Today I came across the diagnostic category, drapetomania. Drapetomania was defined by Samuel Cartwright as a “mental illness” in 1851. According to Cartwright it was ‘a disease peculiar to Negroes, manifested in a behavior evident in blacks but absent in whites: the tendency to run away from slave plantations.’ (Rose, 2007: 156)
According to Wikipedia, Cartwright suggested the preventive practice of “whipping the devil out of them” if the slave showed the early symptoms of drapetomania, an unhappy disposition.
The whole thing sounds like a Monty Python skit, unfortunately it isn’t.