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Black Maternal Trauma - Part 2

By Uchechi Eke

Uchechi Eki

    My intention for this feature is to discuss in more detail the psychological impact that moms of Black boys and men endure when they watch, read or hear that their son, or another male figure in their family or community, has fallen victim to police brutality. (Also read Part One of this series). There is a mounting body of work dedicated to, and extensive research on, ‘Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS)’, which provides a useful context for this article.

    The revered author and highly acclaimed clinical psychologist, Dr. Joy DeGruy, describes PTSS as, “a set of behaviours, beliefs and actions associated with, or related to multi-generational trauma experienced by African-Americans as a result of slavery…PTSS posits 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 behaviours, which originated as survival strategies. The syndrome continues because children whose parents suffer from PTSS are often indoctrinated into the same behaviours, long after the behaviours have lost their contextual effectiveness.” (‘Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America's Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing’, 2005, Dr. Joy DeGruy).

    I think the relevance and impact of PTSS has never been more acute. We live in an age where ‘Black Pain Porn’ is commonplace. The term might appear extreme, but the reality is worse. The onslaught of visuals that Black mothers are subject to has become a relentless and constant part of our everyday experience.

    With the advancements in modern technology, we are witnessing an unprecedented and never-ending movie reel of terror. Mobile phones capture the indignity, brutality and murders of our boys at an alarming and exponential rate. As of the time of writing (08.10.2017), 608 people had been shot and killed by police this year. 150 or 25% of all cases were Black victims.

    Mobile phones and social and digital platforms have played a substantial role in our pain. But we also must give consideration to the impact on our psyche that news channels, the mainstream print media and Hollywood have played in our trauma. The broadcasting of state sanctioned killings on social media alert us to the horrors that occur in real time – no filters, just raw, unaltered images. These video clips compel and arrest our attention – impulsively, we react emotionally, spiritually and psychologically. Out of anger and frustration, we mobilize, demand reforms and seek justice. But then what? We are left empty still, hopeless and anxiety stricken for the safety of our boys, who merely are trying to live their lives like their White counterparts.

    During chattel slavery, mothers witnessed their children, husbands and members of their family being raped, beaten, set alight and killed. Lynchings were public events; they became fixtures in the calendar. Newspapers and posters widely promoted the execution of loved ones. Picnics and stools lined the vicinity, people waited with earnest expectation at the spectacle before them – the lynching, castration and burning of the ‘n***er who stepped out of line.’ Wives, sisters, aunts and mothers were forced to watch these heinous crimes as a form of punishment and as a deterrent. Of course, women also were lynched, leaving their children motherless; and with both parents gone, many children became orphans, left in the care of their extended family of slave owners.

    From slavery to the Reconstruction, from the Civil Rights movement to the Obama era, history has not been kind to our sons. Systematic oppression occupies all forms of strata. And with every age, new and evolved methods of brutality have been used to maintain White supremacy and White preservation.

    My question is what really is behind this agenda? Why haven’t the images of Black people being killed been censored or quelled? Why are we faced with the consumption of blackness in every form?

    From Emmett Till to MLK, from Rodney King to Michael Brown, from Tamir Rice to Darius Smith, we are bombarded with live-action footage of Black men and boys being shot and killed without recourse or reproach.

    Let’s look more closely at how our trauma is ever present, via the propaganda driven, race-baiting and one-dimensional narratives utilized for commercial gain at the Box Office. Hollywood, like nationwide media outlets, is one of our greatest aggressors. Film companies and studio executives strategically and falsely sell us ‘colorblindness’ and the importance of telling ‘our stories’, against a backdrop of racism. Their films and TV shows only serve to perpetuate and recycle ‘Black Pain Porn.’ Through the medium of television and film, racist language and acts are liberally displayed on our screens – seeping into our subconscious to normalize Black subjugation for a predominantly White audience. But we watch these films, too!

    This is why there is very little empathy or sympathy for our sons when their bodies are left at the side of a road, or outside a store, or in a car. The dominant society has seen the destruction and disposal of Black and brown bodies so many times, that they have become insensitive to our humanity. They cannot express outrage; there is no outcry. Don’t get me wrong, we have many allies within White America, from grassroots organizations to prolific and outspoken individuals who have been instrumental in our fight. And we will continue to partner with them to pursue our mission and align our advocacy efforts with theirs.

    However, there have been countless movies made about slavery, slaves, servitude and victim-hood, compared to the number of films showing us as the heroic protagonist, or films that revel in and celebrate our resistance, progress and advancement? Let’s look at a few popular examples over the past hundred years:


Slave Films

Revolt Stories

1903 ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’

1982 ‘A House Divided: Denmark Vesey’s Rebellion’

1975 ‘Mandingo’

1989 ‘Glory’

1984 ‘Solomon Northup’s Odyssey’ and 2013 ’12 Years a Slave’

1997 ‘Amistad’

2012 ‘Django Unchained’

2008 ‘Frederick Douglass and the White Negro’

1977 ‘Roots’

2013 ‘Tula’

2016 ‘Roots’

2016 ‘Birth of a Nation’


    Of the films listed above, which ones do you prefer and genuinely enjoyed watching? Which ones were as informative as they were soul-renewing? Or which ones just left a bad taste in your mouth?

   With ’12 Years a Slave’ for instance, as cinematographically brilliant as the film is, it’s hard to watch without being angered about the amount of violence perpetrated upon Black flesh and Black womanhood without simultaneously feeling that the self-worth of the modern day African-American isn’t being diminished. It’s also difficult to negate my emotions that that this kind of film inflames an omnipresent and smouldering mistrust of Whites by Blacks.

    In recent, years we have seen the tide turn slightly. We have the superb and thought-provoking documentary ‘13th’, ‘I’m Not Your Negro’, ‘The Kaleif Browder Story’, and the TV series ‘Underground’, which highlight not only the impact of racist laws, but also the spirit of our people to overcome and resist in the face of utter despair and savagery. However, we still have some way to go. The recent release of ‘Detroit’ is a step backwards for me. The film focuses on the 1967 uprisings in Detroit. Over 5 days, the city burned. One police officer was killed, and 43 citizens died. The ‘rebellion’ is tainted, and all we see are ‘rioters’ and ‘looters’. Aren’t we are tired of seeing the same images? Nothing new here. So why are such films continually being funded and produced?

    The bodies of Black boys and men still are subject to abuse, and no one is saying it’s enough. Rather, we are told to ‘get over it,’ ‘work hard,’ ‘pull ourselves up,’ ‘stop whining and complaining,’ and ‘stop being divisive.’ If you want us to forget, why continue to make films that remind us of our afflictions? Is it because it propagates the image they want us to retain, to impress upon our psyche, forever etched in our soul – that we are nothing more than captives, needing to be saved, unable to advance, regressive, feral, anti-authoritarian and inferior?

    We need to stop the profiteering of our pain by patronizing these films and shows. We need to be more decisive about that to which we expose ourselves. We need to guard our spirits and be more conscious of what we are willing to tolerate – anger without action is futile. Self-love, self-preservation and protecting our peace is paramount to our resistance.

    As bleak as it may appear, there are countless organizations that are working tirelessly to flip the script, impact policy, seek reforms, change perceptions, dismantle falsehoods and institute a new paradigm shift – one that clearly centres Black boys and men with dignity, showing their humanity, demanding respect and justice. I’m proud to be a member of MOBB United for Social Change (MUSC).

    Will you join us to protect and honor the image of our boys and start the healing process in order to repair our minds and restitute our communities? Register at now!

    This is the second installment of the log and blog series on the victims of fatal police brutality that MUSC has been tracking since it was established in the summer of 2016. Also read Black Maternal Trauma - Part 1 if you missed it.

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