By Daseta Gray
Many enslaved African infants and toddlers were forcibly separated from their mothers for years without the opportunity to develop an ego which prevented them from developing a healthy relationship with internal objects. Winnicott (1963) reminds us that a mother can fail the id but should not fail the ego.The mother’s ego usually supports the integration of the baby’s ego and helps with organizing it.This process will help the baby to assert her individualism.Winnicott asserts that this can be simple when it goes well when there is a relationship and the mother and the baby are at one.(Winnicott 1987)
Diana R.Berry (.p25. 2017) reminds us that many infants were separated from their mothers as young as 9 days old. Here she retells a story from an eye witness:
Born around 1800, Gilbert Dickey witnessed mother and child separations first hand. He saw one woman who was “chained and hand-cuff in the gangs, leaving only her 9 days old baby that was given to a white woman: the child raised by hand, and when a woman nearly grown she was sold .”
Many children witnessed their siblings and parents being sold. These forced separations at this tender age leave unconscious memories that become cumulative trauma since there was no opportunity to recover.
Henry Bibb stated:
“The first time I was separated from my mother, I was young and small. I knew nothing of my condition than as a slave. I was living with Mr. White, whose wife died and left him a widower with one little girl, who was said to be the legitimate owner of my mother, and all her children. This girl was also my playmate when we were children.
I was taken away from my mother, and hired out to labor for various persons, eight or ten years in succession; and all my wages were expended for the education of Harriet White, my playmate. It was then my sorrows and sufferings commenced. It was then I first commenced seeing and feeling the wretched slave, compelled to work under the lash without wages and often, without food They took African children and placed them in zoos in Europe and American “
Their entire lives are lived in trauma.
Traumatic experiences that you do not have the ability to assimilate become memories that are passed on through the engrams and linger for generations. Many enslaved Africans because of their treatment may have developed psychosomatic illnesses as a way to carry their trauma. They remain silent on the outside as they screamed on the inside.
Many descendants of former enslaved African descendants (the Americas) today are still experiencing the unconscious impact of cumulative trauma that was passed down from unconscious memory that their ancestors experienced while they were infants during enslavement. This unconscious memory is usually manifested by certain behaviors that the victims cannot explain and may only be recognized when and if the adult is in treatment with a therapist who will take the time to listen and allows the patient to bring their whole self to be present in the therapeutic space. When an African American patient enters your treatment room they are bringing unconscious memories that have been cumulative and can only be detected if their psychoanalysis is aware of the historic unconscious cumulative trauma that may be influencing behavior. Patients may not be aware that their behavior is being influenced because their enslaved ancestors were denied “mother’s protective shield” (Frued, 1920).
..Many African Americans will remain physically silent while they scream on the inside because they were programmed to be silent.
Insuring black bodies of the enslaved ensured the enslavers cash flow
founded in 1818. Enslavers insured their black bodies to guarantee that they would get paid whether or not their slave was alive or dead .Many enslavers had policies with Southern Mutual Life Insurance Company.” The enslaved was then appraised to determine the premium which was based on “year to year “ death averages. The slogan for the Southern Mutual Life Insurance Company was “an only company incorporated in the state to ensure white persons and slaves” (Diana Ramey Berry 2017).Enslavers would be in court for years after the death of their property, fighting for the insurance money not allowing the spirit of the enslaved to rest in peace, because like God the enslaver can put you in hell after death. The enslaver determined your journey from the womb to the tomb and beyond.Religion also supported the slave trade and the rulers of the day thought they were a god.
This idea of playing God along with the slave trade to the west began when Pope Nicholas V issued the bull “Dum Diversas” or the Papal Bull (June 18, 1452) in response to a request from the Portuguese monarchy. King Alfonso V has conferred the right to “attack, conquer, and subjugate Saracens, Pagans and other enemies of Christ wherever they may be found.” It gave title over all lands and possessions seized and permitted the Portuguese to take the inhabitants and consign them to perpetual slavery.
Infant mortality was high among the enslaved Africans, which may be one reason why by age 10 children were insured. Young girls would begin breeding once they begin their period. Dian Perry (2017) looked at 1,191 children’s records and observed that 173 were dead at birth. Once the mother is ensured the enslaver was guaranteed his money. In 1856 to 1863 forty-three children ages 0-10years old were insured by Southern Mutual Life Insurance Company (SMLIC). (Diana Ramey Berry .2017 .p .55)
Enslavers did as they pleased with enslaved Africans physically and the enslaved had to be silent outside while they screamed on the inside
Black Cadavers was a huge business
Many medical schools used enslaved cadavers as they pleased to give us a look into the black market of Enslaved Africans cadavers and how medical schools got the bodies by any means necessary. Students and others would also steal Black bodies from the cemeteries. She retold narratives of former enslaved Africans. One of the many stories that touched me is was about a woman named Mary with a family. Her husband was charged with a crime he was hung as his wife and children watched but the body was not given to her. The executioners buried him in a shallow grave. A few days later she took a few stones to mark the spot. I am almost sure that the body was no longer there because there were a booming market Black cadavers (Dianna Ramey Berry 2017). This wife and her children had to be silent while they screamed inside. Speaking about what happened was forbidden they had to repress those memories because she was not human just property. She and her children were not allowed to show any emotion she had to be silent physically in order to survive as she screamed on the inside. This paper was initiated by a question from a colleague. The question was “Daseta why do you think my African American patient would stay silent in the midst of obvious racism ?.”
I now understand how this African American patient learned to be silent through unconscious socialization and mirroring. Just imagine a system that is stacked against you where barbaric white men and women are given the total authority over you by a God that they claim looks like them and who you will see you only if you get to be white as snow. They have the right to determine your journey from the womb to the grave and beyond because they are the representatives of God on earth. This sounds like the God they speak of who knows your journey before your birth. This line is still used in the Black diaspora. The enslaved begin to see white men and white women as God.
Did these white men and women believe they were performing Godly roles? In the book To Be Slave, Julius Lester (1968) reminds us that many enslavers did not allow their enslaved to go to church fearing they would run away. The master would preach to the enslaved or he would have a trusted enslaved person preach but he had to approve what the message would be.
Religion was used to silence the enslaved. Here is a sermon of a white preacher to his Virginia slaves (Julius Lester 1968. To Be A Slave p.78):
“Poor creatures! you little consider ,when you are idle and neglectful to your master’s business, when you steal ,and waste and hurt and of their substance, when you are saucy and impudent ,when you are telling them lies and deceiving them ,or when you prove stubborn and sullen and will do no work you are set about without stripes and vexation –you do not consider, I say, that what faults you are guilty of towards your master and your mistress are faults done our you in his own stead, are against God Himself, who hath set your master and mistress, and expects that you would do for then just as you would do for Him … masters and mistresses are God’s overseers and that if you are faulty then God himself will punish you for it in the next world unless you repent of it and strive to make amends by your faithfulness and diligent against for the time to come “.
As we listen to many church songs the lyrics clearly fit the theory that in order to get any reward in heaven one must be white, such as songs like” whiter than snow” that was written John Newton the English Anglican clergy who captained a number of slave ships while he served as a minister for about 20 years. He captained the slave ships Duke of Argyle (1750) and the African (1753-1758). As this minister moved his ship of human cargo across the turbulent waters of the Atlantic his cargo of Black bodies suffered in silence. I wondered if John Newton thought he was playing a Godly role by having dominion over the other.
What kind of transference was taking place between the minister and his cargo? What trauma kept playing in their heads as they lay shackled and silent on the tempestuous ocean. Many will not survive the journey because if they interrupt the imposed silence the captain would be made sure they are permanently silenced by throwing them in the brutal ocean alive or shoot them in front of the others. If only that ocean was able to interrupt its silence by speaking she would tell us about the amount of African blood that has flowed in silence as she nurtured their bodies to bones. She would lead us to the millions of cadavers that linger in silence at the different parts of the ocean floor. The ocean floor is not able to interrupt her silence, therefore, the millions of Africans will lie silent and we will hear their voices through stories penned by Godly men who gave themselves the right to a voice and took that right from their African cargo, the other.
According to Freud, the Id is the portion of the human psyche that is present at birth. The ID needs instant gratification without any regard for real concerns about the other situation. The ID is the primitive part of the human. The captain did not see himself as human but as a higher being call by his God. Maybe he saw himself as God with the ability to remove his cargo’s voices and create silence on the ocean by any means. The human traffickers functioned just by the sadistic portion of the ID. I imagine this type of torture led to a mental breakdown.
As I leaf through the pages of psychoanalytic materials it is very challenging to find words, theories or personality traits to compare or to make an analogy with John Newton the English Anglican clergy and cargo of Africans. Although there are no words to describe these Christian men of God.
The white man enforces silence with his Gun
In 1483 the Portuguese first made contact with the Kongo Kingdom they were trading partners. This was 83 years after the first Papel Bull. In 1491 RuiDa Sosa and his fleet sailed for the Congo and his objective was to convert the leaders of the Kongo to the Catholic religion as the Papal Bull (1452) commanded them to do. Many nobles in the leadership of the Kongo began to baptize and adopt English names. I am sure there was a lot of pressure.
By 1545 the Portuguese brought their guns and would forcefully take the goods from the king and also kidnapped his people. The Portuguese began fighting with the kingdom of the Congo and eventually Portuguese defeated the Congo Nation and Portugal established the colony of Angola in 1557. The guns of the invaders created silence and hence the slave raids began and lasted for centuries. From 1857 to 1914 the Congo functioned as a vassal state of the Kingdom of Portugal.
Africans who were captured were forced into holding pens and kept silent by the guns of their kidnappers. They were kept at the bottom of castles. The top portion of these castles had fine are many books about the experiences of the enslaved, however, there has not been an in-depth analysis of the psyches of brutal white men and women who for centuries operated a system of brutality while they took away the voices of their captives and enforced silence on the outside while their enslaved screamed on the inside. These Godly Christians operated with no effect because they traded black bodies as property as they dehumanized them. It is time we reverse this kind of racial bias and break the intellectual and the psychoanalytic silence and have a meaningful conversation about the unconscious cumulative trauma that is multi-generational in the African American communities.
Look for Part 2 at the end of December 2019. Read part 1 here.
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: 1) Slave sale Wikipedia. 2) African in Zoo. 3) North Carolina. 4) Mount Zion Cemetary. 5)
Become an Harlem World Insider - Sign-Up For Our Newsletter!