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Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS) is a traumatic disorder that African Americans have developed following the traumatic experiences of slavery and associated treatments by the whites. Ideally, PTSS is a theory that elucidates the nature and occurrence of certain behaviors among African Americans that relate to slavery.
The social problems that Africans Americans and other Africans across the globe are facing are mainly because of PTSS.1 Since the whites used slavery and racism as a means of oppression, they conditioned the Africans that they are a minority ethnic group.
Although Africans have emancipated themselves physically, social and psychological perceptions indicate that the whites are a major ethnic group. Therefore, despite the fact that slavery has ended, Africans continue to suffer from PTSS, which emanates from traumatic experiences of slavery that their ancestors encountered.
History of Slavery
During the course of history, Africans Americans experienced slavery because the whites bought them during the slave trade. They predisposed them to torturous conditions of slavery. In the slavery, the whites made African-Americans and other Africans to understand that they are lesser beings who deserve inhumane treatment.
Throughout slavery, the Africans endured traumatic experiences for many years that made them change their behaviors in a bid to adapt the conditions of slavery. Slave history of Africans is tremendously shocking since many of them died during enslavement while those who survived endured great ordeal that led them to develop trauma.
Experiences of slavery were really traumatizing since millions of Africans died during enslavement as they endured torture, hard labor and harsh conditions of transportation.2 Therefore, slavery experiences were really traumatizing and did predispose slaves to trauma. Hence, the slavery conditions that slaves endured have significantly influenced the behaviors of Africans because of PTSS.
In spite of the fact that slavery does not exist in modern society, Africans continue to suffer from PTSS. Trauma that slaves experienced during slavery conditioned Africans to change their behaviors to adapt traumatic experiences that threatened their lives. Change of behaviors is a survival mechanism that enabled slaves to endure slavery. It predisposed them to trauma.
Currently, Africans are suffering from PTSS as reflected in habits, attitudes and behaviors that relate to slavery. For instance, there is differential social, economic and political development between the whites and the blacks. Enduring psychological and emotional damage because of slavery continue to recur from one generation to another among African Americans.3
Hence, social, economic and political differences that exist between the whites and the blacks arise from PTSS. PTSS has significantly influenced the capacities of African Americans because it impairs them from developing themselves, families and communities.4 Thus, to empower the African Americans, one must focus on PTSS, which is a key factor that contributes to social challenges that hinder the African Americans.
Social constructs have significantly contributed to the development of PTSS among Africans Americans. Since the whites treated Africans as lesser beings who did not have the capacity to reason, Africans Americans have perceived themselves to be so. In the aspects of social, economic, political and education, Africans Americans have performed so dismally compared to the whites because they perceive themselves to be inferior.
Hence, the inferiority complex that Africans Americans suffer now originates from experiences that slaves encountered. As slavery is a social issue that depicts discrimination in terms of color, the treatment of slaves by the whites gives an impression to African Americans that they are the minority group and less human. A few blacks own homes or businesses because they feel inferior to the whites.5
In this view, the quality of life that slaves lived was quite different from the one their masters lived. Likewise, the quality of life that the whites are living considerably contrasts with the one that the majority of Africans Americans are living.
However, differences that exist emphasize the impact of PTSS on the lives of African Americans and other Africans across the world. Thus, the construct of inferiority imposed by the whites influence how Africans perceive themselves relative to the whites.
Moreover, the whites hold that Africans do not need any sleep: they must spend sleepless nights doing the work. Hence, the whites overworked the slaves without providing an opportunity for them to sleep because they do not need it. Because of such construct, the whites justified their inhuman acts of making the slaves to work day and night.
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Additionally, since the slaves provided free labor, currently the whites perceive Africans to be the source of cheap labor. Africans Americans are also willing to offer cheap labor as compared to their counterparts. Employment patterns indicate that there are jobs that fit Africans while there those that suit the whites. Differences in job orientations occur because PTSS is extending trends of labor that were in slavery.
PTSS is evident in racism and discrimination that continues to pervade public institutions and political arena in the United States.6 Although slavery ended over 150 years ago, racism is the residual form of slavery that causes PTSS among African Americans. Hence, racism elicits PTSS and reminds Africans Americans of the slavery that their ancestors suffered.
The whites also justified their inhuman actions against the Africans by perceiving them as having no feelings of pain and grief. Slave masters treated their slaves brutally because they did not have any feeling concerning their experiences. Given that the whites did not have any feelings towards the slaves, they treated them as though they did not feel pain or grief because of traumatic experiences.
The death of a slave was like a death of a dog since none felt their pain or heard their cry. The whites assumed that Africans do not grief: they beat, overworked, tortured, sold and even killed them.7 Hence, slaves deserve inhuman treatment because they do not grief. Current perceptions still exist because criminal justice system has biases when dealing with criminal issues that involve the whites and blacks.
Discrimination against African Americans continues to persist in the modern America because of unequal privileges. While African Americans have no privileges, the whites have privileges in that they can access social, political and economic privileges that are in the society.
Since slavery, and by extension racism, depict the whites as privileged and the blacks as unprivileged, social, political and economic status of the whites has set precedent for the ethnic minorities to follow. The disparity that exists is that, although inequality of privileges is a national problem that needs immediate attention and solution, the whites do not perceive it as a significant problem for they are more privileged.
The white privilege dominates the society in that Africans Americans perceive themselves as unprivileged. Hence, they are struggling to attain the privilege of the whites by abandoning their traditions and lifestyles. Currently, the whites are the pace setters in every facet of life such as social, political, cultural and economic because they have privileges.
A study conducted indicates that African Americans are susceptible to posttraumatic stress disorder because of racial discrimination.8 This means that PTSS is still predominant among African Americans despite the fact that slavery ended many decades ago. Hence, white privilege continues to subject African Americans to PTSS.
Given that racism is a social construct that elevates social status of the white, degrading that of the blacks, the whites perceive racism as a normal social process of life attributed to the difference in ethnicities and races. Although there is significant decline in racial discrimination in the public, discriminating practices that have racial dimensions continue to operate in the society.
Contemporary racism is very subtle because it does not depict discrimination explicitly. However, critical analysis shows that the great gap that exists between the whites and the black is mainly because of racism.
Racial injustices perpetuate in the society because of chronic and persistent effects of racism on victims and perpetrators.9 Hence, persistence of racism in the society continues to elicit PTSS among Africans Americans for they continually perceive the whites as masters and oppressors throughout the world.
Slavery is a traumatic event that reminds the African Americans of the torture that their ancestors underwent. Likewise, racism is a form of slavery that seeks to perpetuate in the society. Hence, slavery and racism has resulted into classism, which is another form of discrimination that is quite evident in how the whites and the blacks live. Classism divides people into various classes in social, economic and political aspects of life.
For instance, the whites belong to high social and economic classes while the blacks belong to low social and economic classes. The whites prefer living in residential houses of high class as compared to the blacks who live in residential houses of low class.
Classification of the neighborhoods in terms of color is evident as the whites and the blacks live in separate residential estates that depict differences in social and economic classes. Classism is also evident in the nature of education, employment and social activities that the whites and the black have.10
Hence, the existence of classes based on racial dimensions is a factor that contributes to the development of PTSS among African Americans.
Slavery is a traumatic experience that predisposes slaves to trauma and the subsequent generations to PTSS. Africans endured trauma during slavery that has significantly changed their behavior and development in the modern society. Hence, African Americans and other Africans across the world are grappling with PTSS, as it has changed their attitudes, habits and behaviors.
In essence, PTSS has conditioned the Africans that they must be inferior to the whites in all facets of life, be it social, economic, cultural or political. Therefore, the book, “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” attributes social problems that Africans are experiencing in every part of the world to PTSS.
Carter, R., & Helms, J. (2009). Racism and Race-Base Traumatic Stress: Toward New Legal and Clinical Standards. Law Enforcement Executive Forum, 9(5), 113-129.
DeGloma, T. (2011). Defining Social Illness in A Diagnostic World: Trauma and the Cultural Logic of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Medical Sociology, 12(1), 59-81.
Degruy-Leary, J. (2005). Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing. New York: Uptone Press.
Mims, S., Higginbottom, J., & Reid, O. (2001). Behavioral Definition for Post Trauma and the African Experience: Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder. Anti-PTslaveryD Curriculum, 1(1), 1-90.
Mitchell, R. (2004). Slave Syndrome is About Fixing Themselves. The Dragonian, 1(1), 1-2.
Pole, N., Gone, J., Kulkarni, M. (2008). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Among Ethnoracial Minorities in the United States. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 15(1), 35-61.
1 Degruy-Leary, J. (2005). Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing. New York: Uptone Press, 11.
2 Mims, S., Higginbottom & Reid, O. (2001). Behavioral Definition for Post Trauma and the African Experience: Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder. Anti-PTslaveryD Curriculum, 1, 12
3 Mitchell, R. (2004). Slave Syndrome is About Fixing Themselves. The Dragonian, 1.
4 Mims, S., Higginbottom & Reid, O. (2001).
5 Mitchell, R. (2004). 1
6 DeGloma, T. (2011). Defining Social Illness in A Diagnostic World: Trauma and the Cultural Logic of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Medical Sociology, 12, 68.
7 Degruy-Leary, J. (2005). 15.
8 Pole, N., Gone, J., Kulkarni, M. (2008). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Among Ethnoracial Minorities in the United States. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 15(1), 37.
9 Carter, R., & Helms, J. (2009). Racism and Race-Base Traumatic Stress: Toward New Legal and Clinical Standards. Law Enforcement Executive Forum, 9(5), 113.
10 Carter, R., & Helms, J. (2009). 114.