As apart of our Speaker Series, we recently hosted the insanely intelligent Dr. Joy DeGruy in our Flagship Store on Fairfax to have a candid, honest conversation about race and racism. For those unfamiliar with Joy’s work, she is an internationally renowned researcher, educator, author and presenter. Holding a degree in Communications, two masters in Social Work and Clinical Psychology and a PhD in Social Work Research, she gives practical insight into various cultural and ethnic groups that form the basis of contemporary American society. Her area of expertise is multi-generational trauma, specifically, the atrocities that occurred during slavery that, despite racial background, undoubtedly continue to be endured today.
Her critically acclaimed book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome lays the groundwork for understanding how the past has influenced the present and opens up the discussion of how we can eliminate non-productive attitudes, beliefs and adaptive behaviors to build upon the strengths we have gained from the past in order to heal injuries of today.
Joy explains that we as a nation, as a people, are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder from the multi-generational effects of slavery. PTSD develops in people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. It is a diagnosed mental disorder that develops after a person is exposed to a traumatic event. Her point is that today, we are still bearing the trauma of 339 years of an enslaved people. We are suffering from a disorder that developed hundreds of years ago and has gone untreated. We have yet to heal together by acknowledging kinks in our system that date back to when slavery existed, and continue to thrive in our modern day society. We have allowed our wounds to fester and infect beyond control, and we can see how this is bleeding into our daily lives.
For starters, let’s all be on the same page when we talk about slavery. We aren’t talking Prisoners of War, or POWs, but American chattel slavery; the enslavement of people that were owned forever, whose children and children’s children were automatically enslaved. When people were stolen from their homes, their land, and treated as less than human. The slavery that ripped families apart as they were seen as property to be bought and sold. We are referring to the slavery that dehumanized an entire group of people because the color of their skin. Furthermore, to say in 2016, that black people and people of color in America aren’t still treated differently, is an ignorant statement.
There are several factors that continue to enforce a white privilege rhetoric. One of them is the information that has been deliberately left out of our American history, which keeps us from accepting the past so we can move on to a better tomorrow.
Joy asks, why is it so difficult for Americans to embrace slavery? Jewish people openly discuss the Holocaust, while slavery remains a taboo. We live in a world that normalizes not being our authentic selves (even racial matters aside); but our true nature remains hidden and criticized versus celebrated. An example of this would be our current superpower black
woman Olympians who are killing this year’s games, and yet, we focus on the natural state of their hair. The key word here being natural. Our contemporary experiences are adaptive behaviors that have been passed down, and the fact of the matter is, we can’t change what we refuse to look at. What we fail to accept is that since the inception of our country, people of color have been treated as less than human, and that message continues to be buried beneath our daily interactions, media consumption and political agendas. Until we as a people, as a nation, own up to that, we can’t make much progress.
It is time for a paradigm shift; a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions. With information, truthfulness is the foundation of all virtues in the world of humanity, however, embedded within our culture are lies and we have some serious seeking to do.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.” -Mahatma Ghandi
In our constitution, liberty and justice for all is a fundamental right, however, when this was written, over half a million African people were enslaved on the very land that advocated these unalienable, human rights. Black people were never included, or sought to be protected, under the document that makes us American.
The Statue of Liberty, commissioned in 1865 (the same year slavery was abolished), was made to represent democracy and to symbolize the end of oppression, specifically, honoring the emancipation of slaves. The original rendering designs of the statue held chains and wore shackles. However, early American financial backers were opposed to the notion that it should in anyway acknowledge slavery. Although the chains on the hands were replaced with a book,the designer of Lady Liberty, Bartholdi, left broken shackles at her feet.These symbols of government sponsored bondage and human chattel remain on our national symbol as a permanent reminder of the slaves that contributed to the building of the United States of America. Yet, we’re not taught that in school.
This is one of many cases, where our truth is disguised, or outright hidden, to support the hypocrisy of American exceptionalism. It wasn’t until recent years, after the work and advocacy of Dr. Joy and others, that this information is now included on the official website of National Park Services.
Things continue to be hidden in plain sight and we have all been miseducated. The chains were not shown because it would create national cognitive dissonance- a discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time when confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
"When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary."
The Mis-Education of the Negro is a book originally published in 1933 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson and the quote above is an excerpt from the work. The thesis of Dr. Woodson's book is that African Americans are culturally indoctrinated, rather than taught. This conditioning causes African Americans to become dependent and to seek out inferior places in the society of which they are a part. He challenges his readers to seek knowledge for themselves. The title of Lauryn Hill's 1998 best-selling album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a reference to the book's naming.
We have dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors that have been transmitted to us through multiple generations. It is not only through our miseducation that this information is passed, but through our genes as well.
Epigenetics is the study of cellular and physiological variations that result from external or environmental factors that affect genes. A couple of years ago there was a study done to prove that an aversion to smell can be carried to the offspring of mice. The basis of the conducted study was that whenever the smell of peppermint was released, the mice would be shocked. Generations later, the offspring of the mice used in the experiment yielded a negative response when exposed to peppermint. This concluded that environmental information can be inherited transgenerationally at behavioral, neuroanatomical and epigenetic levels.
We need to be equipped with the correct information of our past and understand how it creates a disconnect with our daily experiences. We have to be fully equipped with the physiological blind spots that keep us from being the greatest we can be. We have to see it all
in order to see the gaps, and therefore the solutions, that fall in front of us. If we don’t, as a collective, change our mindstate, we will continue to go in circles for decades to come.
Things are not “just are the way they are,” not having fresh food markets and higher funding for education systems in urban, minority areas are not by happenstance. Please educate yourself and share knowledge. It wasn’t that long ago- in the 1950’s- that African people were captured to be placed in zoos. This is something you are not taught. When slavery ended, it didn’t just “end,” it was replaced with black codes, lynching as a social event, convict leasing, Jim Crow, and other unbelievable acts of racial ostracization. We have all forgotten our history. We continue to allow policies pursued by all levels of government to hold us down and dismantle our village, the village that we come from, the village in which our ancestors thrived, but with our trauma, we have forgotten.
Source: Exposing Truth
For these are all our children. We will all profit by, or pay for, whatever they become,
- James Baldwin
Dr. Joy’s studies reveal that the primary value or relations within black and latino communities is the greeting, recognition is essential part of relationships. Without proper recognition, or acknowledgement from blacks and non-blacks alike, progress will be slow and ineffective. Lets begin to show the crowns that we come from, the lineage of Kings and Queens that black people in America are descendants of. Let’s acknowledge the critical role that black people have played in building the wealth within this country. That we are all human, equal & brilliant beings. Joy suggests positive racial socialization through village building within our own communities. Think of your direct influences, social influences (family, kinship, friends) and cultural influences (community, media). How can you do your part to educate and eradicate stagnant thinking? There is no hope if we don’t do this together.
"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to far, go together." -African proverb