What is trauma, and can it be passed on from generation to generation? Before I attempt to answer this important question, let me start by saying that I am not a qualified Clinical Psychologist, and my deductions are based on the research I’ve done, some of it is visceral, and I am majorly influenced by Dr. Joy DeGruy, a Clinical Psychologist and Educator.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, trauma is “severe emotional shock and pain caused by an extremely upsetting experience“. Having said that, what are the impacts of generations of colonialism and oppression in Afrikans? If any, what are the effects of trauma in Afrikans today?
Here’s a thought experiment: If a thug were to walk into an open office and open fire on one of the people, you’d agree with me that the person sitting next to the victim is likely to be severely traumatised. The people who are a few cubicles away from the incident maybe less traumatised. And, even though they didn’t witness the shooting, the family members of the victim may be intensely traumatised too. Human beings react to trauma differently.
The colonial rule left a sharp impact on Africa including the effects of trauma on its people
Considering what is known about trauma and the history of oppression and slavery (yes, I call it that) during colonialism, it’s absolutely warranted to diagnose contemporary Africans with Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS).
PTSS is defined by Dr. Joy DeGruy as, “…A condition that exists as a consequence of multigenerational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from centuries of chattel slavery. A form of slavery which was predicated on the belief that Africans were inherently/genetically inferior to whites. This was then followed by institutionalised racism which continues to perpetuate injury.
Thus, resulting in M.A.P.:
- M: Multi-generational trauma together with continued oppression;
- A: Absence of opportunity to heal or access the benefits available in the society; leads to
- P: Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.“
The following is a list of some of the conditions which give rise to mental or emotional trauma that justifies the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.
- A serious threat or harm to one’s life or physical integrity
- Harm to one’s spouse or close relative
- Sudden destruction of one’s home and community
- Seeing another person injured or killed as a result of an accident or physical violence
- Learning about a serious threat to a relative
- A close friend being kidnapped tortured or killed
It is important to note that experiencing any one of the above-mentioned stressors is enough to cause Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. So, what about Africans that endured decades of perpetual oppression and slavery?
Today, people diagnosed with PTSS show symptoms may require clinical treatment. Some of the symptoms of PTSS include:
- Outbursts of anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Intense psychological distress and exposure from internal or external cues that symbolise or resemble any aspect of the traumatic event.
- Physiological reactivity on exposure to internal or external cues
- Significant diminished interest or participation in significant activities
- Feelings of detachment from others
- Restricted range of affection
- Sense of foreshortened future
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
Dear African, do you see anything familiar? These are just some of the symptoms that an individual may exhibit having had direct or indirect exposure to a single traumatic event. Today people can get treatment for PTSS. However, I have no recollection or remember reading about any counselling centres across Africa for Africans that suffered from trauma during years of colonialism and oppression. Do you?
The effects of that trauma were never addressed nor did the traumas seize. Africans today have continued to experience the trauma of over a century of colonialism, oppression and slavery from our past.
More so, even more impactful than the physical trauma on their bodies, was the daily assault on their psyches. The “master” devised methods to break the African’s will. They were beaten down for speaking up. You see this happening today.
Upon reading this, some of you might think to yourselves, “How could Africans in this day and age possibly be affected by the events that occurred a long time ago?”
It doesn’t really matter today if either any of us black or white directly experienced oppression and colonialism, what matters is Africans have experienced a legacy of trauma. Some of you know how to make a cheesecake the way your mom did and you probably think that’s the best way to bake a cheesecake. You see my point?
Consider the image above. Do you see that little boy smiling while a black man is being lynched? Do you think he saw any value in the life of the man hung above him? Do you think his children would see any value in people that looked like the hung man?
Parenting is a plethora of skills passed on from generation to generation.
What is this legacy of trauma and how is it transmitted? It is quite simple and straightforward. How do we learn to raise our children? Almost entirely through our own experiences of being raised. Most people raise their children based upon how they were raised.
What do you think is passed down from those who experienced lifetimes of abuse at the hands of “masters”? What do you think is passed on from generations of those that did the abusing and regarded themselves as a superior race? What do you think the result would be if education was prohibited for generations from one racial group?
While some of what we learn, we learned through direct instruction, the bulk of our learning takes place exclusively by watching others and images. The individuals and families that survived colonialism, raised their children while simultaneously struggling with their own psychological injuries.
Should we be surprised with the issues plaguing Africans today? Many of these dysfunctional adaptations (on both sides of the fence, so to speak) can be linked to the crimes visited upon our ancestors. We need to come to a place of acknowledging the injury and after that can we only start the process of healing.
Another good read: The Racist Socialisation of Africans is way bigger than we actually thought
Author: The Broken Native
The Broken Native is a budding, freelance writer for Newslibre. He loves football, basketball, books, music (all things Indie and flirts with a bit of Jazz), Philosophy and is an ultra-marathon runner.