The Impact of Trauma on the African Identity

In “Independence or Dependence: Psychological Colonization in the French Caribbean” one of the topics that I discuss is a poem titled “The Slave’s Lament” by Haitian poet Massillon Coicou. The poem is interesting for me because, as I explain in that essay, the slave in this poem comes to curse his own blackness rather than curse the oppressive nature of the slave master. As I show in that essay and much of the other books that I have written, self-hatred among African people is largely a reaction to the trauma of being enslaved and being oppressed. Many of us have come to hate our blackness because trauma has made us associate our identities with the traumas that we have endured. This is why so many people of African descent in the French colonies came to view themselves as Frenchmen and Frenchwomen. Even Coicou describes Haiti as a “Black France.” Being African for us is painful so we run from it rather than embrace because we equate escaping from our identities with escaping from the pain and the trauma that we have experienced.

For the last 500 years the African identity has been one that has been intricately linked with violence and oppression. For the last 500 years we have endured being beaten, tortured, raped, lynched, burned alive, and many other forms of violence. African people are still enduring this trauma. Studies have demonstrated that racism does have an adverse psychological impact the mental health of African Americans. Unfortunately for many of us the solution is not to struggle to improve our plight and to overcome our oppression. Many of us wish to escape our blackness or escape our African identity.

During the days of slavery the ability to “pass” for white was something that mixed race people of African descent would use to advance their position in society. In Blake or The Huts of America, Martin Delany wrote about an organization known as the “Brown Fellowship Society.” This was an organization that was comprised of mixed race people who held very negative views towards darker skinned black people. In the Americas there developed what Brazilian psychologist Edna Roland referred to as a “pigmentocracy” in which “one’s hierarchical position would be determined in relation to the darkness of one’s skin.” Slavery has long since been abolished but the mentality that the pigmentocracy has created among African people still persists, as seen by men like Kanye WestGilbert Arenas, or Ronaldo Nazário. Many of us still see our identities as black people, including our dark complexions, as being something that is negative because we still associate blackness with the trauma of racial oppression. We still think that we have to “pass” for something that we are not in order to be successful.

Running away from our African identity is not and has never been the solution. We have to be honest about our experiences and confront this trauma. We also have to begin the process of collective healing, but we will not heal through engaging in denial about our experiences or denial about out identities.

This post is hosted on the Huffington Post’s Contributor platform


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