THE United Nations designated March 25 as International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to highlight the atrocities suffered by the 28 million Africans who were violently subjected to slavery, mainly in the United States, South America and the West Indies.
The legacy of that holocaust and its brutal violence meted out to our ancestors are indelibly etched in individual and collective memories of Jamaicans of African descent. Arguably, this experience of dehumanising violence is partly the cause of the violent behaviour of many Jamaicans.
The fact that other societies which experienced slavery have levels of violence that are less than Jamaica’s in no way invalidates the claim. Indeed, these differences refer to the attenuating impact of several other factors.
To deny or downplay the connection between the violence perpetuated during slavery and the behaviour of contemporary post-slavery individuals is to disregard the considerable sociological and historical scholarship on the social pathologies of Black people. Nobody should trivialise the discussion by misrepresenting this proposition as blaming our contemporary problems such as poverty, underdevelopment and fathers not supporting their children solely on slavery.
Dr Joy DeGruy Leary’s Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing advances the thesis that the systematic dehumanisation of African slaves was the initial trauma and generations of their descendants have borne the psychological scars. In a similar vein, Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder: Definition, Diagnosis, and Treatment by Omar Reid, Sekou Mims and Larry Higginbottom points out that the violence endured during slavery was so traumatic that it still affects behaviour of Afro-Americans in numerous subconscious ways.
The fact that an individual cannot recall the experience of slavery does not discount the fact that he or she is part of a collective reservoir of pain which Carl Jung explained by his concept of the “collective unconscious”. He explains: “In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche, there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited.”
Slavery and violence are inseparable, as Prof Orlando Patterson explains in Slavery and Social Death, “slavery, really meant: the direct and insidious violence, the namelessness and invisibility, the endless personal violation, and the chronic inalienable dishonour”. Read also about the violence done to slaves as recorded in In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica 1750-1786 edited by Prof Douglas Hall.
Prof Verene Shepherd, in Women in Caribbean History, records an enraged master who ordered a pregnant slave stripped naked, tied to a tree, flogged and left to die. Go to the Institute of Jamaica and view the branding rods, leg irons and other shackles.
Violence begets violence and the Maroons and slaves used violence to liberate themselves from slavery and to help end slavery. Jamaica, from the appearance of the Spaniards in 1492, has been a society in which the central forms of social interaction have been characterised by violence. Today it is pandemic in most forms of social relations in Jamaica.