Updated: Jun 11
The recent civil unrest in response to ongoing racial injustice in the U.S. highlights the entrenched trauma that African Americans have experienced and carried across generations.
We are especially reminded of this trauma during the month of June, which marks the anniversary of Juneteenth and the Massacre of Black Wall Street.
Juneteenth is the day that all slaves were freed in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers entered Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were free. This was two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, which is commonly cited in history books as the end of slavery.
The Massacre of Black Wall Street was another historic event that caused enduring damage – both economically and psychologically – to the African American community. It remains the deadliest recorded act of racial aggression in U.S. history.
On June 1, 1921, white residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma, ignited two days of unparalleled racial violence against the town's prosperous African American community, following the accusation that a Black man had attempted to rape a white woman. The entire community was set on fire, leading to 300 deaths, 800 injuries and thousands left homeless.
Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome is a term coined by internationally renowned researcher Joy DeGruy, PhD, to describe the multigenerational trauma and injustices experienced by African Americans – from the dawn of slavery to the recent deaths of Black citizens at the hands of police.
Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS), a psychological and emotional condition affects individuals and communities with a history of slavery. Understanding PTSS is crucial for recognizing and addressing the long-lasting impacts of slavery on mental health and promoting healing and resilience in affected populations.
Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome refers to the psychological and emotional distress experienced by individuals and communities as a result of the historical trauma and ongoing systemic racism associated with slavery. It encompasses a range of symptoms and reactions that can persist across generations.
The institution of slavery inflicted severe trauma, dehumanization, and oppression on enslaved Africans and their descendants. The legacy of slavery continues to impact individuals and communities through systemic racism, social inequities, and intergenerational trauma.
Symptoms and Impacts:
Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome manifests in various ways and can have profound impacts on mental health and well-being, including:
a. Intergenerational Trauma: Trauma and stress experienced by previous generations can be passed down through familial and cultural narratives, affecting the mental health of subsequent generations.
b. Racial Identity and Self-esteem: PTSS can influence racial identity development, self-esteem, and self-concept, as individuals grapple with internalized racism, discrimination, and negative stereotypes.
c. Anxiety and Depression: PTSS can contribute to increased levels of anxiety, depression, and emotional distress due to ongoing experiences of racism, systemic oppression, and racial disparities.
d. Hypervigilance and Chronic Stress: The experience of slavery and its aftermath can lead to hypervigilance, chronic stress, and heightened reactivity to racial microaggressions and discriminatory acts.
e. Cultural Loss and Resilience: PTSS may involve a sense of cultural loss, disconnection from ancestral heritage, and challenges in preserving cultural traditions and practices.
Healing and Resilience:
Recognizing and addressing PTSS is essential for promoting healing, resilience, and social change. Key considerations include:
a. Culturally Competent Mental Health Care: Providing accessible and culturally sensitive mental health services that address the unique experiences and needs of individuals impacted by PTSS.
b. Community Support and Empowerment: Promoting community-based initiatives that foster support networks, cultural pride, and opportunities for collective healing and advocacy.
c. Education and Awareness: Increasing public awareness about the historical and ongoing impacts of slavery, including the recognition of PTSS as a valid and significant psychological condition.
d. Addressing Systemic Inequities: Advocating for policies and practices that dismantle systemic racism, promote social justice, and create equitable opportunities for affected communities.
e. Restorative Justice: Supporting efforts to acknowledge historical injustices, facilitate truth-telling, and provide reparations or redress where possible.
What are some things you can commit to do this month that promotes your mental wellness and personal social justice mission for yourself?
Understanding and addressing Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome is crucial for promoting the mental health and well-being of individuals and communities affected by the legacy of slavery. By acknowledging the long-lasting impacts of historical trauma, providing culturally sensitive support, and advocating for systemic change, we can work towards healing, resilience, and social justice.