The following is Part III of a series based on the lectures of Joy DeGruy (Nee Leary), M.S.W., that first ran in Our Time Press in January of 1999. With the ending of Mental Health Month in May, and the reliving of the massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma 100 years ago, we thought it appropriate to remind of the ongoing trauma African Americans have endured over the centuries.
It took aerial bombings to destroy Black Wall Street in Tulsa, but the minds of a people can be subject to ongoing violence by forgotten forces as deadly as fire and bullets.
Here, Dr. DeGruy walks us through that process.
Here’s what I realized in terms of the therapeutic model. When families come in for therapy, whatever the issue is, I already know I’m looking for post traumatic slave syndrome. I know it’s there, I just don’t know how it impacted this family. The way I find out how it impacted this family, I do the geno-gram. I’m going to find out who momma is, who daddy was, right down to the client. I will also find out how his family survived and sustained through slavery. And we can always know that.
There was only four ways how we did it. First was the church. Everybody in the family a pastor or minister. The other way, we’re going to educate our way out. The other was entrepreneurs. Setting up barbershops, and small businesses. During segregation they did quite well. Better than we’ve ever done because we had to depend on each other. Then you have the criminal. Or a combination of them. In my family it was education and criminal. Based on that I understand what the integrity of our family was. In this criminal world also, what came out of it was drugs and alcohol. We know what that did to our families. Alcoholism because we had to cope. We look at that mixture, and I begin to understand the level of post traumatic slave syndrome, and how it introduced itself into your family, and how you coped. So now I can begin to understand what the therapeutic process should be. I understand how you arrived at your character and how your mother arrived at hers. “You know my grandmother, bless her heart, but she used to be so mean. She was always angry. She’d beat us.” You know, she was suffering from post-traumatic slave syndrome. Then I begin to understand how it broke down for you. The level of resilience of this family. The strengths of this family. The needs of this family.
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome
Anger, Self-Hatred and the Twisting of the Human Spirit
The following is part two of a series based upon
the lectures of Joy Degruy (Nee Leary), M.S.W., that first ran in Our Time Press in January of 1999.
With the ending of Mental Health Month in May, and the reliving of the massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma 100 years ago, we thought it appropriate to remind of the ongoing trauma African Americans have endured over the centuries.
It took aerial bombings to destroy Black Wall Street in Tulsa, but the minds of a people can be subject to ongoing violence by forgotten forces as deadly as fire and bullets. Here, Dr. Degruy walks us through that process.
I had to take a look at African American behaviors and my focus was African American males. We know that African American males have the highest homicide rate. European males have the highest suicide rate. Let me explain to you what that means clinically. People who commit suicide are depressed about something. What does depression look like. They’re sad, loss of appetite, withdrawn, people start giving stuff away, sleep a lot, that’s a depressed person. They come into therapy, you’ve got to try and help them. Now you have a person who’s homicidal. He comes into therapy. Now why would a person be homicidal? Well they say here’s an anti-social personality, they act out, they’re compulsive. Eventually they’re labeled a sociopath. Guess what? You can’t cure a sociopath. So what can you do with them? You lock them up, it’s really simple. Prisons are a booming business and we’ve got the folks to put in there. Because they’re sociopaths, you can’t cure them, so you put them into institutions. When they go into therapy, they go to a white therapist, he says, “Homicidal? Got to go straight to the institution.” Whereas other youth who have these behaviors, they first go to treatment facilities where everybody is trying to help them. But the Black one with the same symptoms goes to a correction institution…
Afraid to Live
They’re misdiagnosing the whole thing. Here’s a true situation. Two young brothers are out in front of a high school. One is 19 and one is 16. The one that is 19 has pulled a gun on the one that is 16. The crowd thins out. The guy points the gun, pulls the trigger and it jams. To me, that’s the time for the other kid to run. Instead, the kid stands there and throws his hands back. So the guy hits the gun and pulls the trigger and it jams a second time. The 16 year old starts laughing. The 19-year-old tries it a third time and the gun jams again. The 16-year old said, “You think I’m afraid to die? I’m not afraid to die, I’m afraid to live.” The kid tried it a fourth time and the gun went off. To understand that behavior, I have to get into the psyche of a sixteen-year-old boy. How can it be that at 16 years old, he no longer wants to live? He can’t see a place in the world for himself and I’ll tell you why. We’re a man-object oriented system that says that you are what you are based on what you have. You are measured by your things. That’s why you have brothers walking around don’t have a home, don’t have a car, but they’ve got 50 gold chains. They’re thinking, “I’ve got to wear some worth, because I don’t have any worth.” So when you look at that what they’re saying is that I have to measure myself by things and then you tell me I can’t have them. You’ve barred every way that I have to get them and you tell me I’m nobody if I don’t have them. That’s what our society does to Black men. These young men don’t see a way. They can’t find a place to be somebody. To maintain a sense of dignity and worth. When I looked at that I realized that’s Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. What I’m saying is that the injury of slavery was trans-generational in its transmission. We learned it. it’s knee-jerk, we figure it out. And every generation we give it to them because we pass on everything to the children. And the children begin to live out those things. It’s unconscious, I realize that it’s unconscious. And when I look at the brothers, I understand it’s a very, very different thing going on than what they believe. It’s one of the symptom of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome
The fact that slavery went on for hundreds of years suggest the end result is not Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it’s Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. Socially learned and trans generationally impacted. So now what are some of those things? I had to look at this stuff. I had to figure out what it really was, what it looked like. We’ve all seen it by the way. When I come up with these things, it’s not going to be confusing, I just put a name on it. the first place to go is to the mirror. That’s the first place because I know Joy’s got it. Let me tell you what we go through and people don’t give us recognition for. There’s something called the Beck Anxiety Inventory. That’s is a stressor scale. When you move, there’s a stressor. When you get married, there’s a stressor. There are stressors for many things. They ought to put Black on it. Nobody has measured the stress of being Black. There is a stressor in America involved with being Black.
Racial Attitude Inventory
I want somebody to measure what happens to the blood chemistry and heart rhythm of a brother when a police car pulls up behind him. No one has measured that stressor. No one understands what that feels like. I’ve been in a car with a brother when that happens, and I’ve seen his entire body change. Everything changes. What is that stressor? Let’s look at anger. There is a process, it’s called the stages of Negressence. African Americans developed this scale. Racial attitude inventory. All of those things have been done. You haven’t heard about those things and neither have I. When I started doing my research, I started looking for scales that measured stuff about Black folks. I couldn’t find them anywhere. Not in any of the referee journals. Nowhere could I find any. But it was done years ago, but they couldn’t publish in journals. Our psychiatrists, psychologists, scientists, couldn’t publish because they were Black. So, they had to publish where they could, in obscure Black journals. I found the creators of the scales and they said it’s been here for years. Never been used as tool. The establishment says, “What is this, to help Black people? We don’t need that.” So, these scales were created. What they did was show the stages of our acculturation. In other words, there is something that happens to child when they realize they’re Black. There is a time when kids are walking around, they don’t know what’s going on, and then suddenly they get aware that they’re Black.
Strength of Positive Feedback
I’m going to end with a story about something that happened when I was teaching. I was in a program, and they would call me in when anything looked strange. They said “Joy there’s a little girl in the second grade we need you to look at. We don’t know if she’s Special Ed or what.” She’d come in the classroom, shed’ be dirty, she’d be unkempt, she wouldn’t talk to any of the kids. She’d come in, put her coat over her head and put her head on the desk all day. The teacher, a towering male, asked me what to do. I told him to do the first standard, a smile and a handshake. Insist when she come in the class to give you a smile and a handshake. She’d do it, then go to her desk and put her coat over her head. A couple of months went by. After a while she started looking forward to that at the door. We have a rally every quarter and we give awards to the kids. Now in the PTA we had only a 5% representation of parents. But at the rally we get 75-90% of the parents. Parents come, grandmothers, everybody would come because their children, for the first time, were awarded. I told her teacher that for her class he should give her the most improved student award, because she gets to the door and shakes your hand. He said okay, but that’s not enough. So he told his wife about the little girl and his wife made a beautiful life-sized Black rag doll.
At this rally, we also have a parent component. There are parent coordinators who go into the home when we had a child with issues, because you cannot separate the child from the family. So we’re dealing with the momma and the daddy. Guess what? Momma’s was on crack, so the first thing the parent coordinator does is get her into treatment. Momma gets cleaned up. Momma then starts a halfway house for women, running it now. She got most improved parent award. Gave her an award too. Now comes the rally. Little girls comes in cleaned up with bows in her hair, because momma’s cleaned up. They’re sitting in the back, and they announce the award for this little girl. From the stage they say, “Most improved student award” and he unwraps this life-sized ragdoll. Each child was to walk up to the stage, but she couldn’t get out of her seat. I have to stop because I’ve got to tell you, this is so hard for me. What I feel when I see this little girl…he walked down with the doll. The whole audience turns to look at this little girl. Her mother and her are nervous and she’s beaming and he hands her the doll. She smiles and she pulls the coat over her head. That little girl later on was standing up and reading aloud in front of the class. Now, tell me if I care that she went from an F to a D. I don’t care if she did because we cannot get to the D if she doesn’t raise her head. She has to raise her head, and that’s a victory. So that is the healing, the healing is right here with us. I end as I end with all my training, it was best said in “The Color Purple”, “everything just wants to be loved.” Thank you very much.