Slavery, Our National Taboo

IMG_3749 I recaIMG_3752ll discussions with my African-American professor and how I would frequently pin my view on slavery stating that if it took four hundreds years to become free from the physical shackles of slavery it would take eight hundred years to become free from the mental shackles of slavery. Just think, forty years ago, give or take a few years we as black people were learning about our history and our African American roots. American History was basically a white revisionist history where Native Americans were viewed as savages and Africans were viewed as heathens. Black history was mainly oral history passed down to us from our parents. Back then, the only thing we knew about Africa was Tarzan and Jane, what we learn from the mass media. We all knew about “Little Black Sambo” and had a first hand account of “Nigger Jim” as The Adventure of Huckleberry Flynn was required reading. Let us now fast forward to the year 2014.

America’s veterans of foreign wars, be it Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq or Afghanistan frequently are diagnosis with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Years after the napalm bombs, the spread of Agent Orange, after the oil fires and toxic fumes, and after the lost of life and limbs there exist the pain and injuries unable to be captured by high-tech X-Rays, CT Scans, MRI’s and the cost in dollars and cents keep projecting skyward. The human toll of slavery and the race issue in America also is a source of trauma and immeasurable pain and agony. Too painful to discuss and a national taboo as the American psyche has been unable to come up with a prescription to address this pathology. Dr. Joy DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, America’s Legacy Of Enduring Injury and Healing, should be required reading for every American and especially African Americans as she addresses some of these hurts and pains and the enduring legacy of slavery. I ran across Dr. DeGruy’s book after searching one day for Goldie Taylor, a native of East St. Louis and a MSNBC Consultant who was doing a documentary of East St. Louis. I failed to find Goldie Taylor but by chance ran into a book signing affair at Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center where Terrie M. Williams, author of Black Pain (sub-title, It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting) had just finished her speaking engagement to the crowd. “Continue to Be bold and courageous on The Journey” penned Williams on the inside cover of my newly purchase copy of her book. “Stay strong. Leave a legacy.”  Williams also cited the book, Fist Stick Knife Gun  A Personal History Of Violence by author, Geoffrey Canada. I recommend your reading of all three books but lets get back to staying strong and leaving a legacy.

The National September 11 Memorial Museum was recently dedicated during the past week with President Obama heading the list of dignitaries. This act of international terrorism lead to the death of nearly 3000 people in 2001 and forever changed our nation and the world. “Here we tell their story, so that generations yet unborn will never forget, of co-workers who led others to safety,” President Obama said. This one act of international terrorism gave rise to the TSA, the creation of a new Cabinet-level position, The Department of Homeland Security, and increase surveillance by our FBI and the CIA. Not to lessen the severity of the attack, ten years later, Mayor Michael Nutter, as Mayor of the largest American city with an African American mayor spoke at the 9th Annual Mayor’s Summit on Race, Culture and Human Relations. Mayor Nutter’s speech, was entitled Cities United: A Conversation about Deaths of African-American Males. The speech was given in Tallahassee, FL behind the backdrop to the Trayvon Martin Murder.


In 2011, 75% of Philadelphia’s 324 homicides were African American males according to Mayor Nutter. “That’s 230 people.” said Nutter. “If the Ku Klux Klan came to Philadelphia and killed 230 black men, the city would be on lockdown. If 230 Americans were sickened by tainted spinach, the USDA would begin a nationwide recall.” Mayor Nutter said. “However, 230 African American men murdered in one city…not one word. No hearings, no investigations, nothing—but silence.” said Nutter. The mayor provided homicide statistic for his city and thirteen other major American cities combined (not the entire country) for the year 2011 where a total of 2,981 homicide victims were counted. “What if our response to domestic terrorism was as thorough and engaged as our response to international terrorism?” Nutter asked. “The contrast in our country’s reaction to this violence is astounding.”


Canada in his book, Fist Stick Knife Gun, gives his reader a personal history on the culture of violence and explained how the rules of conduct was adhered to when our youth in the urban communities used their fist, sticks or knife. But with the influx of guns in the community with it correlations to the War on Drugs children started using guns to protect their criminal enterprise. “For the handgun generation there is no post traumatic stress syndrome because there is no ‘post.’” writes Canada. The next generation might be called the “Uzi generation” because of their penchant for automatic weapons states Canada.


America has changed from “cotton” being the cash crop of our nation to “incarceration” which now supplies the oil to keeping the economy going. Social conservatives and evangelicals call for “taking back our country” and returning to the ideals of our “founding fathers” As this clarion call is being made, segregation and racism appears to be making more inroads as our nation returns back to the way we were in the 1860’s and 1960’s. We should not be surprised when the Cliven Bundy’s and the Donald Sterling’s spew out their poisonous venom of racism. We can not blame it on their advance ages as young white fraternity brothers places a “noose” around the neck of the statue of James Meredith at Ole Miss. One of our “founding father”, Thomas Jefferson gave an insightful looks at the impact of slavery on the master and the slave as addressed in Dr. DeGruy’s Epilogue. Jefferson (Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781) was correct when he refers to man as an “imitative animal” The child learns from the parent. It matters less if the child’s parent is free or bond. One child ends up with a false sense of “superiority” while the other child ends up with a false sense of “inferiority” as the parent keep pouring in salt on the nation’s wounds from slavery. The results of the pain and suffering continue to divide and polarized our country, half slave and half free even if it is only in the mind. Who was it who said “A house divided can not stand?”