Although slavery of African-Americans in the United States has been abolished for many years now, the psychological and emotional stresses have been placed upon African-Americans who still struggle to deal with the trauma of slavery. This research paper will be focused on the African-American race and how the psyche of the average black person living in the United States has been shaped and transformed into self hatred through time. African Americans were traumatized, terrorized, stigmatized, and abused by slave-owners in order to invoke fear into the hearts and minds of Africans who were kidnapped from their country, brought to the New World and entered a dismal life of exploitation, repression and rape. Due to the discourse of this class and the many discussions of pity and fear, this paper will aim to show how pity and fear were used to domesticate slaves, and it will also invoke pity because of the psychological pain black people have experienced in a society that continues to discriminate against them. In addition, this paper will show the in depth psychological analysis of how abuse from slave owners has tremendously persuaded black people to internalize racism and oppression and cause separation within the African American society.
In The Willie Lynch Letter and the Making of a Slave, Willie Lynch was a slave-owner during the 1700’s that developed his own theory of how to control a black slave. He owned a plantation in the West Indies where he experimented with some of his methods and tested them out on his “subjects”. Once he believed his theory was effective, he sailed to America in 1712 and implemented his ideas of how white slave-owners can keep control of their slaves and domesticate them to the point where they were dependent upon their white masters. Lynch uses fear, distrust and envy to control slaves (12). His speech given to other slave masters entails methods to keep slaves under control for the next 300 years, supposedly. Lynch claims that if slave masters use differences between slaves it will make the slaves more obedient. The crux of his methods of keeping slaves in line is to divide them against each other using factors of age, color, intelligence, size, sex, size of plantations, attitude of owners, location of slaves, the hair texture of slaves and their height.
Lynch states that slave masters must pitch the old black male against the young black male, the young black male against the old black male, the dark skin slaves against the light skin slaves, and the light skin slaves against the dark skin slaves (12). These methods were carried out with each factor respectively. Lynch also claims that slave masters must pitch the female slave against the male slave and the male slave against the female slave. The manipulation of the slaves leaves them only to trust and be reliant on the white slave masters.
Willie Lynch does not even refer to African slaves as humans in his speech, but as valuables and properties. The blatant disdain and the de-humanizing of the African American race has kept its people marred and misrepresented in the myriad of misguided myths and conceptions of the black race. The Willie Lynch method still exists today and can be found permeating through the African American community. The Willie Lynch letter has left African Americans paralyzed and still coping to find unity and solidarity in their social group.
Furthermore, the lack of Black Nationalism leaves African Americans to be misled and lost in America. The behaviors of African Americans today who have been victims of the Willie Lynch syndrome continue to be oppressed in a nation that aims to discriminate against minorities.
The lack of organizations and institutions that are pro-black and facilitated by Black Americans continue to be the downfall of the black people in America. In Ronald E. Brown and Darren W. Davis’ “The Antipathy of Black Nationalism: Behavioral and Attitudinal Implications of an African American Ideology,” the authors both explain the root of the behaviors that African Americans display and claims that black nationalism is “related to the rejection of whites”(239). Since there is lack of Black Nationalist establishments or few foundations that are dedicated to the uprising and racial equality of African Americans in the United States, there is most likely to be hostility directed towards other social groups in the nation who are in the dominant group.
The importance of Black Nationalism is to express the significant connection African Americans feel to African origins. Black nationalists want to set up their own communities where they are leaders and not subordinate to the dominant culture. They want to be in charge of nurturing their people into having national pride and holding high esteem of their origin. Brown and Davis state that the core of African American self determination, racial intolerance, and racial separatism as mechanics to defend against a hegemonic and racist society has been constant (240).
The importance of Black Nationalism is to help African Americans have a sense of pride for their own race, but the lack of black-oriented organizations leaves the subordinate group unfulfilled in its purpose to have a positive self image of their race. Not only does the lack of esteem in the African American race damage the social group, but the effects of the division amongst the affected community has a psychological effect on the African American home.
Heidi J. Nast’s “Mapping the ‘Unconscious’: Racism and the Oedipal Family,” Nast takes a psychoanalytical approach to the view of how African Americans are viewed in American society. Nast uses the “familiar quadrad” of Mother, Father, Son, and the Repressed (215). Nast argues that the Mother-Father-Son triangle is encrypted as white while the outcast, the repressed bestial being is depicted as colored or black (215). Again, the dehumanizing of the black American has been addressed in Nast’s observation of the Oedipal family.
While the major contributors of the household are white, the only role assigned to the black man is the “bestial being.” Nast’s theory holds true to the ideologies and misconceptions that have been placed upon African Americans in the United States. The fact that this social group is not even seen as human and has years of traumatic repression accumulating has no affect on how they are being treated and marginalized in America. From slavery to present day, the effects of hatred against blacks leave an indelible and painful mark on African Americans today because they are still not seen as a part of the “American family” but an unwanted, burdensome tangent of the American home complex.
Furthermore, Nast also explains how the American psyche was shaped through colonial, sociospatial, violence, desire, and repression (215). She claims that the truths of colonial devastations were repressed because the memories and actions associated with colonial violences were incorporated into the “body space of the ‘psych,’ and ‘unconscious’ domain outside language (215). The deliberate actions by colonists of burning down towns, cities, and bodies were ignored or suppressed into the unconscious. Since no-one talked about it, it did not exist. The neglect of communication for what happened to African Americans during and after slavery only leaves black people to harvest the tragedy that happened to their ancestors, and by harvesting all the pain and trauma, the black American or the “bestial being” as Nast describes continues to be repressed.
In addition, Nast explains the Oedipus complex and how Freud uses that myth to explain his psychoanalytical view on incest. Freud claims that incest is a threat to family and patriarchal society. If the family is to survive, the son has to obey the law of the Father and put away his incestual and maternal desire for his mother in order for the family to grow healthily(215). The son must find a suitable female mate outside of his maternal home.
Nast uses this template of the Oedipus complex to show how the black son has historically been made to “carry the burden of incest for the white oedipal family therefore arguing that incest is synonymous with blackness (216). The black boy’s desire for his white mother has sparked colonial segregations because it puts white women in danger of being lusted after by the black man. Consequently, the separation and isolation of the black male has somehow left him dehumanized which in turn is exploited; castration and death by the hands of the (white) father. Once again the dominant group overpowers and takes control of the subordinate group, never allowing the latter to be on the same level as the former.
Nast’s argument about the racist-oedipal complex adds a psychoanalytic approach to how black men are perceived in American society and within their community. Since they are receiving such hate for being born into a white family (American society), the black male has to suppress his desires for his white mother, and adhere to the law of his white father. The repressed black male is seen as an outcast because of his incestuous and bestial love for his mother, and also serves as a subordinate for his father. Not being seen as human, the black male is then exploited for use and sentenced to life as a degenerate being that serves the white family. The traumatization of the black male and his people are left with burdensome and tragic memories that continue to manifest itself today into negative stereotypes and actions of the African American.
Flynn and Stroizier’s article on “Self and Trauma” explains what psychological trauma is and how it affects the victims. Flynn and Strozier state, “The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma”(5). Like Nasts describes before in her article, the voicelessness from the events that happened during slavery still has not been addressed openly and to its fullest extent, therefore African Americans are still affected by that pain. They have not announced the deep emotion and agony they’ve endured to the fullest extent. African Americans, along with other minorities, are still in the subordinate group while the dominant group continues to remain majoritively White.
In addition, these authors question what perpetrators remember. Flynn and Strozier claim that we are “professionally ignorant” when it comes to figuring out the “inner lives of those who commit atrocities that relatively sophisticated investigations, such as studies of memory, are utterly beyond our current capability”(5). So much focus is on the person who is traumatized rather than the victimizer. Such claims can be compared to the history of slavery. The focus is on what happened during slavery and what the slaves endured more than the slave masters and what crimes they committed. Flynn and Stozier then go on to state that the reason we do not know much about the perpetrators is because they (perpetrators) don’t want us to know any information about them. “Perpetrators are not generally friendly to the process of scientific inquiry” and because of this, they are masters of secrecy and deception (5). The deception that has been used to misguide slaves and pit them against each other and the secrecy that continues to keep the history of slavery muddled.
Flynn and Stozier also bring up a point about how much victims can remember. When they (victims) are psychologically traumatized, they have a lapse of memory because the event was so stressful, that the pieces of those memories are non-chronological. The authors state, “it seems clear that close-up exposure, especially early and prolonged exposure, to human cruelty has a profound effect on memory”(5). The torture and abuse that African slaves went through have been so painful that the history/memory of slavery and racism cannot be explained clearly. Africans were traumatized to the point where even their history has some missing pieces, and African Americans today are suffering from post traumatic disorder because they are still feeling the effects of slavery which has not been outwardly and remorsefully addressed by White America. Therefore, one result would be lack self-esteem because they are slowly being acculturated into the dominant culture.
Darryl Lorenzo Washington reviewed Bell Hook’s “Rock My Soul” by interpreting Hook’s idea on why there needs to be an importance of self esteem among African Americans. Washington also gives his own views on how African Americans are conforming to political and social standards of what it is to be black in America. He begins his review of “Rock My Soul by giving his own example of how there is conformity and conventionalist attitudes among his own race. Washington discuss that as a student from his junior high to college years, he has occasionally been in situations where his race was a subject of discussion. Washington claims that although the people he’s encountered and the books he’s read such as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, which explicitly displays racism, try to tiptoe around the history of slavery and racism; it still is something that still haunts African Americans. He asserts that as by people claiming that “the media made too much of race” and that “prejudice did not exist,” it just proves that race is a momentous and taboo subject in America.
In addition, Washington pulls from Bell Hook’s “Rock My Soul” to allege that “conformity is the more accepted norm in the black life than gestures of independent thought and action”(127). Hooks exclamation that African Americans try to blend in with a racist society adds to my argument of why blacks in America are not comfortable with their own race. They are constantly trying to fit into the dominant group, although the dominant group blatantly has institutionalized racism that keeps the dominant group a few steps ahead from the subordinate group.
Washington and Bell Hooks claims that since there is this invisible barrier blocking American society from talking about race only perpetuates social inequality. Acknowledging racism but not talking about the pain of racism inhibits Black Americans to not voice their views on racism, discrimination, and slavery. Hooks claims that by not talking about the pain black Americans are suffering, they are ignorant of their heritage, victims of identity confusion, and lack self esteem (128). Hooks believes that the crises of the lack of self-esteem black Americans suffer are more important than racism, poverty, or institutionalized oppression because it leads to self destruction and psychological entrenchment (129).
Hooks then travels back to the 1960’s of when African Americans had more self-esteem because of the Civil Rights era. However, despite the positive black power movement, Hooks condemns it for embracing a patriarchal mentality and “pitting black men against black women and further eroding the self-esteem of both” much like the Willie Lynch letter suggested. (129). African Americans during the Civil Rights era were too concerned with liberation and social equality than paying attention to the emotional aspect of the movement. Just because African Americans were moving towards racial progress, they forgot to pay attention to the emotional and psychological scars that racism has caused; there was no healing process.
Also, the effects of racial identity and lack of esteem in the black community can affect the socialization of African American adolescents because it is in this critical stage that they can truly shape and form the way they think about themselves and other African Americas. Lionel D. Scott’s article, “The Relation of Racial Identity and Racial Socialization to Coping with Discrimination among African American Adolescents” explores whether strategies used by African American adolescents to cope with discriminatory experiences were related to their racial identity and racial socialization (520). Scott uses resources and studies to prove that discrimination is indeed a stressor that has detrimental effects on the mental health of African Americans (521). Scott argues that due to the discrimination and racism against African Americans, it has a negative effect on the adolescent period.
Because of these social identities, Scott alleges that Black culture becomes diminished and are irrelevant to their identities and there is more importance stressed on other social identities such as religious orientation, social status, gender, etc. At this stage, African American preadolescents give their racial identity a back seat while focusing on other identities they feel is important to develop in American culture. As a result, Cross and Fhagen-Smith suggest that some African preadolescents may begin to internalize negative stereotypes, messages, and images of Black people and Black culture hence, “their emerging identities may be riddled with confusion, alienation, negativity, and lack of coherence”(Cross & Fhagen-Smith, 2001, p. 254, 522).
In conclusion, there is a solution to help African Americans reach some type of “healing” for the discrimination and trauma they suffered other than more Black Nationalist institutions. Rudy P. Mattai and Barbara A. Mattai-Huddleston argue in their journal “The Sambo Mentality and the Stockholm Syndrome Revisitied: Another Dimension to an Examination of the Plight of African Americans” that there seems to be a calling for the adoption of a “self-help” mentality as the cure for the psychological problems African Americans face (345). In order for African Americans to be mentally free, there has to be some momentous changes in the economic, social, and political systems. There also has to be some sort of public discussion of what racism has done to the African-American community. Like Flynn and Strozier state in their article, we focus more on the victim than the perpetrator. If America can actually discuss slavery and how a race was traumatized to the point where they are still psychologically suffering today by internalizing racism and oppression, then it will begin the healing process for African Americans.
Lynch, Willie. The Willie Lynch Letter and The Making of a Slave. Lushena Books. Illinois. 1999.
Brown, Ronald E., Davis, Darren W. “The Antipathy of Black Nationalism: Behavioral and Attitudinal Implications of an African American Ideology.” American Journal of Political Science. Vol. 46, No. 2 (Apr., 2002). pp. 239-252. Midwest Political Science Association. Web. 29 Sept. 2010.
Nast, Heidi J. “Mapping the ‘Unconscious’: Racism and the Oedipal Family.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Vol. 90, No. 2 (Jun., 2000), pp.215-255. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Web 29 Sept. 2010.
Flynn Michael, Strozier B. Charles. “Trauma and Self.” E-reserve https://ereserves.albany.edu/ ares.dll? SessionID=J100518964N&Action=10&Type=10&Value=20499. Web 1 December 2010.
Washington, Lorenzo Darryl. Hooks, Bell. “The Importance of Self-Esteem for African Americans. Rock My Soul. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. No. 39 (Spring, 2003), pp. 127-129. The JBHE Foundation. Web. 29 Sept 2010. http:// http://www.jstor.org/stable/3134398.
Scott, Lionel D. “The Relation of Racial Identity and Racial Socialization to Coping With Discrimination Among African American Adolescents.” Journal of Black Studies. Vol. 33, No. 4(Mar., 2003), pp. 520-538. Sage Publications, Inc. Web. Sept 2010. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3180878.
Mattai, Rudy P., Mattai-Huddleston, Barbara A. “The Sambo Mentality and the Stockholm Syndrome Revisited: Another Dimension to an Examination of the Plight of the AfricanAmerican.” http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublication? journalCode=jblackstudies” Journal of Black Studies. Vol. 23, No. 3 (Mar., 1993), pp. 344-357. Sage Publications, Inc. Web 29 Sept.2010.