Friday, February 25, 2022

A Freak of Nature

It’s not just Humanities and Social Studies Departments. The world of psychiatry was rocked yesterday by a horrific and horrifying scandal. 

One of its leading lights, Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia and executive director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute resigned his academic positions in disgrace-- because of a tweet. 

The work he has done treating schizophrenic patients was immediately negated and canceled because he tweeted that a fashion model, by name of Nyakim Gatwech, was possibly a “freak of nature.” He qualified his statement by adding that she is beautiful. 

To no avail….

Here is the horrifying story, via the New York Times:

The chair of the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry was suspended on Wednesday, “effective immediately,” after referring to a dark-skinned model as possibly a “freak of nature” on Twitter.

“Whether a work of art or freak of nature she’s a beautiful sight to behold,” the department chair, Jeffrey A. Lieberman, tweeted on Monday in response to a photo of Nyakim Gatwech. Ms. Gatwech is an American model of South Sudanese descent; her fans refer to her as the “Queen of the Dark.”

If you dare examine a photo of said fashion model you will discover that her fans call her “queen of the dark” because she apparently has very dark skin. 

Apparently, when your fans say it, it’s ok. When one of the nation’s leading psychiatrists says it, it’s an unforgiveable crime.

As many other public figures have done, Dr. Lieberman went into full grovel mode.

In an email to his colleagues on Tuesday before he was suspended, he apologized for the tweet, describing it as “racist and sexist.” He added that he was “deeply ashamed” of his “prejudices and stereotypical assumptions.”

“An apology from me to the Black community, to women, and to all of you is not enough,” Dr. Lieberman wrote in the email.

“I’ve hurt many, and I am beginning to understand the work ahead to make needed personal changes and over time to regain your trust.”

Apparently, Dr. Lieberman’s expertise in treating psychosis counts for nothing. Depriving his Columbia patients of his expertise counts for nothing-- because he said the wrong thing in a tweet. We don't care about qualifications. We do not care about great scientists. We only care about anti-racism.

Dr. Lieberman, who specializes in schizophrenia and is considered one of the leading psychiatrists in the nation, was also removed from his position as psychiatrist-in-chief at Columbia University Irving Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. That decision is final, according to a spokesman for Columbia University.

Dr. Lieberman also resigned from his role as executive director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute on Tuesday evening.

And, of course, there was the requisite piling on. The world of psychiatry, not exactly known for offering very effective treatments under the best circumstances, came together to condemn their erstwhile colleague:

“We condemn the racism and sexism reflected in Dr. Lieberman’s tweet and acknowledge and share the hurt, sadness, confusion, and distressing emotions you may be feeling,” Thomas Smith, the new acting director, and other leaders said in an email to staff on Wednesday afternoon.

Department leaders at Columbia called a meeting for faculty and staff on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the situation, and to announce that an interim chair would be named. Several hundred people attended the Zoom meeting, according to a person who attended, and the tone was serious and grave. The head of the hospital described the tweet as “outrageous,” the person said.

The post drew negative attention from a number of medical professionals online, many of whom were Black women.

Apparently, the psychiatric profession has concluded that Dr. Lieberman’s systemic racism was the primary obstacle to the career advancement of women of color:

Elle Lett, a medical student and postdoctoral fellow in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote a Twitter thread and a Medium post about the comments.

“To not understand how racist language like that is harmful when your profession is supposed to care for the mental health of people makes you unqualified to be a psychiatrist at all, let alone the chief of the top program,” Dr. Lett said in an interview.

So, the next time you know a schizophrenic who needs psychiatric treatment, call medical student Elle Lett. But, you must not call one of the world’s finest psychiatrists, Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, because he dared post the wrong tweet.

As for the horrifying words, “freak of nature,” Dr. Lieberman is not alone in using them to refer to a fashion model.

One Padma Lakshmi, model and television celebrity, said this in September 4, 2020:

The truth is, models are freaks of nature. We are not normal people, and we're just born this way because of a genetic cocktail that our parents gave to us. You know, most of us have a really high metabolism.

My thanks to the friend who brought this quote to my attention.


Linda Fox said...

One commenter on the photo thought it might be a form of methemoglobinemia - the hemoglobin is crippled, and cannot carry enough O2 to the skin. Is often associated with various other conditions.

markedup2 said...

The "freak of nature" thing that I noticed was not her skin's color (which is gorgeous - what color dress couldn't she wear?) but its perfection. Who doesn't have a single blemish?!? Not a mole or wrinkle to be seen. Has she never cut herself shaving? I'm betting there is some image enhancement going on in that photo. If not, she should be selling skin-care products. She may very well be; I would probably never know.