juneteenth and All That Jazz in Psychiatry


Racism must be addressed on an ongoing basis.


Scott Wong/AdobeStock


My wife and I are in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered by a convicted police officer at the beginning of pandemic on May 26, 2020. After his death, rousing calls of Black Lives Matter and a resurgence of concern for racism emerged not only in this country, but throughout the world, and within psychiatry.

It is also Juneteenth today, now a federal and Minnesota state holiday commemorating the emancipation of slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865. When we lived in Houston from 1977-1989, Juneteenth Day was a joyous celebration in which we participated in our clinic and in the city, much more so than the muted ones we experienced in the north.

However, it may be obvious that while President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, there was a long delay to Texas, due to the remoteness of the location and the low number of Union troops. Maybe it was also conscious and unconscious denial of the freedom change.

Such time periods, as in the case of George Floyd and Juneteenth Day in Texas, lends itself to a consideration of what has changed during those times after the crisis, does it not?

I suppose that President Biden recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday in 2021 is an important milestone. Has it also contributed to the reduction of racism in all its ramifications? Up-to-date studies and research in answering that question seem hard to find.

A United Nations report from September 30th, 2022, brought the headline “Little progress combating systemic racism against people of African descent: UN report.”1 This report included other countries and concluded that the new initiatives were falling short of what was necessary, including continued harm at the hands of law enforcement. As an article in the New York Times discussed on June 16, “What Has Happened in Minneapolis Since George Floyd Was Murdered,” a 2022 state review found that racism was endemic in the police department, and the major change has been a reduction from 900 to 600 officers.2 On the same day, a Washington Post article concluded that “Black Americans more upbeat but fear worsening racism, poll finds.”3 The common societal strategy, especially since George Floyd’s death, of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training, has proven to be unhelpful and, with some backlash, sometimes counterproductive,4 yet is still used, perhaps as some show of concern or value postering.

Like in our broader society, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) responded with renewed concern about racism after George Floyd. Our own history included misdiagnosis of Black patients, especially Black males, skewed treatments toward medication, and a slow advance in responding to the concerns of Black psychiatrists. On January 18th, 2021, an apology was made for its support of racism in psychiatry.5 Recommendations of the APA Presidential Task Force to address structural racism throughout psychiatry have been monitored by the APA Board of Trustees Structural Racism Accountability Committee. Their most recent report focused on recommendations for the APA elections process.6 Like college admissions and job searches, the goal is to eliminate unfair advantages.

My own recognition and celebration of Juneteenth was to write this column and attend—what else, given my love of jazz—a Black jazz Juneteenth concert last night. The African American creativity, leadership, and transmission of jazz has been an artistic gift to the world. Going from Bessie Smith singing songs about racism in 2023, to Billie Holiday recording a song in 1939 about lynching called “Strange Fruit,” to Charles Mingus’ 1959 send-up of segregationist Arkansas governor Orval Faubus, jazz has always been a “protest music” according to the living legend saxophonist Sonny Rollins.

As the President and CEO of MJH Life Sciences wrote in his column for our June 2023 monthly issue, “Observances: One is Not Enough,” special days are good reminders, but “simply not enough to ensure that the social determinants of mental health—and the unique needs of each patient—are addressed.”7 Though it seems like psychiatry has made more strides than in our broader society, racism is still one of those social determinants that we all have to be determined to reduce on an ongoing basis.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.


1. Little progress combating systemic racism against people of African descent: UN report. United Nations. September 30, 2022. Accessed June 19, 2023. https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/09/1129082

2. Hassan A. What has happened in Minneapolis since George Floyd was murdered. The New York Times. June 16, 2023. Accessed June 19, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/16/us/minneapolis-police-george-floyd.html

3. Craig T, Guskin E, Clement S. Black Americans more upbeat but fear worsening racism, poll finds. The Washington Post. June 16, 2023. Accessed June 19, 2023. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2023/06/16/black-americans-racism-poll/

4. Friedersdorf C. The DEI industry needs to check its privilege. The Atlantic. May 31, 2023. Accessed June 19, 2023. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/05/dei-training-initiatives-consultants-companies-skepticism/674237/

5. APA's apology to Black, Indigenous and people of color for its support of structural racism in psychiatry. American Psychiatric Association. January 18, 2021. Accessed June 19, 2023. https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-apology-for-its-support-of-structural-racism

6. APA election guidelines for candidates and supporters. American Psychiatric Association. March 2022. Accessed June 19, 2023. https://www.psychiatry.org/getmedia/8639fc01-0361-4ae5-a2eb-6d12d44a1bfd/APA-Election-Guidelines.pdf

7. Hennessy M Jr. Observances: one is not enough. Psychiatric Times. 2023;40(6).

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