Obstacles to HealingJul 01, 2021 12:01AM ● By Paul Chen
If awareness is the first step towards resolution, are African Americans well on their way to healing racial trauma?
“It’s difficult to heal when the wounds keep coming,” explains Dr. Deborah Egerton, executive, life, and spiritual coach. “We’ve never really been given an opportunity to heal without the continuation of daily indignities. This is what we face as African Americans.”
Dr. Joy DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury & Healing, says that the obstacles to healing include the denial of post-traumatic slave syndrome (PTSS) by society-at-large and by failing to understand the root cause of PTSS.
PTSS is the focus of DeGruy’s book, in which she reveals the causes and evolution of racial attitudes and the signs of slavery’s enduring effects in America. “I think that white people, the very first thing they have to look at, is their profound negligence in understanding the plight of people around them,” says DeGruy. “White people have to begin to deal with their sense of superiority, often inherent feelings of superiority that they don’t even realize they have. They have to come to grips with the fact that there is a preponderance of evidence to suggest racism is alive and well, institutional and otherwise.”
Egerton, who is also a certified Enneagram practitioner, says that even the notion of healing runs in opposition to what African American culture teaches its people. “From the time we are born, we are told that we must be strong, that we must endure, that we must push through whatever is thrown at us,” says Egerton. “I think back to the words my mother used to say: ‘Don’t pray for an easy life. Pray for the strength to endure whatever life throws at you.’ That is not uncommon. That is the voice of Black America. This is the way that we are socialized. So the concept of stopping and recognizing that we are wounded and that we need to heal is counterintuitive.”
Both DeGruy and Egerton see these attitudes changing among the younger generations of African Americans. DeGruy cites the growing number of young Blacks in the scientific and healing fields as one reason Black attitudes are changing.
Egerton notes, after describing how much she and members of her generation have become experts at code-switching—the act of taking on the attitudes, behaviors, and speech of a different culture in order to be accepted—that younger Blacks are not putting up with the notion that they have to code-switch. “What we’re seeing now with the younger generation is that they’re not quite as amenable to code-switching,” she says. “The generations that came before this generation, we kind of tried to dilute the experience of who we were because it was not acceptable to take all of who we are into the world. But now, we’re looking at maybe we didn’t get that right. In reality, if you can’t take your whole self out into the world, then you’re never going to be able to self-actualize and become the best that you can be.”
“If you can’t take your whole self out into the world, then you’re never going to be able to self-actualize and become the best that you can be.”
Are the obstacles to healing too great for Blacks to actually heal? The answer from both seems to be very nearly “yes”—but not quite.
“I’m a woman of faith, so I don’t believe that there’s any such thing as obstacles being too great,” says Egerton. “Of course, it’s possible. I couldn’t get up in the morning if I didn’t believe that. Is it going to be difficult, challenging, and sometimes feel totally impossible? Yes, that’s true as well.”
DeGruy offers a more conflicted response. On the one hand, she speaks to the need for white people to do the real work of justice: “There’s a mythology a lot of white people like to believe, that they can just say ‘I’m sorry,’ pull down some statues, and go right back to how we’ve been, which is racist. The bottom line is that ‘I still get to benefit from my racism, but I did say I was sorry.”
Resolving PTSS is not just about therapy, contends DeGruy. “Part of the healing is justice,” she continues. “You can’t have one without the other. It can’t be without that justice piece, without that community piece, without that economic piece.”
And yet, DeGruy believes healing can happen even while trauma is still being inflicted. “It’s not only possible; it’s what we’ve always been doing. We did it during slavery, with people getting raped and beaten. My brother had a gun put in his mouth by a police officer. You just have to learn how to deal with it. We’ve been doing all this with no help, and the fact that people are still assaulting us.”
Paul Chen has been the publisher of Natural Awakenings Atlanta since 2017. His professional background is in strategic planning, marketing, and market research. He lives in an intentional community that he helped found over 20 years ago.
Post-traumatic slave syndrome (PTSS) is a model that helps diagnose and treat clients as it prompts one to consider the broader societal context for the individual. Read More »
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