Professor Amos Wilson
The gun violence epidemic in African-American communities is made possible by the availability of guns and exacerbated by the health pandemic, increased poverty, stress and systems imbued with racism. But there is something else. Something the late social theorist and author, Dr. Amos Wilson, Professor of Psychology at the City University of New York, reflected on in one of his 1999 lectures at the now-gone Slave Theater on Fulton Street at Bedford Avenue.
The 400-years of chattel slavery of African people, was a cataclysmic event in humankind. Wilson spoke on how a people were transformed without a conscious awareness of what had happened.
This excerpt is from the 10,000-word address, which was captured on tape by archivist Rev. Clemson Brown and which appeared in Our Time Press, in 1999. Here, Wilson gives insight into what that transformation has meant and how deep the roots of violence go.
Why speak of slavery?
I’m often somewhat amused and taken aback by the number of people in this society who claim that slavery occurred somewhere back then. You have Black conservatives who claim that slavery no longer influences the nature of African people. I wonder what those people have to conserve in the first place. Are they conserving power, are they conserving wealth? What does a black conservative conserve? They have to conserve something, and since we have very little if anything, they must only be conserving the system that has created their poverty to begin with. And you see them ultimately justifying the poverty of African people and justifying the political and social and economic subordination of African people in the name of some kind of higher principle. So the experience of slavery is not supposed to be operating in the mentality of Black folks. You hear a lot of youngster saying that as well. “Why do you talk about slavery. That was back there.” Or you hear whites say, “slavery was back there. We don’t have anything to do with that anymore.”
A price must be paid
This is an amazing situation, because we have to remind them that you’re still living off the interest of the wealth that your forefathers earned from slavery. You’re still enjoying the accumulated wealth that began with the enslavement of our people. And if you’re going to enjoy the wealth that was generated by evil then you must take the curse that comes along with it. and therefore even though you personally had nothing to do with it, because you have received stolen goods, you must pay the price as well. And because you fight and struggle to protect those stolen goods, and you defend them, and you organize the society and your relationships with my people to maintain them and continue to enhance them, then you must pay the price.
That’s why you live in terror. That’s why you’re going to suffer. No matter how good you are. No matter how liberal you are. Ladies and gentlemen when we behave as adults, we must recognize that our behavior will be visited upon our children, and that our children pay for our misbehavior. As we say, an act does not end at the point of its occurrence. That it continues to reverberate into the future and down across the generations. That’s why when you behave in a certain way, you have to think of seven generations from your behavior as to what you are doing will affect those generations later on. And even though those children may appear to be so-called innocent, they will still pay the price of your own misbehavior. This country whose parents and whose adults have misspent its treasure, and while they have enjoyed that treasure, ultimately their children will have to pay the taxes and have to pay the price. So, we have bunch of people out here who think they can rape and rob the world and think that they can enslave the world, and think that they’re going to sleep well at night. It doesn’t work that way.
We Have a Slave’s Consciousness
We have some of our people here who think that slavery was back then and has nothing to do with them. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve never escaped slavery. We still share the slave consciousness of our great-great-grand parents. We are of the same mind to a great extent that they were. We have not advanced beyond these people. How can I say that? I generally ask a series of questions. You say that slavery has nothing to do with you and that slavery was back there. I ask you what language do you speak? When did you learn that language? Was that the language African people were speaking when we were taken into slavery in America? In other words, the language we speak at this moment is a slave language. The language that our slave ancestors were forced to learn. And we still speak it and you can still hear the pidgen the creole and the other kinds of stuff in our language right now.
That language with its words defined by history and by experience is the language we use today to guide our behavior. It’s the language we use today to talk to ourselves. It’s the language we use today to learn about ourselves and to learn about the world. It’s the language we use to try to understand ourselves. Is there no wonder then that we are still confused? We have not escaped slavery because we are still using a slave language, and we speak the language of slaves. What kind of food do you eat? You say, “Soul food”? Was that the food of African people? Slave food. The food that we find most satisfying. The food that we find that sticks to our ribs. The food that we call “down home.” A food that we learned to eat in the quarters. And yet we dare say that we have escaped slavery. That we have nothing to do with those people back there. When our whole very social life and social relationships, our very definition of ourselves as a people, our very attempt to commune with ourselves is mediated by the food of slaves.
How can you say you exist in a different consciousness from another people? What kind of uniforms are we wearing? What kind of clothes are we wearing? Were these the clothes of African people? This is what we’ve got to look at. What kind of names do we respond to? Tamika’s and all these other things we got going out here. What kind of names do we identify with? Why is it that African names sound strange to us now as a people? And yet we dare say we have a different consciousness from our great grandparents. How can we say that?
We are still in the same consciousness and we are still in the same position. Because we are still servants of the white man, and our reason for being in America is to serve white folks and to generate wealth for them. And there has been no change at all in terms of our relationship to these people.
The values that we pursue are slave values and the values of servants. The social relations that we create and interact with were built and developed during the period of slavery. We have not escaped it at all. But it is time for us to change the slave consciousness. This consciousness of servitude that is still too much with us today. And ultimately, we ask the question that is closest to home for a lot of people. When we claim that we have escaped slavery and that slavery was something back there, which has nothing to do with us today, and then I ask you the question, “What kind of God do you worship?” What’s the name of Him? Who taught you to praise Him? Was this the God you were praying to before you were brought to these shores? Is this the religion you had before you were brought to these shores? Can you name one African God? How can you then define yourself, the very essence of yourself, and the very essence of your soul and organize the very nature of your life here on earth based on a God handed to us by our slave masters and claim that you have no slave consciousness and are not related to slavery.
We are Possessed
In other words, ladies and gentlemen, we are not Africans. We are possessed by spirits and demons. We have let another peoples spirit take possession of our bodies and take possession of our minds. When we speak it is not with our African voice, it is with the voice of the demonic presence that uses our lips to speak its own language. We have to recognize this. We are possessed. If we are to transform ourselves and transform the nature of our relationship with those who are our masters, we must engage in an exorcism and clear the devils out of our minds. At this time, it would pay you to read a little bit about Demonic possession. And you have to be demonically possessed, because if we talk about Black on Black violence, self-defeating behavior, self-destructive behavior, then we could not be possessed by a beautiful and wonderful god. We must be possessed by a demon.
Types of Possession
It’s interesting to look at the literature of possession. There are several types of possession. One is called a somambulistic possession. “Soma” having to do with sleep, “ambulist,” to move around, ambulatory. So we’re talking about people who are sleep walking. Not awake but they’re walking around. The body is moving, and it is walking in an organized fashion, and walking systematically, but the person is still asleep. And in somnambulistic possession then, the individuals original self has been repressed and displaced, and he identifies with the spirit that possesses him. And his eye and the spirit’s eye are one and the same. We have a lot of that today, where the spirit has been implanted in us, we have taken to be us. We’ve identified with it. That is why in defending ourselves we end up defending the people who rule over us. In defending our ego, we end up maintaining the social structure that has destroyed our ego to begin with.
Black on Black Violence
And you see it in our youngsters who will fight and kill in the name of respect. And fight because their ego-orientation has been insulted. And therefore, in defending their ego, they do not kill the people who destroyed their ego, they kill each other and maintain the ones, who destroyed them in the first place, in power. That’s why the subtitle of my book, “Black on Black Violence”, was “Black self-annihilation in service of White Domination.” We are killing each other in order to maintain this system. We have let ourselves become possessed by a spirit such that when we become aggressive, we aggress against the self, instead of those who are the source of our aggressive orientation.
We talk a lot as a people about self-hatred. Self-hatred is a personality configuration. It is a form of personality organization. It is an orientation toward the world and toward oneself. Self-hatred then is the White man’s greatest protection against being destroyed by the black man. To a good extent, self-hatred is the White man’s defense mechanism. It is the White man’s form of self-defense. How can we say that? To a great extent, one function of the personality is to direct energy. To channel aggression and energy and wishes and impulses in particular directions. To organize feelings. Those things that we hate, when we are angry or hostile, we aggress against them, don’t we? We attack them, we destroy them. Then we have a problem, don’t we? If we attack the things we hate, if we attack the things towards which we hold hostility, when we are overly frustrated, when we are angry, then what happens if that thing we hate is ourselves? It means then ladies and gentlemen, when we become frustrated and angered as a people, when we are overwrought by feelings of hostility, and our self-hating personality seeks to channel that hostility, and channel that aggression, it’s going to channel that aggression right back on the self. Because that’s the thing we hate most.
Black Anger / Black Self-Destruction
So consequently, Black anger then becomes a conduit for Black self-destruction. For Black self-defeat. The object of our hostile aggressive feelings, becomes ourselves. And you can see then how the White man is protected by that personality structure. While he stokes our anger, while he stokes our hostility, while he stokes our frustration, and while we get mad and want to strike out, when we decide to strike out and aggress, we strike out and aggress against the self. And by doing so, he is left untouched and unscathed. Therefore, our self-hatred becomes his principle means of defending himself and maintaining himself.