Race and Excellence
My Dialogue With Chester Pierce
Chester Pierce's list of accomplishments was second to none: graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Medical School, president of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, president of the American Orthopsychiatric Association, founding national chair of the Black Psychiatrists of America, and namesake of the American Psychiatric Association's Human Rights Award. Moreover, his musings about racism as an environmental pollutant, of the daily microtrauma that racially oppressed individuals endure, are foundational to modern mental health.
But who was the man behind the numerous professional achievements and seminal theories? And what can knowledge of his life, when evaluated in conjunction with his profound impact on psychiatry, reveal about the Black experience?
First published in 1998 and reprinted here with a new introduction, this collection of interactive discussions between Ezra Griffith and Chester Pierce takes readers on a journey through different stages of Pierce's life, including the following:
- His upbringing in the Long Island community of Glen Cove
- His undergraduate years at Harvard, including his athletic pursuits, membership in the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, and early married life with Patsy Blanchet
- His training at the University of Cincinnati and experiences as a Navy psychiatrist
- His time at the Oklahoma Veterans Administration Hospital
What emerges is more than just a portrait of one particularly determined and talented man's path to achievement in the face of individual and institutional obstacles. We find distinct methods of managing the stress of racial discrimination. There is also a new way to approach narratives about Black lives. Anyone interested in gaining a greater understanding of how to evaluate the salience of race matters in people's lives and develop therapeutic approaches to coping with the stress will find this a particularly revelatory resource.
- Chapter 1. The Beginnings and Glen Cove
- Chapter 2. The Harvard Student Years
- Chapter 3. The Cincinnati and Navy Years
- Chapter 4. The Oklahoma Years
- Chapter 5. The Return to Cambridge
- Chapter 6. Recent Years and Other Events
- Publications by Chester Middlebrook Pierce
In Race and Excellence: My Dialogue With Chester Pierce, Ezra Griffith deftly combines elements of biography and autobiography to present us with a picture of the complex man that was Chester Pierce. Most readers may know that Pierce was a famous Black psychiatrist, but it is likely that few are aware of the breadth and depth of his unique personal and professional experiences. Here we learn about many of Pierce's singular accomplishments, including being the first Black player on a segregated college football field south of the Mason-Dixon line, the first Black psychiatrist to become director and president of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and the founding president of the Black Psychiatrists of America. In response to probing from Griffith that is both gentle and persistent, Pierce discusses everything from his important research on extreme environments such as Antarctica to his consultation with the creators of Sesame Street to his observations about the microaggressions endured day in and day out by Blacks and other minorities. In the process of their conversations, Griffith uncovers not just facts about Pierce's life but also subtleties in his personality and strategies that helped him either avoid or overcome obstacles to his success. This well-written book would certainly be valuable even if it only documented the trailblazing life of Chester Pierce. I believe it is even more important, however, for what it reveals about how one might rise above an environment of tension and conflict to create a life of excellence and achievement.—Larry R. Faulkner, M.D., President and CEO, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
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