Do we owe it to our children and future generations to show them . . . teach them how best to build the human beings they wish to become . . . a way to move towards wholeness? Or is it up to each generation to find their way, on their own; making the collective wisdom of their elders . . . their ancestors superfluous, simply a romantic notion?
I argue in my soon-to-be published book, Theology for a Violent Age, that every culture passes on from one generation to the next the good, the bad, the ugly, and that most of what gets passed on to succeeding generations remains unconscious.
In an online article written by Siljia J.A. Talvi on Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary’s book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, she discusses how Leary has adapted “our understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to propose that African Americans today suffer from a particular kind of intergenerational trauma: Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS).” Leary explains that “the systematic dehumanization of African salves was the initial trauma . . . and generations of their descendents have borne the scars.”
Leary goes on to suggest that “African Americans (and other people of color) can ill afford to wait for the dominant culture to realize the qualitative benefits of undoing racism. The real recovery from the ongoing trauma of slavery and racism has to start from within . . . beginning with a true acknowledgement of the resilience of African-American culture” which I would add, remains very much under siege.
From a theological perspective, Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome [or Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder] is a spiritual dis-ease. Dr. Archie Smith, Jr. – noted African American theologian and clinical psychologist at Pacific School of Religion – defines spirituality as personal growth towards wholeness. . . . Spirituality understood in dynamic terms as part of a total process of integration, growth, development and fulfillment of one’s potential in relation to others, to the ultimate purpose of life, and to the Ultimate. . . A person is always in a process of becoming, of moving backwards or forwards. . . . Such persons are ‘self-actualizing’ people. . . . Spirituality is the process of becoming fully human, (and whole) by moving or being moved to the edges and the limitations we ordinarily accept and discovering that there is more beyond.
Many African American youth – especially, our boys and young men – have been stunted in their spiritual growth and development by PTSS, passed on from one generation to the next in dysfunctional families that remain unaware they are passing the dis-ease on. This illness is reflected in black-on-black crime, life-negating community environments, a lack of positive male role models, and popular African American cultural expression – resulting in a collective shame that is internalized as poor self-esteem, a sense of victimization and, too often, a suppressed rage.
PTSS is also aggravated by high African American unemployment relative to the general population, shrinking educational opportunities, a constant barrage of negative images about African American youth in the media, coupled with a prison-industrial complex too eager to incarcerate our adolescent youth and young men.
In looking at the face of the young boy in corduroy pants and felt hat there is no smile, but he smiles from the heart. He has the will to face anything. He is good enough to his goals. If he is sent to a better place having the possibilities for amassing opportunities, he will become so good. But if he is sent to another place of criminals, he will be notorious all over the area. He is a symbol of the time in which he lived [the 1940s], but his time could just as well be our very own. He is vulnerable, too, for he is of the exact age when a new man is being evolved.
We are, ultimately, faced with the stark reality of our spiritual dis-ease when we accept as a culture no obligation to pass on with intention the collective wisdom of past generations – to educate our own. Or, perhaps, we simply haven’t a clue how best to instruct them . . . no spiritual tools to teach them. This, I believe, may be the tragedy of our collective dilemma.
For Talvi article – www.inthesetimes.com/article/2523
(The article was in the “Culture, March 10, 2006 issue)
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome – In These Times