By Daseta Gray
At its best Psychoanalysis is about courage, the courage to explore uncomfortable terrain. The analyst and the analysand embark on a journey together. The analyst holds the time and space so it feels safe, thereby holding the analysand. But even under the most ideal circumstances, if there is no courage, there is no progress. Courage is necessary to get acquainted with the parts of ourselves that are less desirable, then integrate those pieces so they ultimately have less power on us in an unconscious way.
As a field, Psychoanalysis has recently begun exploring the uncomfortable terrain of Racism. There has been great courage in the field to sit with this uncomfortable terrain. I have witnessed great waves of feelings in others as the field grapples with this. I have seen joy, anger, peace, and tumult. I have witnessed dissociation and dysregulation to a degree only matched by some of the most strugglings of patients with regard to this exploration. I have witnessed enactments between colleagues and others and sometimes myself which can’t be boiled down to what I call “everyday enactments” but which somehow seem to reflect more. These enactments often go unacknowledged by one or both parties.
However, these intense feelings and interactions do not seem to deter us. The next day we show up for more because as analysts we live to figure it out. Undergirding that desire is a whole lot of bravery. Bravery, first, because these are not issues that are easily discussed in our culture and last because for so long we as a body have rigidly promoted that these “social” issues are not relevant to Psychoanalysis. To have the courage to shift away from that rigidity takes courage.
In April of 2019, Division 39 of the American Psychological Association had a series of talks addressing race as it pertains to Psychoanalysis. The following paper was one of several presented at their Spring Meeting. It explores some of the darkest areas of the American collective psyche and the results of that darkness which we meet every day with our patients now whether they are discussed or not and actually whether they are of African descent or not. We have all been influenced in one way or another by this history.
I feel very proud to be an analyst in 2019. We have not gotten close to mastering the terrain of racism, but we show up and we try and it is a very courageous thing to do.
Kim Arrington, Psy. D.
Harlem Family Institute
How Enslavers Silenced Black Bodies Of The Enslaved Physically: As The Enslaved Yelled On The Inside
Silence under white dominance is a narrative that has become a part of the social construct of Black people of the Americas for centuries. Beginning in the slave castles on the coast of West Africa following their journey as enslaved Africans to the “New World,” a score of silence was placed over a new story laced with pain. In this conversation, I ask why people of African descent In the Americas might remain silent, in instances of day
Today traumas and events? How have Black people have been Historically forced into silence?
This article explores the traumatic history of Black populations in the Americas, and how this history translates into the way the descendants of the enslaved interact with the modern world as racialized subjects and inheritors of racial trauma. Engaging in this work as a psychoanalyst, this conversation aims to encourage those in the field to approach the patient as a whole person, with a historical background, informing the way we engage in clinical sessions with descendants of former enslaved Africans who are your patients taking psychoanalysis to new heights.
- Discuss and assess the need of their African American patients with a historical lens
- Mental health professionals will be able to design a treatment plan based on the knowledge of the historical trauma of their African American patients
- Discuss ways that historic experiences have forced many African Americans to remain silent when racial trauma is impacting their quality of life today
- Participants will be able to analyze how generational trauma has negatively impacted and continues to affect the African American populations several generations after the enslavement of their ancestors
Our conversation will address the historic and societal racial trauma that has forced African many Americans to be silent on the outside while screaming on the inside.
We will share some stories of formerenslaved Africansand the great suffering that many were forced to live through. They had silence on the outside while they scream on the inside. Our conversation will shed light upon many ways the enslaved people were treated; as property and silenced in many ways in it we expand upon the emotional silencing that resulted in poor emotional attachment in many African American families
We will also show some of the physical tools that were used to enforce silence.
Research tells us that the first five years of life are most critical for brain development, and we will use this understanding of memory and the brain to contextualize the historical effects of slavery; and how those unconscious memories affect many of the decedents of former enslaved Africans today. Attendees will leave with a greater approach to understanding their African American patients how unconscious memories may affect their quality of life today.
In a 2016 published case, it was reported that an African American patient went in for a session with her European psychoanalyst. During the session, she shared an incident that happened to her. Dr. Sutherland the therapist listened and told Monica that the incident was an act of racism. ”My client was oblivious to it she kept saying no it is not.” Dr. Sutherland was puzzled that her analysand would allow this incident to go by in silence.
Her therapist Dr. Sutherland went to her own analyst, Dr. Johnson, who is African American and discussed the incident.
Dr. Johnson (Dr. Southerland’s therapist) tried to explain that many African Americans have programmed into silence a concept that was difficult for the European therapist, who had a voice as a child growing up, to understand. A few days later I heard the same conversation about how many African Americans will let discrimination go by with silence. I asked a few African Americans why do they think this happens; words like fear, survival, internalized racism, forced brainwashing, dehumanizing, among others rolled off their tongues.
In this paper, I will explore the question posed by Dr. Southerland the therapist: ”why did my patient stay silent to obvious racism?” and search for some reason that the African Americans that I spoke to gave to see why a black person may be silent on the outside but screaming on the inside.I also thought about the therapist’s inability to digest that concept and realized that I too have personally observed that silence on the outside. Visiting my childhood I recall many women saying, “child many times I want to cry but I can’t I have to put my best face on “
A friend scolded me about the horror that enslaved Africans endured during the process to silence them. As I read the stories of former enslaved Africans I was reminded that they had their own silence and a loudness inside. Staying silent was also a way to stay alive. During enslavement, people were forced to abort their feelings, their voices, and their emotions. As a result, the individual may have been forced into “regressing to an earlier and less mature level of functioning”. Many enslavers did not allow children or adults to be independent in any way because they saw them as non -human and treated them as others. Many enslavers worked to develop learned helplessness among the enslaved, and many were not able to think because they were conditioned only to take directives. Through human trafficking, they became commodities and were forced to repress their expressions of effect. Slave traffickers seemed to have been emotionless. Michael V. Adams (2014) shared with us that there are not many personal accounts of the journey from Africa,but one such journey was described by, OlaudahEquiano as follows “I was now” he said,” persuaded that I had gotten into the world of bad spirits and they were going to kill me.” On the ship, he saw a large furnace or copper and he had a fantasy that “the white men on the ship were going to kill me.” I think he had the right feeling because for 400 hundred years the bad spirits created havoc in the world for Olaudah and other captured Africans. He would be surprised that the” bad spirits” that plucked him from his family are still at work. Many enslaved Africans died along the journey to the west. All ships first went to Europe for the goods to be checked and then went to their destination.
Enslaved Africans maintain silence on the outside but screamed loud on the inside.
Every child was insured at birth by the slave owner for a number of reasons, For example, the slaves had a high infant mortality rate; many women would make a choice to kill their babies, and when a person died their master would get paid. Africans that were placed on the ship for the horrible journey were also insured. Many did not arrive alive but their kidnappers had no worries because they would still get paid. In 1783 one ship was loaded with 600 enslaved people and 70 died on the journey and just imagine how many did not make the journey but they will never get a voice. Many people went insane or committed suicide. ”The captain of one ship reported that “tis their belief that when they commit suicide they will return home to their own country and friends again “(Michael V.Adams:2014) Many suicides were happening on other ships but some captains were not pleased and designed a solution. One captain was not having that because he needed bodies to work on the plantations. The captain felt that if the Africans are determined to go back they must return without heads so he invented “expedient viz.to cut off the heads of those who died, which “was intimidating” to the captives. This practice deterred the kidnapped Africans from committing suicide because they would not be able to return without their heads. It also created fear anxiety and imposed silence on the outside while they screamed on the inside.
Research has shown optimally that caregivers usually help children to move along the developmental stages from total dependence to independence. Some owners sold the mothers apart from their babies young as 9 days old therefore that infant has experienced trauma at a tender age which will last for generations via unconscious memories/However, during enslavement this was not the case enslaved Africans were kept in an infantile state emotionally and socially. They were just given orders. They toiled from “can’t see to can’t see” to put money into the pockets of their owners, money over which they had no control themselves. They had to wait for their little food and would be given two suits of clothing for the year and one blanket.
Enslaved Africans were made to be dependent on their enslavers in several ways. They were not able to leave their plantation without the permission of their enslavers. Many enslavers would not allow their slaves to attend church off the property. When the owners hired out the enslaved money went to the owner.
The enslavers controlled them from the womb to the grave and beyond. Many enslaved Africans experienced trauma before birth.
Look for Part 2 at the end of November 2019.
Daseta Gray, M.Ed, Certified Infant/Toddler Specialist. She has been in early childhood education for over 25 years. In 2011 she started her own consulting business, Sabree Education Services assisting in establishing new child-care centers. Sabree has initiated the First 2000 Days NY Campaign (0-5years) in New York and Baby & Wee™ classes. She is the co-founder of Urban Kids Journey a radio program that discusses the first 2000 days and beyond. She and her daughter created a Parent blog, including staff development, Tea & Tots™ and community discussions. She is a candidate at the Harlem Family Institute Miss Gray.
Photo credit: Via source.