Black “people must realize that the only thing wrong with Black people is that we think something is wrong with Black people. Black Americans’ history of oppression has made Black opportunities – not Black behaviors—inferior.” Ibram X Kendi’s brilliant observation cut through my previously ill-conceived and ill-informed ideas about Black trauma, and its relevance to Black behavior. The more widely held notion of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome seemed so congruent and compatible with our collective experiences of infighting, self-hate, crabs-in-a-barrel mentality, made it easy to accept. So, when Dr. DeGruy postulated that theory on Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome my intellectual appetite consumed her very progressive psychological concept as it seemed the most palatable and logical prescription at the time. Dr. DeGruy’s brilliance gave us more insight which forced us to examine our subjective selves more acutely in our response to institutionalized racism and prejudice. But now it seems more apparent that, in accepting the notion of PTSS, we have disqualified the ascendancy of not just freedom fighters, but ordinary Black men and women who fought and continue to foment and implement a full scale psychological and intellectual resistance to an unjust system. Think about it for a minute, if an indelible generational trauma was as pervasive as claimed by PTSS, then Sojourner Truth, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B Dubois, Dr. M. L. King, Malcolm X, Frederick Douglas, Angela Davis, Ella Baker, Dorothy Height, and Septima P. Clark and too many others to mention, would never be as revolutionary as they were.
So, while I lament the lack of awareness, the self-hate, the crab-in-a-barrel mentality and the “bad-mindedness” among my Black brothers and sisters, I no longer burden them, or myself with the guilt and shame of perpetual trauma as the reasonable catalyst of dysfunctional behavior, because that in itself is racist! Rather, it becomes more evident to me, that we departed from our moorings or the truths and rituals that once anchored us; we abdicated our sense of purpose and self -determination that once was our north star in favor of learning and emulating the behaviors of our oppressors. In this misguided pursuit of needing validation and acceptance along with a misguided desire of being equal, we have managed over a long time to convert our thinking to that of the oppressor, which is why we continue to believe that – something is wrong with us. Some go as far as saying, and I have personally heard this, “We Black people are cursed!” That pervasive sense of self-loathing is the negative conditioning that dominates the lives of Black people, even when they enjoy seemingly successful careers and fulfilling relationships.
As I explore the fascinating and complex journey of life, I am forced to go back to basics in order to comprehend the jagged, painful, and heartbreaking experiences of life; being rejected by the very people you grew up with, either because of sexual orientation, social status, or political views. Being ignored, passed over, underestimated, and undervalued by the people familiar with you, even though they know what you have accomplished. These are people who are Black like you, people whom you expect to be your allies in the struggle for self-fulfillment, they betray you, deflating your confidence and sense of self to the point of depression, then appear totally unaware of the damage they have wreaked. Do you recall what I said earlier? Let me say it again, in order to cope with the rejection, devaluation, suspicion, mistrust and disrespect from my own people, people who are physical reflections of you and me, I am forced to go back to basics! Just before I do, indulge me in reminding you that you are not to be held entirely responsible for your dysfunctional and undisciplined psycho-social behaviors, rather, it’s the carefully rigged, and cleverly orchestrated educational system inscribed and entrenched in our collective psyche’s during, and after our enslavement, and colonization. So, having examined and researched psychology/philosophy/religion, it all comes down to this – Education! Education, and the lifelong learning type of Education! Not the education our colonizers offer, not the education our oppressors offer, certainly not the pedagogy that’s institutionalized in American education.
Thanks to the genius of Carter G. Woodson’s “The Mis-education of the Negro,” my back-to-basics approach has illuminated my awareness and my quest to understand why I am devalued, why I am underestimated, why I am disrespected, why my worth is undervalued, why I am not good enough! Dr. Woodson’s life-changing book was first published in 1933, and speaks to the fact that American, European, and Arabian educational systems devalued and demeaned people of African ancestry to such an extent, that the cultural/artistic/scientific achievements of the oppressed was not even a distant memory. The memory and history of the oppressor became the memory of the oppressed; it is that conditioning that has dominated and prevailed in the lives of Black people for centuries, knowledge about who we were, and who we really are, have become so distorted, and diluted, that we no longer know ourselves. If we don’t know ourselves, how can we know each other? Not until we accept what Dr. Woodson says we must do to become educated, that is, we must become didacts, a people dedicated to taking responsibility for our own education, our own self-awareness and certainly to our own enlightenment, and empowerment!
Please! I implore you, educate yourself – do it yourself! So that when you need caring, empathetic, and genuine help you can confidently seek out someone who has educated themselves, someone who looks like you and certainly someone who is Good enough to understand your mission. We are good enough!