Our Time Press

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome

Dr. Joy Degruy, Ph.D

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 They’re sad, loss of appetite, withdrawn, people start giving stuff away, sleep a lot, that’s a depressed person.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-generationally transmitted. 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.

Rodney King, Personal Trauma
I remember the impact of the Rodney King situation with my son. Now, you and I, when we look at it say, “There it is again.” It’s nothing new. I used to live in South Central, and it was a regular thing to be pulled over by the police, just cause. I was seven months pregnant and they dragged my husband out of the car, put a gun to his head, had the SWAT team swing around with rifles over the cars, the little megaphones saying don’t move. If he would have sneezed… they run out and put a poster next to his face, say “Not him.” They rolled up their poster got in the cars and left. I could have had the baby right there. Right there. And my husband would have been dead. So, when we look at Rodney King it was business as usual to me but not for my son. He said, “Mommy, look! Aren’t those the policemen? Aren’t they supposed to protect us mommy? Will they do that to me mommy?” My son was traumatized by that because of the conflict internally to see something which created what is called “cognitive dissonance.” Very simply, cognitive dissonance is where I have a set of understandings, I’m then approached with a new set of understandings which create conflict. It was cognitive dissonance. My son could not reconcile what he saw, and the result was fear. That’s trauma. That’s injury. But they don’t measure that for my son.

Denial of Blackness
In “On Death and Dying” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, she speaks of the stages of grief when a person finds out they’re going to die. One of the first stages is denial. And we’ve got Black folks who deny they’re Black, don’t we? I meet Black folks and they’re Indian, and mixed with this and that. They can’t be Black because they’re in denial. Can you imagine a person going in for therapy because they’re having marital problems, and the white person sitting in front of them doesn’t know that they’ve got that big problem, that they ain’t lack? We (Black people) know it because we understand it. But that’s a family understanding that we have. The white person doesn’t know. They just say, “Oh, you’re not Black? Okay.” So denial is one of the phases because it’s real. This is what I call the stages of “Negression” or aculturation to being Black. You find out you’re Black, some folks go into denial on it. Other people go to another space with it. They get angry. It’s natural, there is a period of anger associated with this.

Forced to be Violent
In the movie “Sankofa”, you’ve got the slaves, you’ve got the Black overseers, you’ve got the mixed overseers, you’ve got the white overseer. There’s a couple with a baby on the way, about eight-and-a-half months pregnant. They’re trying to escape to freedom so that the baby can be born free. They get caught. The master, to make an example has one of the Black overseers beat this woman. I want you to walk through this with me. Because when he finishes his job overseeing and cracking the whip, he has to go have dinner with the rest of the people in the slave situation. That’s his job, everybody knows he has to do it because they’ve got a shotgun on him. He must do it because he’s a slave also. So, he starts beating the girl and they’ve got the gun trained on him, so he has to beat her to death. Now he lived with her, her family, he loved her. He loved her like he loved all the other children, but he has to beat her to death. After he beats her to death, all the slaves are there waiting for the master to go. They deliver the baby because she’s full term. So they deliver the baby in these tragic circumstances, he sees the woman rocking the baby, he comes in. “How’s the baby?” This is the man who beat the mother to death.
“You can’t come around right now. We know you did what you had to do but it’s a little hard. You just can’t come around for a couple of days.” Do you understand what he had to do with that? What did it do to his heart? What did he do with the anger? Where did it go? Where has it always gone, because it represents itself in an ailment that we know we tops the scales as African American males. What is it? Hypertension. That’s what we did with the anger. “Because I could not be overtly express it, it built up in me.” Then they say we’re so angry. Well don’t we have reason to be? Of course we have reason to be. That’s why they were scared of that Million Man March.

Control Group is in Africa
When I went to Africa I met with some women in Botswana. They’d start out the meeting laughing at us. “You believed them didn’t you? You thought you’d come up here and see us with swollen bellies and flies.” “You think lions are going to come in and chew us up.” They said, “You bought it, what white people told you about Africa. Just like we bought it when we were told we couldn’t be in your communities without being a drive by victim. Because that’s what they tell us.” One woman said she had studied in the United States and in her last year, she sent for her five-year-old daughter. The daughter comes over to be with her mother for that last year of college. One day she runs into the house crying, “Mommy, Mommy, they called me Black mommy. They called me Black.” Her mother looked at her and said, “And? You are Black, so why are you crying?” she said in that instant she realized what had happened to us. She called her mother on the phone and sent her daughter back the next day on the plane. She said, “I didn’t let her live a day in this country believing there was something wrong with her Blackness.” I said the difference between you and me is I didn’t have anyplace to send my daughter. You see, that’s what happened to us and it was complete. It was absolutely complete. As I began to look at those notions again, the real control group is in Africa, my control group by the way, and I’m going to tell you who they are. During my travel in Africa I ran into couple, Gilbert and Tamika, both descended from slaves. Gilbert said, “I’m going to take you to a village I’ve been helping for eight years.” he told me that slaves were enslaved in south Africa by the Dutch. They were taught Afrikaan, their names were changed to European names, Elizabeth, Robert, etc. They had no affiliation to their tribes. It’s a place called “Umphervaldt” (Transcriber note: phonetic spelling), which in Afrikaans means “unexpected” When I went to the village I saw a carbon copy of African America. Same symptomology, increases in the divorce rate, drug and alcohol abuse, all the symptomologies. You see there is a specific behavior that follows the destruction of culture of these people, no matter where they are. They’re my control group.

Black Mothers
One of the other symptoms that I see is the behavior that you will notice with African American people. A lot. If you see and African American mother in a bank right now, and she has children around her, three, four, five years old, that kind of age. Where are the children in proximity to her? Sometime they are literally adhered to the mother. And then, if they should try to move, “Get yourself back over here.” Now I’m observing this behavior and in the same bank there’s a white mother. Children with her are roaming around, “Honey come back. No No No. I’m sorry. Put that down.” Sliding down the rail. Here’s the same bank and the Black child looking at little Johnnie sliding down the aisle. It’s so deep that when the mother goes to the teller, this is the child’s chance to escape. But in the line there’s another Black mother. Now she doesn’t know this other woman, but when she sees that child start to slide away, she gives him that “Death Stare” that only Black mothers can give. The child looks at her and slides right on back. What that behavior is, this mother has her back. She taking care of it, it’s part of community, it’s part of what we learned. It’s social learning, it’s what we adapted to, but here we have to ask a question. If I walk up to the mother and asked her how come you’re not letting the child explore, which is normal by the way. In order for a child to develop emotionally, they need to explore. It’s a natural phenomenon of human development. They walk up to you, “Hi, what’s your name? That’s an interesting color you have on.” They ask questions. It’s how they take in their environment. So we’re actually stifling their development when we say no. When I asked the mother, how come she won’t let him go, she doesn’t really have an answer because that’s what she was taught. We don’t know why we do it, but what the Black child gets to know in 1998, is that it’s okay for Johnnie because it’s his world. “I can’t do it because I’ll get into trouble. It’s not for me.” No one said it, but that’s the message that that child gets. Now when we look at that behavior, we have to understand it in terms of adaptation. We must understand that it was appropriate because there was a time you would get in trouble. There was a time when everything could break down right there and you’d beat him before you’d let him move.

Protecting the Child
There’s another phenomenon which is very important. How many people saw “Soul Food”? This phenomenon is so familiar to us they wrote it in the script. You come up to a white mother and say, “You know, that Johnnie of yours he’s really doing well, isn’t he?” she goes, “Oh yes, he’s quite the man. He’s in the talented and gifted program, the little league, he’s taking after his uncle, I think he’s going to be an engineer…” you have to cut here off. She’s so proud, you have to stop her. Black mother, same attributes, same qualities, the white woman attempts to praise her son. “You know, that Johnnie of yours he’s really coming along isn’t he?” Black mother responds, “Yeah but you should see his butt at home, he’s a mess. Girl you shoulda, honey, yeah, well…” She’s proud, isn’t she? She really is proud, she really is happy, but it’s not coming out verbally. Why is she doing it. I did it myself. I don’t know where it came from, it’s knee jerk. But then I started to do the research. I started reading slave histories and all of that, and I rolled it back. Let’s roll it all the way back to slavery. I’m the white master, “You know what, that Johnnie, he’s really coming along.” What is she going to say to the master? “No, No, No, master. He’s shiftless, he’s stupid, he’s lazy, he can’t do nothing.” because she doesn’t want him, what? “Don’t sell my baby! I don’t want you to sell him.” So, I denigrate him to keep him with me. That is adaptation, which is appropriate, but what did it do to Johnnie? And what does it do to Johnnie in 1998? But nobody stopped to say, let’s do that mass therapy. Let’s get rid of some of those behaviors of adaptation we no longer need. No one did that for us. So we get those behaviors and there are a million more that you know and I can’t even remember. But if we don’t look at them, if we don’t understand them, if we don’t do this work then we will never get to it.

Therapy
Do you think somebody white can? I’m not saying other people can’t be good therapists, but without the understanding of culture, you actually injure people. Everything in my clinical training, I have to go completely against. Everything about therapy, all of it. I have to go completely against it because I understand what my people need to do to heal. Sometimes when you get in those little therapy rooms and they tell you to bare your soul, well guess what happens when a Black person says, “Let me show you my scar and how I got it. What do I expect you to do next? Show me yours. Because I need to know that you understand that you are not undefeated too. Just like I’m not undefeated, you’re not undefeated. And you showed it to me, because you showed me your scar too.” The rule says you’re not supposed to get in that close with clients. They would say that sharing is inappropriate. But the client feels, “I’m showing you all my scars, I expect you to show that you have some too.” Because it validates our humanity. But that’s not what they teach you in therapy because it’s a man-object oriented system. I can’t go through all of the symptoms but let’s look at some of the cures.

Self-Enhancement Program
When Dr. Nichols explained to me about axiology I wrote a model. The model is the relationship model of education. I developed a relationship model of therapeutic intervention. It’s a relationship model because we’re relationship people. We developed this model, and what do you think is the first thing white people did when they got it? They had to measure it to the tune of $50,000. They called in the Northwest Regional Laboratories to measure my model and see if it works. What they discovered was that the children who got this particular model in a school system got an increase in grade point average, an increase in parental involvement, a decrease in negative referral systems and an increase in overall retention. Now what was it? My key component when I was hired was, can you develop a relationship with children? Can you love them because if you can’t love them I don’t want you near them. That was the criteria. I wrote six standards. I gave them in a program I call the self-enhancement program. Standard number one, “We greet each other every day with a smile and a handshake.” That’s to establish the relationship. Number 2, “We honor and respect each other and so we address one another with proper language and speech.” There’s no cursin’ swearin’ calling someone stupid. Number three, “We value the space of ourselves and others and are careful not to intrude or injure each other.” 4, “We are mindful of what is true and try to be honest in words and deeds.” 5 “We treasure our rich culture, and we hold the cultures of all people in high regard.” 6, “We strive to reflect our beauty, both inwardly in our understanding and outwardly in our appearance.” You’re not coming here sagging, you come here groomed.

Those six standards handled every infractions our children can do without saying don’t spit, jump, cry, use your outside voice. None of that, because they were noble. And it was a way of restoring the sense of esteem at the same time instilling in them a sense of integrity. So now I had to teach teachers to do their work. When you think of the best teachers you had, you realize they cared about you, they talked to you, they listened to you. So I told teachers, you’ve got some roles. You’re not just one thing. You are instructor, parent and mentor. You’re all of those. If I see Johnnie crawling over the table I can tell him, “You’d better sit in that chair right now.” I’m the parent. I can correct them. But if you can’t go to parent, you can’t correct them. There is something that a child will receive from a parent, and there’s only one reason why a child accepts the discipline of a parent. It’s because the parent loves them. “If you love me, I’m going to do whatever you ask me to do.” They know I love them and I’ve got their backs, but “I’m going to get your little behind if you don’t get over here and sit down.” If I see them in the mall, I’m the instructor. “Look mommy there’s my teacher. Hi Mrs. Leary.” That’s how it should be. I’m always in a role. When my instructors tell me, “I wasn’t hired to be a social worker.” I tell them nobody asked them to be a social worker, I just ask them to love our kids. Instead, they do things like this, “If you do your homework I’ll give you a star.” Or a little smiley face. The white kids are saying “Yea, yea, yea, I’ve got three stars.” Our kids are saying, “I can make my own stars. For a nickel, I’ll sell you a star.” Because a star ain’t goin to motivate me. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn, but that won’t motivate me. I’ll tell you what will, If I say, “Johnnie come here. This is my Johnnie. I’m so proud of him. He did his homework last week and I know he’s going to do his homework this week. We know he can do it.” Johnnie will work for that. He will work for the relationship because he wants to please me. And those are the things I must teach teachers. The biggest problem was that takes too much time. Three months.

Therapeutic Model
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.

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, dirty and 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.
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.

Rodney King, Personal Trauma
I remember the impact of the Rodney King situation with my son. Now, you and I, when we look at it say, “There it is again.” It’s nothing new. I used to live in South Central, and it was a regular thing to be pulled over by the police, just cause. I was seven months pregnant and they dragged my husband out of the car, put a gun to his head, had the SWAT team swing around with rifles over the cars, the little megaphones saying don’t move. If he would have sneezed… they run out and put a poster next to his face, say “Not him.” They rolled up their poster got in the cars and left. I could have had the baby right there. Right there. And my husband would have been dead. So, when we look at Rodney King it was business as usual to me but not for my son. He said, “Mommy, look! Aren’t those the policemen? Aren’t they supposed to protect us mommy? Will they do that to me mommy?” My son was traumatized by that because of the conflict internally to see something which created what is called “cognitive dissonance.” Very simply, cognitive dissonance is where I have a set of understandings, I’m then approached with a new set of understandings which create conflict. It was cognitive dissonance. My son could not reconcile what he saw, and the result was fear. That’s trauma. That’s injury. But they don’t measure that for my son.

Denial of Blackness
In “On Death and Dying” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, she speaks of the stages of grief when a person finds out they’re going to die. One of the first stages is denial. And we’ve got Black folks who deny they’re Black, don’t we? I meet Black folks and they’re Indian, and mixed with this and that. They can’t be Black because they’re in denial. Can you imagine a person going in for therapy because they’re having marital problems, and the white person sitting in front of them doesn’t know that they’ve got that big problem, that they ain’t lack? We (Black people) know it because we understand it. But that’s a family understanding that we have. The white person doesn’t know. They just say, “Oh, you’re not Black? Okay.” So denial is one of the phases because it’s real. This is what I call the stages of “Negression” or aculturation to being Black. You find out you’re Black, some folks go into denial on it. Other people go to another space with it. They get angry. It’s natural, there is a period of anger associated with this.

Forced to be Violent
In the movie “Sankofa”, you’ve got the slaves, you’ve got the Black overseers, you’ve got the mixed overseers, you’ve got the white overseer. There’s a couple with a baby on the way, about eight-and-a-half months pregnant. They’re trying to escape to freedom so that the baby can be born free. They get caught. The master, to make an example has one of the Black overseers beat this woman. I want you to walk through this with me. Because when he finishes his job overseeing and cracking the whip, he has to go have dinner with the rest of the people in the slave situation. That’s his job, everybody knows he has to do it because they’ve got a shotgun on him. He must do it because he’s a slave also. So, he starts beating the girl and they’ve got the gun trained on him, so he has to beat her to death. Now he lived with her, her family, he loved her. He loved her like he loved all the other children, but he has to beat her to death. After he beats her to death, all the slaves are there waiting for the master to go. They deliver the baby because she’s full term. So they deliver the baby in these tragic circumstances, he sees the woman rocking the baby, he comes in. “How’s the baby?” This is the man who beat the mother to death.
“You can’t come around right now. We know you did what you had to do but it’s a little hard. You just can’t come around for a couple of days.” Do you understand what he had to do with that? What did it do to his heart? What did he do with the anger? Where did it go? Where has it always gone, because it represents itself in an ailment that we know we tops the scales as African American males. What is it? Hypertension. That’s what we did with the anger. “Because I could not be overtly express it, it built up in me.” Then they say we’re so angry. Well don’t we have reason to be? Of course we have reason to be. That’s why they were scared of that Million Man March.

Control Group is in Africa
When I went to Africa I met with some women in Botswana. They’d start out the meeting laughing at us. “You believed them didn’t you? You thought you’d come up here and see us with swollen bellies and flies.” “You think lions are going to come in and chew us up.” They said, “You bought it, what white people told you about Africa. Just like we bought it when we were told we couldn’t be in your communities without being a drive by victim. Because that’s what they tell us.” One woman said she had studied in the United States and in her last year, she sent for her five-year-old daughter. The daughter comes over to be with her mother for that last year of college. One day she runs into the house crying, “Mommy, Mommy, they called me Black mommy. They called me Black.” Her mother looked at her and said, “And? You are Black, so why are you crying?” she said in that instant she realized what had happened to us. She called her mother on the phone and sent her daughter back the next day on the plane. She said, “I didn’t let her live a day in this country believing there was something wrong with her Blackness.” I said the difference between you and me is I didn’t have anyplace to send my daughter. You see, that’s what happened to us and it was complete. It was absolutely complete. As I began to look at those notions again, the real control group is in Africa, my control group by the way, and I’m going to tell you who they are. During my travel in Africa I ran into couple, Gilbert and Tamika, both descended from slaves. Gilbert said, “I’m going to take you to a village I’ve been helping for eight years.” he told me that slaves were enslaved in south Africa by the Dutch. They were taught Afrikaan, their names were changed to European names, Elizabeth, Robert, etc. They had no affiliation to their tribes. It’s a place called “Umphervaldt” (Transcriber note: phonetic spelling), which in Afrikaans means “unexpected” When I went to the village I saw a carbon copy of African America. Same symptomology, increases in the divorce rate, drug and alcohol abuse, all the symptomologies. You see there is a specific behavior that follows the destruction of culture of these people, no matter where they are. They’re my control group.

Black Mothers
One of the other symptoms that I see is the behavior that you will notice with African American people. A lot. If you see and African American mother in a bank right now, and she has children around her, three, four, five years old, that kind of age. Where are the children in proximity to her? Sometime they are literally adhered to the mother. And then, if they should try to move, “Get yourself back over here.” Now I’m observing this behavior and in the same bank there’s a white mother. Children with her are roaming around, “Honey come back. No No No. I’m sorry. Put that down.” Sliding down the rail. Here’s the same bank and the Black child looking at little Johnnie sliding down the aisle. It’s so deep that when the mother goes to the teller, this is the child’s chance to escape. But in the line there’s another Black mother. Now she doesn’t know this other woman, but when she sees that child start to slide away, she gives him that “Death Stare” that only Black mothers can give. The child looks at her and slides right on back. What that behavior is, this mother has her back. She taking care of it, it’s part of community, it’s part of what we learned. It’s social learning, it’s what we adapted to, but here we have to ask a question. If I walk up to the mother and asked her how come you’re not letting the child explore, which is normal by the way. In order for a child to develop emotionally, they need to explore. It’s a natural phenomenon of human development. They walk up to you, “Hi, what’s your name? That’s an interesting color you have on.” They ask questions. It’s how they take in their environment. So we’re actually stifling their development when we say no. When I asked the mother, how come she won’t let him go, she doesn’t really have an answer because that’s what she was taught. We don’t know why we do it, but what the Black child gets to know in 1998, is that it’s okay for Johnnie because it’s his world. “I can’t do it because I’ll get into trouble. It’s not for me.” No one said it, but that’s the message that that child gets. Now when we look at that behavior, we have to understand it in terms of adaptation. We must understand that it was appropriate because there was a time you would get in trouble. There was a time when everything could break down right there and you’d beat him before you’d let him move.

Protecting the Child
There’s another phenomenon which is very important. How many people saw “Soul Food”? This phenomenon is so familiar to us they wrote it in the script. You come up to a white mother and say, “You know, that Johnnie of yours he’s really doing well, isn’t he?” she goes, “Oh yes, he’s quite the man. He’s in the talented and gifted program, the little league, he’s taking after his uncle, I think he’s going to be an engineer…” you have to cut here off. She’s so proud, you have to stop her. Black mother, same attributes, same qualities, the white woman attempts to praise her son. “You know, that Johnnie of yours he’s really coming along isn’t he?” Black mother responds, “Yeah but you should see his butt at home, he’s a mess. Girl you shoulda, honey, yeah, well…” She’s proud, isn’t she? She really is proud, she really is happy, but it’s not coming out verbally. Why is she doing it. I did it myself. I don’t know where it came from, it’s knee jerk. But then I started to do the research. I started reading slave histories and all of that, and I rolled it back. Let’s roll it all the way back to slavery. I’m the white master, “You know what, that Johnnie, he’s really coming along.” What is she going to say to the master? “No, No, No, master. He’s shiftless, he’s stupid, he’s lazy, he can’t do nothing.” because she doesn’t want him, what? “Don’t sell my baby! I don’t want you to sell him.” So, I denigrate him to keep him with me. That is adaptation, which is appropriate, but what did it do to Johnnie? And what does it do to Johnnie in 1998? But nobody stopped to say, let’s do that mass therapy. Let’s get rid of some of those behaviors of adaptation we no longer need. No one did that for us. So we get those behaviors and there are a million more that you know and I can’t even remember. But if we don’t look at them, if we don’t understand them, if we don’t do this work then we will never get to it.

Therapy
Do you think somebody white can? I’m not saying other people can’t be good therapists, but without the understanding of culture, you actually injure people. Everything in my clinical training, I have to go completely against. Everything about therapy, all of it. I have to go completely against it because I understand what my people need to do to heal. Sometimes when you get in those little therapy rooms and they tell you to bare your soul, well guess what happens when a Black person says, “Let me show you my scar and how I got it. What do I expect you to do next? Show me yours. Because I need to know that you understand that you are not undefeated too. Just like I’m not undefeated, you’re not undefeated. And you showed it to me, because you showed me your scar too.” The rule says you’re not supposed to get in that close with clients. They would say that sharing is inappropriate. But the client feels, “I’m showing you all my scars, I expect you to show that you have some too.” Because it validates our humanity. But that’s not what they teach you in therapy because it’s a man-object oriented system. I can’t go through all of the symptoms but let’s look at some of the cures.

Self-Enhancement Program
When Dr. Nichols explained to me about axiology I wrote a model. The model is the relationship model of education. I developed a relationship model of therapeutic intervention. It’s a relationship model because we’re relationship people. We developed this model, and what do you think is the first thing white people did when they got it? They had to measure it to the tune of $50,000. They called in the Northwest Regional Laboratories to measure my model and see if it works. What they discovered was that the children who got this particular model in a school system got an increase in grade point average, an increase in parental involvement, a decrease in negative referral systems and an increase in overall retention. Now what was it? My key component when I was hired was, can you develop a relationship with children? Can you love them because if you can’t love them I don’t want you near them. That was the criteria. I wrote six standards. I gave them in a program I call the self-enhancement program. Standard number one, “We greet each other every day with a smile and a handshake.” That’s to establish the relationship. Number 2, “We honor and respect each other and so we address one another with proper language and speech.” There’s no cursin’ swearin’ calling someone stupid. Number three, “We value the space of ourselves and others and are careful not to intrude or injure each other.” 4, “We are mindful of what is true and try to be honest in words and deeds.” 5 “We treasure our rich culture, and we hold the cultures of all people in high regard.” 6, “We strive to reflect our beauty, both inwardly in our understanding and outwardly in our appearance.” You’re not coming here sagging, you come here groomed.

Those six standards handled every infractions our children can do without saying don’t spit, jump, cry, use your outside voice. None of that, because they were noble. And it was a way of restoring the sense of esteem at the same time instilling in them a sense of integrity. So now I had to teach teachers to do their work. When you think of the best teachers you had, you realize they cared about you, they talked to you, they listened to you. So I told teachers, you’ve got some roles. You’re not just one thing. You are instructor, parent and mentor. You’re all of those. If I see Johnnie crawling over the table I can tell him, “You’d better sit in that chair right now.” I’m the parent. I can correct them. But if you can’t go to parent, you can’t correct them. There is something that a child will receive from a parent, and there’s only one reason why a child accepts the discipline of a parent. It’s because the parent loves them. “If you love me, I’m going to do whatever you ask me to do.” They know I love them and I’ve got their backs, but “I’m going to get your little behind if you don’t get over here and sit down.” If I see them in the mall, I’m the instructor. “Look mommy there’s my teacher. Hi Mrs. Leary.” That’s how it should be. I’m always in a role. When my instructors tell me, “I wasn’t hired to be a social worker.” I tell them nobody asked them to be a social worker, I just ask them to love our kids. Instead, they do things like this, “If you do your homework I’ll give you a star.” Or a little smiley face. The white kids are saying “Yea, yea, yea, I’ve got three stars.” Our kids are saying, “I can make my own stars. For a nickel, I’ll sell you a star.” Because a star ain’t goin to motivate me. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn, but that won’t motivate me. I’ll tell you what will, If I say, “Johnnie come here. This is my Johnnie. I’m so proud of him. He did his homework last week and I know he’s going to do his homework this week. We know he can do it.” Johnnie will work for that. He will work for the relationship because he wants to please me. And those are the things I must teach teachers. The biggest problem was that takes too much time. Three months.

Therapeutic Model
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.

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.

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