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Post- Traumatic Slave Syndrome
Post-traumatic slave syndrome (PTSS) is a theory that has attracted various supporters and criticism, mostly in the United States social arena. It is defined as an adverse condition that exists among a population which has previously been subject to torture oppression and marginalization and is carried on silently throughout the population’s lineage. This trauma stems from centuries of African American slavery, which was followed by periods of oppression and now awakened by the present shreds of racism. The video points out that some maladaptive behaviors and beliefs transpires from undiagnosed stress and is passed to the descendants of the community (DeGrue, 2019). This paper provides an insight on the various forms of oppression historically and their carried forward implications. The essay also embraces the idea of including post-traumatic slave syndrome in African American workouts, as a means of reducing the impact of this syndrome to place Africans in a better societal position.
The issue of slavery is far-fetched from the 1600s when 100, 000 Africans were taken to Jamestown and forced to provide labor against their will. This was just but the beginning of an era of slavery where later; it would be adopted almost as an acceptable culture, with the black Americans being subjected to historic oppression during slavery. In addition to forced labour, the slaves were subjected to harsh treatments, which involved rape, corporal punishment and family dissolution which deprived them of their humanity. Usually, any form of therapy is directed to the physical recipient but due to the psychological effect this had on the slaves, it has found a way even in the contemporary society evident in PTSS, despite significant social attempts to restructure the society (DeGrue, 2019). The slaves during that age developed some negative behaviors as survival techniques; which were inculcated to children right from their upbringing despite the behavior having lost their contextual advantages.
The period between 1619 and 1662 marked the beginning of slavery; when the Dutch traders sold off, some Africans captured to traders in Virginia. The idea seemed to have stemmed on well since the traders considered Africans primitive due to their way of life. Massachusetts then officially legalized slave trade. They built a cargo ship which was meant to ferry the imprisoned Native Americans to Bermuda where the exchange was done with enslaved Africans and salt. In the subsequent years, Virginia declared the children of an enslaved mother as slaves too (chattel slavery). The idea that an enslaved African was a three-fifths person for representation in the government was coined in. Several rules were however mandated although loosely upheld by the congress which allowed slavery and oppression to further develop in other states. The regulations and acts passed to protect the African Americans were technically applied often with some strings left for the masters to keep their enslaved Africans working for them. Adverse forms of oppression and harassment of the Africans by their masters, including their children transpired throughout this period. As discussed earlier, the demeanor inflicted on the Africans was physical but carried on an unforgettable psychological stimulus which would be passed on to generations (DeGrue, 2019).
Slavery utilized economic arena to empower the whites and deprive the blacks of their humanity by oppression and belittling. Research indicates that even the whites who were imprisoned together with the blacks were tasked with ruling the African Americans. This invoked idealism that even among slaves, whites were still considered as superior while the blacks were to remain subjects of the white leadership. This structure founded a cornerstone in which generations from both sides would view themselves and be governed even in later times as contended by DeGrue (2019).
After the first shipment of slavery was delivered in Virginia, the time has seen this multiply and reach high levels over the years. The act of separation of children from their parents at a ripe age and the ownership of the children from slaves by their slave owners deprived the African Americans any grim light of liberation. Additionally, slave owners used rape, as a form of multiplying the slaves, since the offsprings could then be sold off at a profit and also as a form of sexual satisfaction against their will. A reflection of these acts reveals how dehumanizing the treatment was stripping the Africans of their humanity. Rape for women, in this case, is interpreted as an action aiming at producing personal benefit for the whites (through the sale of the offspring) or as a means to fulfil personal sexual desires. The ideology behind rape itself was that the African women had no rights or controls over their bodies; neither were the lives of their offsprings different from theirs (DeGrue, 2019). Notably, in some states, the enslaved women were discriminated as being non-human, and thus even rape was even discouraged. In addition to physical scars left, slavery induced unseen psychological and trauma to African victims as well as their descendants who were to come and share the history. The parents developed a fit of anger and hatred from the abuse, coupled with depression due to the feeling of helplessness.
The emancipation proclamation in 1865 was the first attempt towards freeing the slaves from their plight. Border States were left untouched by slavery, which was followed by wave freeing slaves in exclusion of those in for criminal offenses. This welcomed the new form of slavery known as sharecropping. This too befell the former slaves in the form of the black codes which restrained any African American from owning land. The codes again pronounced power to the whites by giving them the ability to determine the wages of those liberated slaves working in their plantations. Notably, the laws also restricted the sharecroppers from moving freely in the states (DeGrue, 2019). The prices of tools in markets would hike in case any African tried to purchase any tool, a move strategized to limit their ownership of means of production. Additionally, there arouse a cycle of oppressive owing, where Africans were allowed to borrow on credit and in return, pay this by long working days in the plantations. In case the sharecroppers decided to complain about unfair treatment, this was met by courts subjecting them to the next form of slavery, imprisonment.
The cycle of slavery and oppression was maturing from one dimension to the other, with the white relentlessly using all channels to force Africans to work for them. In prison, inmates were leased out to work in chain gangs in mines, and tunnel digging in dehumanizing working conditions. Their working conditions matched those who had been working in the plantation as sharecroppers; thus, it was slow to transition from one form of oppression to the other. The video indicates that most of those leased out to work in different conditions died within the first years of working due to the nature of the work and working conditions. The whites were using the African Americans to undertake the tasks which they knew too well exposed them to untold physical danger. The psychological impact of this was the creation of apparent discrepancy between the viewing of whites and the blacks (DeGrue, 2019). The Europeans considered Africans as objects of slavery, while theirs was a leading position to oppress them in interchanging phases.
The impact of continued slavery, can, from a distant be interpreted as affecting only the immediate receptors of the harsh treatment. However, the history of African American oppression highlights that slavery not only affected the parents but was also carried on to their offsprings. The immediate reaction to the oppressive behavior and maltreatment such as rape was aggression and hatred to the people viewed in the superior position. In the last few decades, there has been a profound discussion on why interracial marriages are not highly encouraged in American society. The strong social movements that awakened the feeling of equity of all people gave birth to racism as the modern way of measuring intelligence (DeGrue, 2019). Race discrimination in America, unreal as it may seem, is one of the reasons why a forward surge to equality will be met with an equal backward lash of racism. It is therefore imperative to diagnose post-traumatic slave syndrome in a diagnostic workgroup since it defines the inner African American.
The particular chattel slavery employed by American society historically was an embodiment of oppression and inhuman treatment towards the Africans. In the video, Leary points out that researchers have not established the point beyond which, previous atrocities cease to define human beings. PTSS is a constant force (DeGrue, 2019). A hyper-vigilance attitude is aroused immediately victims of trauma are exposed to the origin of the trauma. In adverse cases, the trauma recovery takes long periods to heal, often passed to other generations without a clearly defined end to its existence. Impacts of trauma are among the heritable changes that do not necessarily require modifications of the DNA. In line with this, the traumatizing experiences of chattel slavery were continuously passed on to other generations up to the present era.
The psychological impacts of previous oppression of the Africans are attributed to stress and self-doubt as well as deficient or aggression in interpersonal relationships (DeGrue, 2019). Although recipients of abuse adopted these techniques, this trait has been passed on to the present generations as witnessed in the current society. Africans were led to believe that their skin and bodies were of no value drawn from the discriminating practice of measuring intelligence with the race.
The present society sees various uprisings as people claim for their rights. However, it is not until recently that the African Americans were recognized as having the right to vote and choose leaders. Previously, they had been alienated from the voting system, since the oppression of women crippled the male characters of protecting their families, thus themselves. Though not spoken, one can easily pick from the African Americans feelings of low self-esteem and an inferiority complex which became prevalent throughout society (DeGrue, 2019).
The dehumanizing experience of people under the chattel slavery gave rise to aggression, increased substance and alcohol abuse as well as domestic violence among the African Americans. These are the defense mechanisms adopted by slaves due to the prevailing feeling of vacant esteem. The oppressors treated Africans as one-third of people in the legislation, which hindered the democratic participation of blacks greatly in voting for a long time. Besides, there was a practice of separating races and offering separate living conditions; education as well as land ownership policies which openly discriminated Africans from achieving economic stability. The right to vote only applied to several elites, and worse still, their voting boxes were frequently reported stolen to disconnect the African opinion in the state.
The gap between the first-hand oppression in the previous years and the present generations lies in the post-traumatic slavery syndrome registered in the contemporary age. Today, racism finds a way in almost all social institutions, while discrimination is vivid in social services such as health and employment. It seems like a new world, but where previous experiences by the minority have profound impacts in their present lives. The lynching of the Africans that took place for over a decade elevated the feelings of inferiority among them (DeGrue, 2019). Cases have been reported on medical experiments being conducted on African women, proving the difference existing between the races in the contemporary world. Research conducted on people’s levels of intelligence is always skewed to disapprove any evidence of inequality.
In conclusion, the post-traumatic slave disorder is a theory that should be included in any work concerning African Americans. The discussion has viewed how slavery took form in different eras and how the same has transitioned to the present age. Racism and discrimination are among the factors drawing back any attempts made towards equality. The syndrome occurs due to a past negative experience in the hands of oppressors. Existing platforms of racism need to be evaluated and addressed to pave the way for racial equality. Although, there is no definite number of years in which the trauma will take place, accepting its existence and prevalence in the present society would be the first step towards eliminating it.
- DeGrue, J. (2019). post-traumatic slave disorder [Video].
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