The Transatlantic slave trade is often referred to as the “Black Holocaust” or Maafa, a Swahili word meaning “great tragedy” but, it is hard to fully grasp the magnitude of this tragedy with words or to truly understand the impact of trauma suffered by African-American people as a result of slavery in America. While there are no hard numbers to account for slaves that didn’t survive the harsh conditions (of being, chained, packed and transported like cargo to American shores) conservative estimates suggest more than 2 million African slaves died in transportation through the Middle Passage. Another common belief is that more slaves died upon arrival to their new settlement in America. The real death-toll has been lost forever for African-American people and…the world.
For 400 years, African people who managed to survive the Middle Passage, fell victim to chattel slavery, a form of slavery that gives ownership of one human being to another much like the sale of animals or property. For 400 hundred years, African-American slaves, and their descendants, built America and supported white America by working in agriculture, raising their “masters” children and doing whatever tasks assigned to them. Common practice among slave owners, was to beat, rape, and murder slaves to keep them in line. It was also common practice to “break” a slave by using threats, intimidation and physical violence to destroy the slaves connection to Africa including “colonizing the tongue” by prohibiting slaves from speaking their mother language and pitting slaves against each other to dis-courage unity/trust among slaves.
The consequences of the slave trade has impacted both white and black Americans. The sheer brutality of targeting, belittling, dehumanizing, engaging in, and witnessing private and public spectacles of disturbing acts of violence against black people appears to have de-sensitized mainstream White America towards the impact of slavery and the struggles of African-American people. As well, the continued oppression (through Power and Control) of African-American’s seems to have been normalized, and embedded in the construct of racism in America through “white privilege” to ensure white people will always be given preferential treatment, based on skin color, resulting in better opportunities, and outcomes for white America than for African-Americans. Although individual whites have been, and continue to be, great supporters of civil rights, often at great risk of their own careers and personal safety, racism against African-American people continues to scar America to this day.
For African-American people, the unacknowledged, untreated trauma and psychological damage from 400 years of slavery in America has been passed through the descendants of slaves and has left a legacy of suffering and pain. Black on black crime, mass incarceration, poverty and chronic health issues are trauma symptoms deeply rooted in the origin of slavery. I believe that African-American society cannot truly heal without understanding the impact of slavery on our people.
About a year ago, I was researching information about slavery and I came across a learning guide about PTSD- Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder, Mims, Higginbottom and Reid http://www.osirisinstitute.com/PTSD_Manuscript.pdf the article literally took my breath away! I began to affirm things that I suspected were factors in the challenges of African-American people to overcome the negative impact of slavery. As I continued to research this trauma theory I came across a PTSS book by Dr Joy DeGruy, http://joydegruy.com/resources-2/post-traumatic-slave-syndrome/ . Amazing!
As I continued to seek out information and opportunities to dialogue about PTSS, I recently had an opportunity to interview Tommy Miller, an Anti-Racist Activist in Ithaca, NY. I’m delighted to share the interview with you.
What is your understanding of PTSS and do you think it’s important in trying to understand the impact of racism in America?(Izzie J)
I’m familiar with PTSS from reading Dr. Joy DeGury’s book. PTSS is a trauma theory that examines the impact of multi-generational trauma resulting from the slave trade. It is of paramount importance for African-American people to understand the impact that slavery has on us as a people. Sankofa is an Adinkra word from the Akan people of West Africa meaning “returning to your roots, recapturing what you are looking for and moving forward”. In order to move forward as a people we must understand our history and the impact of slavery on African-American people.
I am mindful of the quote: “No matter how far away one travels, he must always return home”
PTSS helps us to understand the journey of looking into the past to grapple with that past & the understanding of how to move past the past. I dare say,” to return home physically &emotionally.
Do you recognize PTSS trauma symptoms in Black America? What does it look like?Feel like to you an African-American man?(Izzie J)
When I experience young people of color lack of interest in our rich history, when I reflect on Black on Black crime, when I see an acceptance of the distorted truths about our history, when I see people of Color desperately trying to assimilate into white mainstream, when I see one’s sacrificing their individuality for the sake of “arriving”, when I see some of us consciously & sub-consciously buying into white oppression of promoting the internalization of black inferiority.
As an African-American man it saddens me that we “collectively” are not proudly walking in our Beautiful Blackness. It saddens me when we are experiencing Jim Crow legislation & other forms of systemic racism.
Your question reminds me of Dr. Degruy statement in her book that ” multi-generational Trauma together with continued oppression and absence of opportunity to benefits available in the society leads to PTSS” (Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome). The aforementioned book coupled with Michelle Anderson book entitled the new Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in Age of Color blindness has given voice to and a language to pressing issues that heightens my awareness of examples of the sustained effort to maintain white privilege & the status quo of white dominance in American.
Ergo, I am convinced that my spirituality (Born again Christian) has equipped me with the tools to survive, to heal, moreover to thrive! Speaking of my spirituality-I am keenly aware of how Christianity has been used to promote /maintain white oppression to date, for example I have never experienced a Black Jesus portrait in any Black church, in fact, I was confronted with the grim reality/possibility that –black folks would not attend a church that has pictures representing Jesus being of color. To me, if Jesus is a spirit, if Moses was of dark complexion – then why does the aforementioned propaganda continues….I’m just saying……… uh- institutional racism is alive & well.
Do you find some resistance among African America people to embrace the concept of PTSS? (Izzie J)
I would not categorize it as resistance, perhaps it is more a cautious curiosity. Sadly, I feel that more people of color would accept this theory if it was included in the DSM five manual.
Has White America been affected by slavery? Are the symptoms manifested in a different way?(Izzie J)
Yes. The oppressor and the oppressed are prisoners of oppression until healing occurs. A by-product of the history of slavery in America, is the consorted effort of white America to sustain white privilege. In that context, teaching white people to sustain white superiority and view black people as inferior, robs white America of an opportunity to perform their humanity with dignity. It robs them of the opportunity to reaffirm and to be affirmed. In retrospect, it robs them of their humanity.
Who defines black America?(Izzie J)
I am not sure who defines Black America but I know the media tries ” in the spirit” of trying to sustain white privilege. Your question brings to mind Eugene Robinson’s book- Disintegration the Splintering of Black America. His book states that over decades of dis-integration , affirmative action , and immigration , the concept of one Black America has shattered. He further argues that there are four: Mainstream middle-class, A large abandoned minority with less hope of escaping poverty and dysfunction than any time since reconstruction’s crushing end. Small Transcendent elite with enormous wealth, power, and influence. Two newly emergent groups– individuals of mixed-race heritage and communities of recent black immigrants
That being said, a different question that begs to be answered from my perspective; How do we unify and offset the forces that try to divide and conquer us!
How does African-American society heal?(Izzie J)
I believe in the power of forgiveness & redemption. I believe that part of the healing process will consist having a deep understanding of the source of the trauma & being pro-active in becoming conquers as oppose to victims!
How do we inspire hope in our children?(Izzie J)
Teach the truth about our motherland & our history; for example –showing of the Tariq Hasheed Film; Hidden Colors the untold History of People of Aboriginal, Moor & African descent. Teaching them to not become what they need to change. Teach them that is the shades of Black is “indeed” beautiful. Teach them personal power, for example; the Native American Circle of Courage. Teach them the power of unity and lead by example. Teach them the power of a strong spirituality. Educating them to the incredible resiliency of African-American people and our DNA stock.
Thank you Tommy Miller for speaking your truths about PTSS and healing for African-Americans!
Thank you for Visiting BONDFIRES!
Ps. I will be posting a companion piece to this Article in My Journal within the next few days. I would encourage you to visit that page!-IJ