Connected by Trauma, Community Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
When it comes to pressing public policy issues, ending the Black Diaspora and freeing America from the rusty nail of race is the butter on our roll. More than a focus, it is the primary reason for our existence. We therefore return to theses twin issues as often as possible.
Approaching these matters from a political, legal or cultural perspective we sometimes judge too harshly often taking a position of pull yourself up by your bootstrap; that both the system and the community are bereft of some essential trait or value. Some like this approach. Others do not.
But no one has all the answers, particularly us. The self-destruction that seethes within the African-American community is not solely a moral failure. And the problem is greater than biased law enforcement, hostile policies or oppressive systems, although these are important considerations. A moment of reflection about a community leader by the name of Woodrow Haskins, illustrates the point.
Mr. Haskins was an older, deeply religious man, not well-educated but full of grace and wise in the ways of the world. A gentle soul, his rough calloused hands, round back and slumped shoulders evidenced a lifetime of hard work. And as a “colored man” who lived through much of the Jim Crow era, Mr. Haskins knew “his place”.
To me and the other young guns of the Civil Rights Movement Mr. Haskins was a slow-witted Stephen Fetchit that was far too deferential to white folks. He seemed to forever fawn, bow and scrape whenever in their presence, almost as if trained. We felt the same about other “Negroes” of the community and we, the new guard, were determined not to have it.
As fate would have it, Mr. Haskins was not long for this world. His wife of 30 years had passed away a few months before I met him and like many couples joined at the hip, he could not live without her.
It was not until his passing that I learned his story. It was not until then that I realized the true measure of the man, how strong and brave he was and the power of his inner strength. Only then did I fully understand all he had endured, the lasting impact of the traumatic events in his life and impact of traumatic stress.
At the tender age of 12, Mr. Haskins witnessed the gruesome lynching of his father’s brother, Uncle William. He saw someone he loved, a man he admired dragged through the street of his small southern town and hung by the neck until dead, his desecrated corpse hanging like the Strange Fruit of which Billie Holliday sang.
Neither he nor any others spoke of the incident, burying it deep within. But this and similar experiences scarred their souls. And they dealt with their individual pain, their collective guilt by forgetting the incident, suppressing their feelings and accepting their reality as best they could.
I now know Mr. Haskins like many of his peers suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, a debilitating condition which results from exposure to some horrific event. See http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/basic/smy. Being sold naked on an auction block, no better than an animal is a traumatic event. Begging to live, being humiliated in front of one’s family, having a son sold to another plantation or standing by helplessly as a group of men sexually assault a wife or daughter are horrific ordeals.
These were the traumatic events of the past. Inner city gun violence, domestic abuse, gang warfare, homelessness, crime and the other terrors of inner city life are the horrors of now.
As much as we might wish otherwise, these indignities, past and present do not die with those who lived them. They become part of our ethnic DNA, the matrix we carry from one age to the next, connecting us by trauma, joining us ethnically, psychologically and culturally to historic ordeal. Worse, the negative consequences of both the old and the new trauma are contagious, corrosive and compound daily.
This explains the dismay of the city of Chicago, derisively called “Chiraq”. The evidence is more than circumstantial and the cost greater than significant. While yet to experience it first beheading or IUD, “Chiraq” mimics a middle-eastern war zone. In 2015 alone Chicago has experienced over 400 murders.
The disorder further explains the negative feelings about ourselves and others, our inability to experience positive emotions, our emotional numbness and lack of interest in once enjoyed activities, our hopelessness about the future, memory problems and our difficulties maintaining close relationships. See http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/basic/smy.
Fortunately, we can treat post traumatic stress disorder by way of cognitive therapy (in which suffers learn to change thoughts about the trauma that are not true or that cause stress), exposure therapy (in which suffers talk about the traumatic event over and over, in a safe place, until they have less fear), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (in which suffers focus on distractions like hand movements and sounds while talking about the traumatic event) and appropriate antidepressant medication. See http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/tc/post-traumatic-stress-disorder–treatment-overview.
In conclusion, the outrages of the present are no less damaging than the sins of the past. And while we cannot make people love one another, we can do more than arrest and prosecute, march and protest; blame and complain.
We can demand that the problems of inner city violence and black on black crime also be treated like the public health and mental health issues that they are. And we can insist that our political leaders budget resources not for prisons and weapons of domestic destruction but for public health and safety initiatives, mental and emotional health services and treatment for both individuals and communities that bear the burden of post traumatic stress disorder.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum