Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome


  • by Joy a Degruy
  • paperback

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Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing

In the 16th century, the beginning of African enslavement in the Americas until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment and emancipation in 1865, Africans were hunted like animals, captured, sold, tortured, and raped. They experienced the worst kind of physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual abuse. Given such history, isn’t it likely that many of the enslaved were severely traumatized? And did the trauma and the effects of such horrific abuse end with the abolition of slavery?

Emancipation was followed by one hundred more years of institutionalized subjugation through the enactment of Black Codes and Jim Crow laws, peonage, convict leasing, domestic terrorism, and lynching. Today the violations continue, and when combined with the crimes of the past, they result in yet unmeasured injury. What do repeated traumas, endured generation after generation by a people produce? What impact have these ordeals had on African Americans today?

Dr. Joy DeGruy, answers these questions and more. With over thirty years of practical experience as a professional in the mental health field, Dr. DeGruy encourages African Americans to view their attitudes, assumptions, and behaviors through the lens of history and so gain a greater understanding of how centuries of slavery and oppression have impacted people of African descent in America.

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            Why do we spank our children?  Why do we place value on how light or dark our skin is?  Why are we mistrustful of each other?  Why do we attempt to live up to white ideals of beauty?  These are questions that have plagued the African American community for many years.  However, to understand why we are the way that we are today, we must understand the history of who we were.  Dr. Joy DeGruy’s book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing argues that as a community, many African-Americans still suffer from the condition she termed Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.

Her work is eye-opening and it is difficult to read without acknowledging how much truth there is to her argument.  Slavery in America lasted almost 250 years.  Following slavery and the brief and unsuccessful period known as Reconstruction, the methods in which blacks were relegated to second class citizenship transformed.  From Robert E. Lee’s surrender and for about 100 years after, blacks in the south were plagued by Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, and many other frightening realities.  It is incredible that so many people choose not to acknowledge the effects of these centuries of oppression and abuse.

Dr. DeGruy’s goal is to give an understanding of the impact of these transgressions on Black America today.  She draws parallels between the traumatic events of the African American past and the behaviors that have manifested in many black communities today.  While this is incredible in and of itself, what is even more important about this work is that her goal is not merely to point out the character flaws or lack of opportunity or advancement, among other effects.  She furthers illustrates methods in which many African Americans can begin the process of healing and moving forward.  The first step is to acknowledge that these issues exist in the black community and beyond that take steps towards changing these behaviors in order to heal.

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome helps to lay the necessary foundation to ensure the well-being and sustained health of future generations and provides a rare glimpse into the evolution of society’s beliefs, feelings, attitudes and behavior concerning race in America.

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