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Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome – Fact or Fiction? Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome – Fact or Fiction?
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome – Fact or Fiction?

What is wrong with being black? Is it synonymous with inferiority complex or crime? Is it a function of color or is there something in our history that makes for the behavioral pattern that we see among the black race in America? This is the core of arguments that exists today amongst proponents of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and other opposing views.


What is Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome?

In a qualitative and quantitative research spanning twelve years, Dr. Joy Degruy developed a theory that tries to explain the effect of slavery on today’s African Americans. In her exhaustive work published in the book “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome – America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing” she defines Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PSTT) as the theory that explains the reason behind the development of adaptive survival behaviors common among African Americans throughout the United States and the Diaspora.



She postulates that centuries of slavery in the United States, followed by systemic and structural racism and oppression, including lynching, Jim Crow laws, and unwarranted mass incarceration, have resulted in multigenerational maladaptive behaviors, which originated as survival strategies. The syndrome continues because children whose parents suffer from PTSS are often indoctrinated into the same behaviors, long after the behaviors have lost their contextual effectiveness.



DeGruy states that PTSS is not a disorder that can simply be treated and remedied clinically but rather also requires profound social change in individuals, as well as in institutions that continue to perpetuate inequality and injustice toward the descendants of enslaved Africans.


This condition is known to exist due to the multigenerational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from many years of slavery. Dr. Joy Degruy considers post traumatic slave disorder as a form of slavery informed by the belief that African Americans are inherently and genetically inferior to the whites. Today, the effect of this said syndrome is glaring. A close look at African Americans reveals a predictable pattern of behavior. These behaviors include:



  • Insufficient development of what Dr. Degruy terms “primary esteem,” along with a feeling of hopelessness, general destructive outlook, and depression.
  • Extreme feelings of suspicion, perceived negative motivations, violence against self amongst others.
  • Internalised racism and racist socialization resulting in; distorted self-concept, literacy deprivation, learned helplessness and antipathy or aversion to; the members of one’s identified cultural or ethnic group.


Do We Blame It All On Slavery?

The role of slavery in the evolution of the African-American society cannot be denied, but can we attribute these negative patterns solely to the effect of age-long slavery?  Prof Ibram X. Kendi an associate editor of Black Perspectives and an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Florida thinks otherwise. While he does not deny the apparent overwhelming effect of the oppression of the African American, he submits that the proponents of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome have failed to prove that these negative behavioral patterns are strictly a black problem, he continued by asking if black people behave more negatively than others?


To this end, the renowned professor submits that historically, black people had the scars of slavery but are mentally not scared to face their challenges. He points out that history boasts of black slaves who made it despite all odds. As such, the very problem with the Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome theory is in the thinking that there is something wrong with the African American.


Finally, Prof Ibram X. Kendi believes that there is a negative behavior in every race. Irrespective of perceived differences, black people have found a way to maintain their equally flawed humanity.


Where Does The Balance Lie?

Haven considered these thoughts what can we make of it? We must first acknowledge that slavery has an effect on the evolution of the African American and indeed it is okay to accept that  black  people are traumatised. However, acknowledging trauma should not make African Americans brand themselves as inferior. Although Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome is still a fresh thought that needs further studies, I believe that Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome to a large extent is a way of helping the African American cope with the harsh realities they go through daily.  For further reading and arguments, visit the following links. Your comments on the matter would be very much appreciated.










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