Thursday, January 30, 2014


Impossible not to understand the Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome


This book is essential to understand a recurrent and persistent ideology among African Americans till today: their exclusively racial way of thinking. We are going to examine the vastly positive points first and that will lead us to the critical approach we have to develop in front of assumptions that distort the hypotheses and conclusions.

But first of all let me regret the fact the author assumes we know the dates of all the characters and events he speaks of, from Prince Henry the Navigator to all African leaders and emperors or kings. The book is extremely deficient on dates and that leads him into asserting absurdities. For instance about Henry VIII, page 31, “the Queen [name not mentioned: Anne Boleyn] whose head he cut off [two of his six wives were beheaded] was the only one that gave him a child that survived.” Three surviving children of Henry VIII actually reigned after their father: Edward VI the son of Jane Seymour (natural death), Mary I the daughter of Catherine of Aragon (divorced) and then wife of Philip II of Spain, and Elizabeth I the daughter of Anne Boleyn (beheaded for treason, Henry VIII refusing witchcraft as a motive). In the same way page 33 he places the decline of the Roman Empire in the 7th century and page 58 in the 8th century. Both dates are wrong. The Western Roman Empire ended in 476, whereas the Eastern Byzantine Empire ended in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople which had become the capital of the whole empire in 330 after its partition in 293 finally achieved only in 395.

These are details but yet they are slightly irritating. We expect dates to be given and to be true. For a last instance, when he says page 26 “The main thing Prince Henry [dates not given: 1394-1460] did was to introduce Europe to maritime information. . . coming out of China (then the leading maritime nation of the world). . .” he is wrong because the great Chinese Admiral Zheng He was the last Chinese admiral and he died in 1433. Then China closed herself up and decided to ban any sea-travel and sea-commerce. He is all the wronger since he knows that the Portuguese only started moving towards the west coast of Africa either in 1434 (page 59) or in 1438 (page 97) bringing back the first slaves in 1442 (page 97). When the Portuguese started moving towards West Africa the Chinese were no longer the great navigators he asserts them to be. The Chinese fleet had been burnt and sunk by the Chinese themselves on the order from the Confucians who took over after Zheng He’s death. That’s probably why Vasco da Gama found it so easy to reach India in 1498 (page 54).


The data given by the author is both inescapable and too limited. His merit is all the greater because he did not have in 1993-1998 the data we have today. He speaks of 20 million Africans enslaved and 80 million Africans dying because of this slave trade: he specifies page 48 that these victims, collateral or not, died because of “slave raids, exposure, disease, grief and suicide,” without speaking of what he says in other places: the high proportion of casualties on the ships of this Middle Passage due to overcrowding, lack of exercise, bad food and water, lack of ventilation and hygiene of any sort, various diseases, and he insists on the debate between two theories: pack too many slaves in the ships and a high proportion of them die, or pack a reasonable number of slaves and only a small proportion of them die. He does not push his argument into proving the fundament of it: the profit on such a trip is in the state and number of the slaves that can be sold at arrival. If you pack three hundred slaves and 50% die you end up with 150 slaves that you can clean up, feed and rest some in a slave fort or base (a prison in other words) for them to look good when sold. If you only pack a hundred and fifty slaves and even only 10% die, you still end up with only 135 slaves in slightly better condition. It is not that obvious which solution is more profitable. But the author does not consider the detail of the debate that he mentions twice.

He considers Christopher Columbus who “as man and boy. . . sailed up and down the Guinea Coast for twenty-three years” as he writes in his own diary, had practiced the early slave trade with the Portuguese who brought the first slaves back to Portugal in 1442, who built the biggest slave trade fort in Elmina, Elmina Castle, in 1482. The author considers Christopher Columbus was motivated by gold and slaves from the very start and he quotes his diary again: (page 66) “yesterday a canoe came along side the ship, with six youths in it. Five came on board and I ordered them to be detained. They are now here. I afterwards sent to a house on the western side of the river, and seized seven women, old and young, and three children. I did this because the men would behave better in Spain if they had women of their own land, than without them.” Or again (page 30) “I wonder why they’re bringing such small amounts of gold? I wonder where the mines are? They will be easier to conquer than I thought they would be. . . From this area I can send you as many slaves as you can accommodate.” True enough, he is speaking of the Native Americans he found on the islands, but the objective is clear: gold and slaves.

The author then can easily quote Father de Las Casas who wrote in a book of his that (page 68) “from 12 to 25 million Indigenous Americans were killed on the islands in the Caribbean.” Later on “Father de Las Casas said that it was wrong to enslave the African as well as the Indian. That was 35 years later. The Indians were dead, and some of the Africans were dead.” (page 98) Or in the words of David R. Stiddem in 1990, page 68, “In a short 40 years, the entire race of people in Haiti, a half million native Americans, were wiped off the face of the earth by Columbus and the Spaniards that followed him.”


You cannot question such facts. And the author attaches them entirely to the Catholic Church. Page 65 he gives basic historical data about the responsibility of the Catholic Church. “. . . a papal bull of 1455 authorizing her [Portugal] to reduce to servitude all infidel peoples. . . The Pope issued in 1493 a series of papal bulls which established a line of demarcation between the colonial possessions of the two states: the east went to Portugal and the West to Spain. . . the treaty of Tordesillas [date not given: 1494] . . . rectified the papal judgment to permit Portuguese ownership of Brazil.” The author is very thorough on this issue. He quotes Dr ben-Jochannan: “Religion is the deification of a people’s culture” and “By extension I [the author] have also added religion is the deification of a people’s politics and power intent.” (page 18-19) Without entering a long discussion of such an assertion the author takes a strong anti-clerical stance against slavery. He even goes slightly further only once: “They [Europeans] did all of this [colonized the whole world] in the name of a God that they said was merciful and kind. All of them, including the Arabs, used western-oriented religions. . . which made their God ungodly.” (page 22) Note he uses the term “Arabs” to mean Muslims which is slightly biased. In fact page 43 he is slightly clearer when he brings together “the Arabs, Berbers and Tuaregs” as enemies against Timbuktu and the Mali Empire. But he does not specify that Timbuktu and the Mali Empire were Islamic in religion at the time which makes the raiding of Timbuktu by the Tuaregs in 1433 and 1591-1593 slightly more complex.

You may understand now his religious argument is slightly weak, all the weaker when we know the English started their first colony in Virginia in 1607-08 and brought the first African slaves, provided to them by Dutch slave dealers in 1619, and that the English did not in any way depend on the Pope and the Catholic Church they had rejected a long time before, both on the Anglican side and on the Puritan side. We’ll see in a minute that the English were by far worse than any other Catholic colonists as for slavery.

If we go back to the systematic massacre (war, torture, plain violence, diseases, alcohol, and other causes) of the Indians and today we consider for example that by the end of the 16th century 95% of the native population of Mexico (what the Spaniards called New Spain) had been wiped out (which is at least as severe as a holocaust as the Afrikan Holocaust, though this time the Spaniards in Mexico or the Islands were more drastic than any other national colonizing power, even the English as for that who did a pretty good job at submitting to genocide American Natives), then we can wonder how the plantations they started in a way or another could work. They needed some slave labor and that is the logic that will make the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Dutch, the English and the French set up the slave trade, the Middle Passage. It is purely economic and the religion in that business is like the red nose of a clown or a reindeer: it makes the clown for sure but it is not quite enough.

John Henrik Clarke has it right: the only option was African slaves and the Middle Passage slave trade could not really be started (it started quite some time before) but multiplied into industrial size. And that’s where we find the second great aspect of the book. The author saw that there were two different slaveries in the Americas.



Page 83-84-85 first and then again page 101-103 he describes the slavery instated in South America, the West Indies and New Orleans or Louisiana where the slaves were bought by the shipload or half the shipload and these groups were kept together, they could keep their drum playing or whatever music they liked, their African ornamentation, their African religions, their common languages and their basic culture. That was then in the Spanish zone at first and the French zone later. The author would have been inspired if he had scrutinized the religious practices under the authority of the Spanish Catholic Church or the French Catholic Church: the Christian sacraments were encouraged (and started hardly ten years after the French settled in Louisiana): the christening of children and of parents, proper marriages and family ties, proper attendance of church services and proper burying practices, with special Christian cemeteries for the slaves. The symbol of this Christian treatment is the Code Noir on the French side and this Code insists on the right for slaves to benefit from manumission: either they can buy themselves out of slavery, or be bought out of slavery by a free person, or granted their freedom by their masters or the wills of their masters. This gave rise to a three-tiered society in which a middle social group developed comprising poor whites and free persons of color, which will explain why Louisiana only remained on the Confederate side during the American Civil War for one year before moving back to the Union side. The great difference is that in all these zones where the Catholic Church was dominant the one-drop-of-blood theory never worked.

So what about the non-Catholic English and then US side? They dispatched the slaves one by one and separated the families, children and parents systematically. They tried to destroy every single sign or symbol or element of African culture. They were cruel, to the point of treating African women as female child makers that any white man could take as he pleased and make pregnant and the child will be a slave and will be sold as soon as possible, that is to say when under ten for sure. The author says they outlawed drums, music, languages, religions, and they broke the loyalty system based on the family unit in Africa. He did not mention the practice of systematic violence under the instigation of Willie Lynch. He remained too abstract, but once again that had nothing to do with the Catholic Church. He says that the slave could only enjoy “mental recall.” (page 101) That is absolutely right but he does not exploit it.


So page 52 he can say: “The tragic and distinguishing feature of the slave trade that was introduced by the Europeans was that it totally dehumanized the slave.” But this is ambiguous because we do not know if it is a dehumanization that takes place in the minds of the slaves themselves. But page 77 he is clear about what he means: “To set the process [of slavery and deportation] the African was totally dehumanized in the minds of the Europeans.” He means that the slave, in the minds of the Europeans, was no longer a human being but chattel as is said in many treatises today, just above pigs and cows, and just under horses, in other words equal to mules. But that is by far too short on the African side. The attempt was to dehumanize the slaves in their own minds by the Willie Lynch method so that the children were absolutely traumatized by the pulling apart of one black male – after long and horrible tortures and amputations of body parts – by four horses tied up to his arms and legs, and so that the mothers would be traumatized too into teaching the children how to become slaves that accept being whipped everyday with total resignation. But at the same time he does not see how even the black man who is used as the guinea pig for that lesson remains a man in his mind and retains in him and in his mind a lot of his original culture: the physical resilience, the rhythmic dimension, and even the polyrhythmic dimension, the humming and singing ability which means the music of his heritage and many other elements too.

And that is what has become today crucial. The trauma has been so deep and so long among African Americans who suffered three centuries of extreme slavery and then one more century of segregation and systematic lynching that the minds are forever marked by a post traumatic slavery syndrome (PTSS) that can only be alleviated if each individual, within a collective process, researches and remembers as far as he can remember, definitely up to slavery times and even as far as possible in that slavery heritage and history; if he can reconcile himself with these ancestors and see how they resisted and how they existed in  spite of the dehumanization; then reconcile with society as a whole but to reconcile you need to be two at least and there the whites have to do the same effort and then recommit themselves to human and humane values that have nothing to do with race because race is only an accident in the history of humanity and racism has not been really proved as a social attitude beyond 500 years ago or so. Even in the darkest illustrations of the Devil in the Middle Ages the Dark Lord, the Black Lord, who is also Lucifer, the Lord of Light, is never identified to a black man, to an African. It is only the colonial era and the Middle Passage slavery era that transferred dark and black like the devil to black like an African.


But we come there to the most superficial element of the book, an element that is repeated over and over again. The Middle Ages are the Dark Ages only in the minds of the people who have no historical knowledge.

The Religious reform of the 9th century, the Agricultural reform in the 10th century (with the invention of the horse collar and the return to the Celtic iron plough), then the proto-industrial revolution with the development of water mills to provide society with mechanical energy to improve all kinds of activities, agricultural work, food, crafts and the pioneering activities that will produce the real industrial revolution five centuries later, in the 12th century, all that is the Middle ages and was only possible by the introduction of feudalism that unified the property of the land and the relation of land workers and the land itself. And it introduced 52 Sundays free of work, three major religious festivities (the three weeks of nativity, Passion and Assumption) also free of work, plus some smaller religious celebrations, the equivalent of 75 days free of any type of work: we understand why they needed the water mills (brought out of old Roman archives by the Benedictines). It was so successful that at the end of the 13th century it produced a galloping demography that could not be coped with by the economy and then the rest was the phenomenal Black Death arriving in Europe from the east around 1350 and reducing the European population by at least one third which means killing at least 50% of the population if its growth had not been stopped. He does not understand that Oxford University was opened in 1096, Cambridge University in 1209, Paris University in 1200 and Montpellier University in 1289. When he says that in the 15th century there were only two universities in the world; Salamanca and Timbuktu (page 96), he is slightly extreme.


The 15th century is a time a tremendous progress because of the population that has gone down and must be restored; because of the education of new generations that is urgent; because inventions are piling up like printing, be they real inventions or techniques brought back from the east after the Crusades or from China by Marco Polo.

It is also true that tremendous long war conflicts come to an end and some new conflicts are going to develop after the Reformation and the best way to keep western society rather peaceful is to shift the rowdy and the violent onto some project that could be economically viable, like the Crusades were for the military class that was kept unused in Europe because of the Peace of God Movement launched at the end of the 10th century in Aurillac, France, by French prelates and the Catholic Church.

That’s why so many colonists were either indentured people or semi-indentured people. You can’t expect from such people manipulated by the greediest corporations or guilds or companies you can imagine to be much ethical. The Virginia Company had a ten year charter with the King of England and in ten years it had to be profitable or the charter would not be renewed. So the Indians were exploited to the utmost, Pocahontas, a priestess and princess, was abducted more or less forced to convert, be christened, marry John Rolfe and provide her husband with the land given by her “father” who was probably not her real father, and the knowledge of how to grow and cure tobacco that only priests and priestesses knew how to do (the seeds were stolen from Barbados by John Rolfe) and in two years it was successful and in 1616 John Rolfe could present to the King and Queen of England the Virginia tobacco we know and then the first African slaves were introduced in 1619, provided by a Dutch slave dealer, to work on the plantations. The Indians of course refused to work in such conditions and I am afraid that the colonists would have refused for them to work at all if what John Smith wrote about them is the true state of mind of these colonists. The colonists could only get something if both sides were able to detain two or three children hostages for a couple of years, less or more, as the proof of their trust and honesty.


The book is in total line with Marcus Garvey’s panafricanism, though he is never named or mentioned.

Race is the only basic concept that is the fundamental foundation of this book. Race is the African race and it is numbered in the Americas, in Asia, and in Africa. The African race is the only race in the world that possesses a whole continent just for themselves. We saw that the Muslims, the Arabs, the Berbers, the Tuaregs are not exactly loved and yet the whole Semitic northern and Saharan Africa is considered as part of the Black race, forgetting that most Blacks speak languages that are NOT Semitic.

He considers this race is also a nation and he speaks of the “national responsibility” of the African race, which means that the continent of Africa should be the nation of all Africans. It is obviously unrealistic with the Semitic people in the north and the whites in South Africa.

He even goes one step further.

“Upon the onset of the evening, the women would be assembled in the wourtyard so that the captains could pick out the one they wanted to violate [my emphasis] that night, and these Africans had not even left Africa yet [we are still in Goree, the French slave fort used as the starting point of the Middle Passage for the French]. We see the beginning of a process which we have not dealt with as a people: bastardization when they not only bastardized the body, they bastardized the mind [my emphasis].” (Page 99)

And we can go back to the beginning.

“The greatest achievement of the Europeans was the conquest of the mind of their victims through a series of myths that could bear re-examining in order to understand the deeper meaning of the Christopher Columbus Era and its reverberations for today.
1- The myth of people waiting in darkness for another people to bring them the light. . .
2- The myth of a people without a legitimate God. . .
3- The myth of the primitive and the aborigine. . .
4- The myth of the invader and conqueror as civilizer. . .“ (page 34-35)

Those sure are myths but today we have to consider the triple motto developed in Northern America, primarily by the Catholic Church of the USA, “Remember, Reconcile, Recommit,” is a lot more pregnant and effective to achieve progress for everyone than “not to forgive and not to forget.”


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?