Psychological Legacy of Slavery: Chapter 1
Dr. Na’im Akbar takes us through a tour of our history as a Black community, and through many comparisons, links our modern behaviours to their historical roots. He begins by firstly speaking about work, which, rather than being a naturally rewarding task, connotes inferiority and slavery in the minds of the black community- specifically, the African American community. He mentions how an “illusion of leisure” has been created when working for someone for a set monthly salary, explaining why independent businesses and institutions run by us are very few.
The author then moves on to speak about property- both the desire for possessions and the vandalism of thing that are not ours. Vandalism is done in disregard and disrespect of the property of someone else. If one does not appreciate the power or possessions of another, they could either copy them, aim to progress or destroy what the other individual has. A trend of destructive flamboyancy has arisen in the Black community over many centuries. Those in captivity who were very much crushed and belittled had the persistent wish to look like the master as, with their look and colour, came supposed power and freedom. He linked this mentality to that of children playing dress- up; by dressing like mum and dad, then we become like them, even if for a short while. This temporary feeling of accomplishment proves to be destructive in the Black community.
Thirdly, Dr. Akbar speaks about leadership, and how within our community, the trust, respect and upheaval of natural indigenous leaders has been and is currently very low. This is an acquired attitude which plantation owners tried to ingrain in the minds of African Americans so that they as a people may not have a leader of their own, and thus grow stronger. The plot of plantation owners was to set the Black Community against leaders who had the potential to lead their people to freedom. Therefore, by setting them against natural leaders, those who had ideas of liberation were thought of as trouble makers and did not receive acceptance from most people of the community at their time. An example of one of the “trouble makers” is Martin Luther King who only began to receive respect from the majority after his words were deemed “acceptable” to the Liberal Caucasian group at the time. This legacy is seen even today when it comes to politics through the eyes of both those within and those who are not members of the Black community.
The Black entertainer and “clown” is the next topic of discussion in the book. This is probably one of the most visible remains of the “plantation ghost”- that is the attitudes rooted in slavery that still haunt the black community. Characters “Fiddler” from the TV series Roots, Martin Lawrence starring in his own show and JJ Evans from comedy “Good Times” , were used as prime examples of how the desire of the enslaved Black slave found acceptance from the master by entertaining him. This idea of entertaining for acceptance is still evident today from lunch tables in schools amongst friends to being a full- time comedian. A quote that is very relevant to this issue is “A sense of humour brings necessary balance to an organised life, but a life of humour blinds one to life”. Meaning that if the sole goal of the Black individual is to entertain others for acceptance, this can lead to their decline and a decline of the community as a whole. Television series such as The Cosby Show , showed a balance between humour and wisdom, which was truly a positive movement and good portrayal of the Black family.
Those who owned slaves knew that those with self respect and dignity would resist the dehumanising process of enslavement. Therefore, in order to maintain their plantations and businesses, they needed to ensure that self respect was in existent in the hearts of African Americans and that they constantly felt inferior. As a result of the mentality of inferiority amongst enslaved Black people, a desire to look like, act like, and think like the “Massah” was the only way they could feel as though they had any worth, as their value now seemed to be in their hands only. There was a lack of self affirmation, which has been passed down and links to the many practices in the Black community today. To be seen as important or to have some kind of worth is to look like, act like and think like the Caucasian individual. This leads to many harmful practices such as skin bleaching, surgeries and hair perming. To reverse the effects, the author states that we should teach our children their worth from an early age, so that with nurturing, their self worth will be high. In addition, we must influence our environments positively, so that seeing the changes we can make, our true worth can be positively defined.
Community division is one way in which slave masters believed they could control Black people. This idea was voiced in 1712 on the bank of the james River, USA by William Lynch, a slave master. The speech stated that to make sure that Black people do not seek their emancipation, a dependency on their owners must be built. Secondly, the masters must turn their slaves against each other, as by doing so, the community will be divided, and a community that is divided cannot stand, much more fight for freedom. Therefore privellages were given to certain slaves and a concentration on acceptance from the slave master became the main goal of many enslaved African Americans. Being a “house slave” was seen as more favourable than being a “field slave” as one could be closer to the master. Those who were usually house slaves were those who were the offspring of the masters from a Black woman. Therefore, certain Caucasian features would be exhibited in such people. So, there was a link between being fair or having European features and being of more value or more important.
Although the slave masters would probably see everyone as having “tinted blood”, those within the Black community were programmed to develop a system of hierarchy based on physical features. This has continued in the Black community despite events such as the Black power movement.
The family was the penultimate point of discussion in the chapter. Marriage was seen as pointless to many enslaved Black people as all the vows could not be maintained while one is at the will of an owner. Be this a male or female person, the impact of being a slave on the individual meant that their body was no longer theirs, therefore they could not give themselves away to their spouses.
The husband could not protect, and many times, the Black man was used to breed and was a symbol of power. This is sadly evident amongst many Black men in our society today. They were seen as “studs” and in that and producing, did they find worth. Therefore we can see that in many places today, a Black male may resist the role of a true father, or may feel worthless if they are not identified as being a “stud” or able to produce many children. The Black woman was seen as a child bearer and an object to be used for the pleasure of her master. Due to the nature of which their children were produced as a result of rape, the Black women became overprotective of her child or at times, even abusive due to the remembrance of the pain of their conception. This is seen today in our community, and many women still find acceptance in the wrong places.
Lastly, colour discrimination was discussed. The colour of one’s skin determined their social position. Black skin was seen as cursed and the cause of enslavement. Therefore beauty, competence and worth was seen in having more Caucasian features, which is prominent in the Black community to this day To move forward, we must master the symptoms and conditions. This leads to the next chapter.
CHAPTER 2: LIBERATION FROM MENTAL SLAVERY
The chapter begins with the idea that to break the psychological chains of slavery, we must first realise that we, as humans, are special. We are different to any other creature on earth as we have self- consciousness and we are able to progress. With other animals, their roles are clearly defined and constant, with little, if change in roles. The ant has been making the same form of ant hill for centuries; however we as humans have developed massively over the ages. In the process of this development, the idea of slavery has been continuous.
Owners of slaves realised that to control people, those who were captors needed to be in control of “their thinking, in control of their minds, [and] in control of their consciousness. As mentioned before, humans are self- conscious, however when their consciousness is taken away from them, so is their humanity. Slavery is not about physical bondage, but is a psychological process where people’s minds will eventually be brought under captivity. The lack of self- consciousness has altered the human conduct of Africans, and we now rely on other civilisations for guidance on how to conduct ourselves. Destroyed consciousness leads to self destructive conduct, and this is very prevalent in the Black community.
We, as Africans in history were builders, appreciators of Black femininity, introduced medicines to the world and healing to the planet. We are now, however, portrayed as clowns, drug abusers and destroyers of our own lives. Our example is a dramatic illustration of how slavery destroys human power. One loses their human awareness as their rituals from weddings to marriages are prohibited and substituted with those of another culture. Griots, were known as trouble makers as they would raise awareness of the former victories of the past from Jamaica to Georgia. Their tongues were cut. The fear that Africans would be conscious of their victories and their history, struck fear in the hearts of slave owners. But this made the message clear: Restoration of African consciousness has to be made by Africans themselves. The desire for the mindset of those who are for white supremacy shouldn’t be our primary goal. Although this process will be long, our generations will be the beneficiaries.
The author touched on the need for there to be a “Knowledge of Self” amongst African Americans. To change African consciousness would mean to change the knowledge in the African mind. There is a need for mental liberation. In history, the Greeks, Romans, and figures such as Galileo are praised. Europeans taught and are still teaching the greatness of European accomplishment. This awareness of one’s history is a significant part of the liberation process. This restoration process began with the likes of W.E.B DuBois, Martin Delany and many more. By learning our history, we open our minds to the fact that the resources of the Earth are open to all its inhabitants. When we realise that there are no limits to our potential, we raise figures such as Michael Jordan and magic Johnson. When we realise there are no bounds to how much we can discover in the fields of science, we also raise great men and women. Every piece of information moulds keys to “unlock the chains in our minds”.
In addition to knowledge of self, the author expresses the need for “Self Celebration”.This celebration does not lower the esteem or accomplishments of others. Rather it sings of our greatness as a people, and our blessing to the world. He mentions that young people must know the value of the fabric from which they came and be shown positive representations of themselves, rather than fantasies of Black degradation and backwardness. We must show our own images and great ancestral figures without shame; this includes pictures, statues, street names, and even represent ourselves in fictional characters like Santa Clause. If we take a look into cultures whose minds are free, there are hundreds of self- representations and celebrations. We shouldn’t be apologetic for this. The failure of any culture, is when the culture does not make those who are members of it, value and feel good about themselves.
“Only the brave need apply” was another section of the chapter, where we learn that freedom must not come passively. The road to freedom is full of challenges and danger. We see this example in the Old testament when many Biblical Characters went through wilderness experiences in order to have victory. So those who want to break the chains must be brave. We must not be afraid. The more we know, the greater we become. The stronger the self pride, the greater our courage. This ties into the next points about “Umoja” or “Unity”. Collectively, if we ally with ourselves, as people full of self pride, talents and unique qualities, our chains can be broken. We must ally with other Black people in various communities, as it is not possible to attain this freedom alone. We must bring our special gifts we have together and break our chains.
Faith is also an element mentioned throughout this chapter. It is the evidence of things unseen and also, the sense that “Everything is going to be alright”. If those who were enslaved did not believe in something greater than their ‘masters’ or themselves, they wouldn’t have been able to attain freedom. Our faith as a Black Community, as the author describes, has “come from within” and our power is in our spiritual resources.
Lastly, the author emphasises that we must acknowledge then psychological bondage and get more people involved in the healing process. These are effective steps forward.
CHAPTER 3: RACIAL RELIGIOUS IMAGERY AND PSYCHOLOGICAL CONFUSION:
The author begins the chapter by bringing to our attention a problem of stagnation in the Black community. Despite us thinking that we are in a better position than we were years ago, when evaluating various stages in history and situations of Black people in them, it seems like an oscillating cycle of positions. For example, having African Americans in political power was quite common before the end of the 1800s, however it seems as though the recent increase in Black leaders in America is a new phenomenon. In addition, the Jim Crow laws which took almost 100 years to abolish brought African Americans to the same position they were in before them. This issue has brought about a lot of confusion as to why the Black community is not moving forward. This problem is very serious, and emphasises the need for psychological repair.
The author moves on to speak about “Religious Imagery”. He says that one’s idea of who God is, determines the limits to which they desire to reach. He states that “Human potential is broadened or limited by its concept of God”. This means that if one perceives God as being limited, then they themselves will be limited in what heights they can reach. This is because when thinking that you have reached the limit, as humans, progress is not made; you believe that you are at the highest height anyone could possibly reach. However, when introduced to new challenges and when one sees that their best is comparable to someone else’s worst, the person is driven to excel. Therefore perceiving God to be infinite causes you be hungry for progress because if you know there is an infinite God, you will also know that there are infinite levels of success one can reach in life. In addition, the psychological effects of portrating God as being a certain gender are discussed. The effects can be very damaging as those who are not represented may feel less favoured. Also, this limits the possibilities of God, as He is restricted to only exhibiting certain traits as a gender has been assigned to (Him).
The limited images of God, as mentioned before, limits the minds of those who perceive (Him) to be finite. Therefore, presenting God to an audience who cannot relate to His form, may limit His capacity in their eyes and consequently, the heights they can reach. It is an effective way to enslave. God is a superior being, therefore to see (Him) with the image of somebody else causes one to develop the idea that those who look like His visual representation, are also superior to those whom (He) doesn’t look like. In fact, the overrepresentation of Caucasian images, shown in a positive light, results in many Black people perceiving their colour to be less beautiful or pure. For example the 1939 study conducted on young Black children, asked them to identify, out of Black and Caucasian dolls, which doll was the smartest or prettiest. Unfortunately, the doll that received the negative comments the most was the Black doll. This proves that imagery has a large effect on how we see ourselves, and others- even from a young age. The Aryan race of blond haired, blue eyed Caucasians was Hitler’s idea of natural perfection, therefore very other race needed to be destroyed. It is evident, that having one image of perfection and divinity can be very detrimental to society.
Finally the author says that we must recognise that God has chosen to manifest (His) greatness in all of creation- not just to a chosen few. Recognising that (He) is “a form superior to flesh” will help us realise that we cannot assign a race to (Him). This will help us to overcome one of the many strongholds of psychological slavery. Also, we must surround ourselves with imagery and media representative of ourselves to lead us to self- affirmation. We have to acknowledge the influence of degrading images on our lives, and then effectively rid our minds of them in replacement of the self positive ones.