Post-traumatic slavery syndrome

By Erin Aubry-Kaplan


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Letters to the Editor
October 30, 2000 7:53AM (UTC)

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In reading Erin Aubry-Kaplan's review of "Lay My Burden Down," one does not encounter the crucial fact that whereas the black suicide rate has tragically increased appreciably, it is still below the white suicide rate (see the Center for Disease Control's statistics. Of course this follows Poussaint and Alexander's logic since Europeans were emancipated from serfdom much longer ago than American blacks were from slavery, and post-traumatic slavery syndrome is an effect that apparently increases with distance from its stimulus.

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Furthermore, the way the review chastises whites for not noting the epidemic of black suicide would be comparable to berating blacks for ignoring white homicide or diabetes (two causes of death where blacks suffer more greatly than whites).

None of this is to suggest that black suicide does not necessarily involve different mechanisms (such as racism) than white suicide, or that it is not a problem because of a relative immunity, I am simply saying one should not misleadingly imply a disparate impact.

-- Gabriel Rossman
Department of Sociology, Princeton University

The concept of post-slavery traumatic condition is ludicrous. It has been over 135 years or more than six generations since slavery ended. If the black community is suffering from increased mental illness, it must be as a consequence of current social stresses in the community.

One of the biggest problems facing successful young black men is the conflict between the characteristics that are necessary for success, education and hard work, and the traditional sense of being cool. Young black men who work too hard are accused of trying to be too "white" rather than being complimented on their ambition. The black role models that are promoted in the media are rap stars and basketball players rather than black lawyers and computer programmers.

-- Martin Kannengieser

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Erin Aubry-Kaplan calls Tiger Woods "racially repressed." How unfortunate for a writer to think in such gross judgmental terms. Woods has answered questions about his racial background in interviews, and is clearly comfortable with who he is: a racially mixed American. Like many racially mixed people, myself included, he isn't burdened by other people's needs for him to identify strongly or exclusively with his father's or his mother's race. Some of us are bored with others' insistence that we fit ourselves into some neat little box. Excuse us if we don't want to identify with someone else's idea of a "nation." That's not denial or repression, that's personal freedom. It's Aubry-Kaplan's thinking that is repressed.

-- Gina Woolfolk

I've read this type of speculation on the reason blacks are overrepresented in the ranks of the poor, the imprisoned and the powerless. It's not racism, it's culture. Divergent groups of people have succeeded in the U.S. for hundreds of years because they wanted to. Witness the Japanese after WWII, the Vietnamese, the West Indians (blacks), East Indians (dark) -- the attitudes of average Americans were as virulent toward these groups as toward blacks. But these people had the attitude that they needed to succeed for the sake of the generations that followed. They suffered and planned and it worked. It'll work for any group, it'll work for blacks too. What I am offering is a positive, hopeful message with the locus of control and choice in the group.

By the way, I am a black female who has worked hard to reach success and I can tell you it's in the attitude/culture. Anyone can get it!

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-- Paulette J. Tempro

Aubry-Kaplan is dead-on in her take on the current state of black America, but fails to mention the outpouring of this depression and despair in the works of black culture. Glossing over "blues, black power, gangsta rap" she misses the recent achievements in contemporary underground hip-hop -- acts like Blackalicious, Mos Def, Jurassic 5, De La Soul, et al. -- that are members of the disillusioned black middle class described in Kaplan's article. Indeed, the state of mind described in the article is recognized by these artists, but their music is an attempt to reinforce positive values (education, spirituality, individuality, independence) lacking in more mainstream "black entertainment." Aubry-Kaplan also missed mentioning Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," as well as other examples in black literature, which share the same themes of the confusion African-Americans feel in post-slavery America.

Perhaps it's not that there "isn't anybody asking what gives," it's that the answers are not being largely embraced.

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-- Chris Dingwall


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