WHAT IS PSYCHOLOGICAL ENSLAVEMENT
When I was young, my mom told me that for some reason Black people get treated unfairly in America. As I got older, I grew to understand discrimination, prejudice, and racism firsthand. By the time I was in middle school, I knew that this oppression was rooted in slavery. But before the start of high school, I realized that there was a missing puzzle piece. There were actions I took, such as removing my hood before entering a store to appear “less suspicious”, that were not imposed on me, yet they did not come from my will. I noticed things happening in the physical world that came from oppressive thoughts in my head. I wondered why I was a slave to my own mind. Through this project, I sought to understand why Black people continue to be enslaved psychologically.
HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO BE ENSLAVED IF SLAVERY WAS ABOLISHED?
Cutting the Sugar Cane, William Clark
In 1619 were the first, the first that would one day multiply to be millions. The first enslaved Africans to drag their shackles along the sandy shoreline of what would soon be known as America. For generations, they would stay enslaved, enduring ineffable suffering and pain. From sunrise to sunset they would work. Picking cotton and cultivating rice and tobacco. Women and girls would endure sexual exploitation on breeding farms. They sought a way out of this horrid torture. But rebels would be whipped, runaways would be hanged, and some were burned alive. Slave owners saw this behavior as deprivation from their most valuable possession—their human chattel. Thus, in the year 1712, a British slave owner by the name of William Lynch arrived in Virginia. Along with him, he carried a paper that contained what he called a “full proof method for controlling your [B]lack slaves… that, if installed correctly, will control [enslaved people] for at least 300 years” (Lynch Letter 1712). His compendium of techniques to systematically control and oppress Black people mentally included methods of manipulation, and ways to impose emotional trauma, enforce division, and create distrust. Unfortunately, his works continue to plague the world today.
“As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free. Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery.”
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
THE ELEPHANT ANALOGY
Baby elephants living in captivity are tied to a tree by a rope every night. It is the nature of elephants to roam free, thus the baby elephants instinctively try to break the rope. However, being young, they are not yet strong enough to do so. After the realization that their efforts are of no use, the elephants never attempt to break the rope again. When the elephants are fully grown, they are tied by a thin rope that could easily be broken. However, because their minds have been conditioned by prior experiences, they do not make any effort to break free. The powerful elephant is subjugated by the limitations of the past. (The Baby Elephant Syndrome, Legacy) Many current forms of psychological oppression have been influenced, directly or indirectly, by the teachings of Lynch and other methods of psychological manipulation. However, because this form of oppression remains largely unrecognized and unacknowledged in the community at large, it continues to thrive. As Black people, we experience psychological oppression but oftentimes do not recognize it. Unlike other forms of oppression Black people face, we ourselves contributed to our psychological oppression. The issue is that most people do not identify or categorize psychological oppression as a problem. Instead, like the elephants who are tied up for so long, many people who are descended from slavery think that there is no way out of the invisible shackles and that is something that just needs to be dealt with.
“ALTHOUGH WE WE ARE NOT FORCED TO TAKE THESE ACTIONS, WE SOMETIMES FEEL OBLIGATED TO”
WHAT DOES PSYCHOLOGICAL OPPRESSION LOOK LIKE TODAY
Mental Slavery the Real Unbreakable Chains
The psychological oppression that Black people face today can be summed into three categories; the idea that Black people are inferior, stereotypes and prejudice, and internalized oppression. The idea that Black people are inferior is merely a mindset that many subconsciously and consciously carry. Stereotypes and prejudice are all psychological yet demeaning. Some stereotypes regarding Black people have a direct correlation to Lynch’s methods. Black people sometimes carry oppressive thoughts and mindsets. We often have assumptions about what others may assume about us. This can result in taking precautions to avoid being stereotyped or to lessen our chance of being viewed as inferior. Although we are not forced to take these actions and precautions we sometimes feel obligated to. Look at how so many Black people were rejoicing at the guilty verdict. A guilty verdict handed down to a police officer who publicly and on video for the world to see, murdered an unarmed Black man. We had to sit on pins and needles waiting for an uncertain verdict when the entire world recognized it as murder. We are conditioned to settle for being mistreated. View my full current day and solutions essay for more details and examples of what psychological enslavement looks like.
“For Now” RESPONSES
> MICRO-LEVEL SOLUTIONS
Follow these 5 Steps to challenge yourself for change on an individual level
- Acknowledge. What groups of people do you belong to?
- Think. Do you carry any assumptions, prejudices, stereotypes about others/specific groups?
- Live. Go through a week while paying close attention to all your thoughts and assumptions about people within and outside of the groups you belong to.
- Rethink and Rationalize. Think to yourself if it is rational to assume something about someone solely by their physical appearance.
- Change. Work on changing any irrational prejudice/assumptions by educating yourself and moving them from your subconscious to your consciousness.
For those who are directly affected…
I suggest going to therapy or finding an outlet to express emotions. Additionally, try to detach from any oppressive mentality and rewrite your brain to think cautiously and optimistically.
Check out the following people, organizations, and books
The Association of Black Psychologists
The Association of Black Psychologists centers on overcoming the psychological idea of Black inferiority and the emotional legacies of enslavement and racism. They have been working since 2009 to build a worldwide movement for the emotional emancipation, healing, wellness, and empowerment of Black people.
Dr. Joy Angela DeGruy
Dr. Joy Angela DeGruy is a nationally and internationally renowned researcher and educator. She conducts workshops and training in the areas of intergenerational/historical trauma, mental health, social justice, and improvement strategies.
Alvin Morrow, the author of “Breaking the Curse of Willie Lynch,” has formed a serum to undo the curse of Willie Lynch. Through his book, Morrow instructs the reader on how to reverse oppressive mindsets and teaches people how to come together to break the cycle of unjust history.
(Click the book to view)
Resmaa Menakem, a psychotherapist who works on teaching people how to heal multi-generation trauma, is the author of “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies.” His overarching argument is that everyone with trauma in their past has to work to heal on the individual level so that, as a society, we can heal.
(Click the book to view)
> MACRO-LEVEL SOLUTIONS
“It takes more than legislation to reverse a 200-year-old mindset of inferiority that plagues many in the [B]lack community” (Tony Brown).
To address this problem on a macro level millions of people need to be educated on a large scale. This could mean integrating lessons and self-awareness practices in school curriculum when learning about the aftermath of slavery. This message can also be broadly communicating through media interviews, blogs, and social media. Just as the media perpetuates stereotypes and racist ideas, it can also be used to condemn them.
While segregation, poverty, redlining, outright discrimination, and racism are acknowledged as lingering effects of slavery, people are blinded by the most degrading effect: psychological oppression. People need to become aware of this issue and work for change because Lynch’s curse continues to attack Black people today. Black people continue to be enslaved by the psychological effects of slavery.