MPA Blog/Book Reviews

Blog Post:  Book Review

Richard Rothstein: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. (2017). New York: Liverwright Publishing Co.
Reviewed by James Windell, MA, for the Michigan Psychological Association

This is a shocking book. I don’t write that easily. Nor am I that naïve about prejudice, segregation, racial profiling and bigotry in this country. Furthermore, I’m old enough to have been around in the 1950s and 1960s when real estate agents refused to show African Americans houses in white neighborhoods in suburban Detroit. And I personally experienced the threat of being evicted from an apartment in Oakland County because I had African American friends.

What is so shocking and, frankly appalling, is that Richard Rothstein’s book is a candid detailing of the long and despicable history of our government’s complicity and, indeed, its support of segregation in housing and in jobs. And Rothstein is not just writing about government officials in Mississippi, Alabama or other southern states. He offers detailed research that shows that segregation was federal, as well as state, government departments’ and elected leaders’ policies and beliefs throughout the nation. Nor is he writing just about the years during Reconstruction following the Civil War; the period of history he writes about is from the early years of the 20th century and in, some instances, into the current century.

What “The Color of Law” makes so crystal clear is this: from the end of the Civil War until very near the end of the 20th century the racially explicit policies of federal, state and local governments dictated where whites and African Americans should live. Consistent government policies enforced residential racial segregation. Racial segregation in housing was, to put it in its simplest and most straightforward way, a nationwide project of the federal government – designed and implemented not just by white supremacists or dyed-in-the-wool southern bigots, but by some of our more liberal leaders.

The core argument of Rothstein’s book is that African Americans were unconstitutionally denied the means and the rights to integration in middle-class neighborhoods, and because this denial was state-sponsored the nation is obligated to remedy it (although Rothstein doesn’t believe that will ever happen).

Who, specifically, were the sponsors of residential segregation? As chapter after chapter in this book elucidates, it was nearly every agency of business and housing starting at the local level with real estate agents, planning commissions, zoning boards, city commissions, and banks, and going up the government chain to the federal government departments and agencies, including the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

On the local level, real estate agents refused to show African Americans homes in white neighborhoods. But on the federal level, the FHA would not insure loans to African Americans (or to whites, for that matter) if they planned to live in integrated neighborhoods. Because of government opposition to integration, in city after city across the U.S., housing developers who depended on the federal government for loans or loan insurance had to agree not to build or sell houses to African-American buyers in integrated subdivisions or communities. It was explicitly stated in government documents and policies that people of color did not “fit in” and their presence in any neighborhood would drive down property values –despite the fact the government research found just the opposite.

For any reader who might be hazy as to why African Americans ended up living in slums, ghettos and disadvantaged neighborhoods, Rothstein spells out exactly how this has happened. Not only were African Americans denied any government help in buying into middle-class neighborhoods, but they were driven out by neighborhood “improvement associations” if they were able to buy a house in any community in which whites lived. As you may recall from Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun,” when the Younger family wanted to leave a crowded apartment to buy a nice middle-class house, the neighborhood association came calling with an offer to buy back the house they purchased with not-so-veiled threats about what would happen if they moved into the white neighborhood. Not only did that happen in real life (outside of the theater), but if African Americans did move into a previously all-white community they would be met with protests, cross-burnings on their lawn, broken windows, fire-bombings, and, very often, eviction. The police would stand by offering protection for the protesters and, not infrequently, arresting the African-American homeowners if they tried to protect themselves or their houses.

Beyond what would happen if African Americans tried to buy into middle-class housing, African Americans were overcharged for homes (and apartments), denied access to middle-class residences, forced to live in prescribed areas, and given high-interest mortgages. That usually meant that in order to afford to live, they had to crowd several people or families into a house or apartment. The ultimate result was that they had no ability to save money or accumulate savings for maintenance and repair of their residence.

To make matters worse, as Rothstein explains in later chapters, is that not only were African Americans restricted as to where they could live but they were prohibited from adequate schooling, entrance into colleges, being hired in better jobs, or, if hired, making anywhere near the same money as whites.   

In summary, many of us have looked to the Federal government to remedy segregation and help ensure the civil rights of all citizens. But this expectation that our local, state or national government would do the right thing has been illusory. For instance, after the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education that was to ostensibly put an end to segregated schools, the Federal Housing and Home Finance Agency stated in no uncertain terms that this court decision did not apply to housing. And while liberals and progressives can sometimes believe that Supreme Court rulings and civil rights act passed by Congress to eliminate discrimination and segregation have worked and we as a nation have made progressive toward racial harmony and integration, we still live in a society in which housing patterns have resulted in perhaps more segregation in our cities – and schools –than ever.

And we wonder why black athletes might take a knee during the playing of our national anthem!    

Blog Post:  Book Review

LaBuda, J., Axelrod, B. N., & Windell, J. (2018). Cognitive Behavioral Protocols for Medical Settings: A clinician’s guide. Routlege, New York, NY.
Reviewed by Todd Knowlton Favorite. PhD, ABPP, for the Michigan Psychological Association

The application and scope of mental health practice has changed significantly over the past few decades with an compendium of methods and techniques across a range of disorders. Nowhere is this more evident than in medical institutions where the utility of evidenced based methods have become an integral feature in treatment planning and consultation. Mental health providers play an increasingly essential role on health care teams in hospital settings, and integrated outpatient clinics. The authors have crafted an important and practical guide for mental health providers through a thoughtful process of identifying common conditions of psychological disorders encountered by clinicians in these settings.      

This book begins with a useful primer on the development and utility of psychological interventions in medical environments.  The authors then provide a comprehensive, yet concise, description of the most effective treatment protocols for the range of common presentations (i.e., pain, sleep, depression, anger dysregulation, anxiety related problems).  This book demonstrates their interest in developing a clinician friendly guide that is easy to access and practical in its application.  I found their articulation of methods for addressing “illness anxiety” and anxiety about medical setting particularly useful for any clinician working within a healthcare system.

The result of their efforts, is a valuable clinical resource that offers clinicians key elements for their diagnosis, conceptualization and treatment planning. They have added relevant research, methodological rationale, and specific protocols outlines with appended treatment materials. Cognitive Behavioral Protocols for Medical Settings – A Clinician’s Guide is a “must have” for any mental health clinician working in a medical setting.

Blog Post: Book Review

Marsh, A. (2017). The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, & Everyone In-Between. New York: Basic Books.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Imbesi, PhD, ABPP for the Michigan Psychological Association
19-year-old Abigail Marsh’s life was saved by a complete stranger after she lost control of her vehicle on a busy highway in Washington. The stranger did so at great peril to himself, never asked for any compensation, and never revealed his identity before leaving the scene. This profound experience was the impetus that inspired Ms. Marsh – now Dr. Marsh – on an academic journey researching the nature of altruism.

Marsh’s interesting backstory provides a narrative spine to her scientific work, making her book very readable. She first offers fresh insight into some of the more famous studies in the psychological canon, including lesser-known perspectives on Milgram that highlight the empathy shown by subjects rather than the obedience. From this base, she provides the results of her own enlightening work with regard to psychopathy, altruism, and the amygdala’s response to fear.

Marsh provides background on the psychopathic children and teenagers whom she studied, noting the difference between reactive, violent emotionality (often the product of abuse or neglect) and true psychopathy (mostly genetically influenced). She gives detail – sometimes chillingly – on the coldly violent behaviors of the psychopathic children and teenagers in her study, and their seemingly ordinary presentation under most circumstances.

In the study, while inside an MRI, the children and teens were asked to view human faces – the standard series of prints showing different expressions – and identify them as male or female. This gender task was designed to keep the subjects blind; the MRI was examining the amygdala response to the images.

I will quote Marsh directly here, because this is fascinating: “(o)n average, our psychopathic children showed no activation – zero – in the right amygdala when they viewed the face of someone experiencing intense fear as compared to a neutral face” (p. 88). On follow-up measures, one psychopathic teenager, when responding on a Likert scale to “(w)hat scares others usually doesn’t scare me,” checked 5 and wrote “nothing scare’s [sic] me 😊 #Nothing.” Marsh’s research, since replicated, demonstrated that psychopathic children and teens could neither recognize nor feel fear.  

Dr. Marsh then studied what she terms “extraordinary altruism.” This she defines as altruism toward someone unknown to the altruist consisting of acts that put the altruist at great risk. Additionally, the altruistic acts are not within the norm of expected human behavior. Her research population consisted of donors who gave a kidney to a stranger. Results of this study were equally fascinating. In contrast to psychopaths, altruists’ right amygdala responded much more intensely to fearful faces than did non-altruists.

Marsh argues that the fearful expression evolved in humans and animals to elicit an empathic response. Extraordinary altruists have an extraordinary amygdala response to fear; psychopathic people have little to no response to that same expression, and therefore feel no empathy.

Marsh then goes on to discuss the concept of allomothering, the role of oxytocin in the response to fear expressions, and the changes in allomothering behavior in female rats after they give birth. Interestingly, pre-motherhood, female rats avoid or kill other rats’ babies; after motherhood, they often rescue or protect them – a behavior change engendered by oxytocin. Of course, behavior is not quite that simple, and Marsh is careful to point out nuance in these systems such as the variant sensitivity to oxytocin in different brains.

The book could have ended at this point. I began the next chapter thinking it sounded influenced by The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker, and sure enough, that book was cited within the first few pages of the chapter. Marsh closes by offering guidance on ways to enhance altruism, such as practicing the Buddhist concepts of loving-kindness and compassion. 

The Fear Factor felt long-winded at times where it could have been concise. However, this shortcoming likely was related to the author’s conversational style, which kept the book readable and interesting. All-in-all, The Fear Factor is an educational, enjoyable and fresh read that offers new insight into important variations in human nature and behavior.