In 1980, when Bob Marley sang, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds,” he was referring to a speech given by President General Marcus Garvey in Nova Scotia (1937). So, what does it mean? Can a person truly be enslaved mentally?
One example of clinical work in this field is that of Dr. Joy DeGruy. She has worked diligently to research and document the condition known as Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome in 2005. So, it seems that yes, a person can be mentally enslaved. What does it look like?
Research studies have found four typical situations for psychological slavery to occur,:
◦ Perception of a threat, physical or psychological, and the conviction that misfortune can really occur; ◦ Appreciation of small acts of kindness by the abuser towards the victim; ◦ Isolation from others; ◦ Conviction that one is unable to escape the situation.
(Dr. Ana Nogales Psychology Today 2014)
How is this relevant to our situation as a Black Community here in Buffalo?
At a time when we have clear violations and misuse of power, not just locally but nationally. At a time when transparency is a bad word. At a time when we see all of these atrocities occurring to our people, we must examine why. There can be none in the Black Buffalo community that does not see the increased police contact, redlining, toxic soil, miseducation, maltreatment in hospitals, vanishing block clubs and community centers. The most obvious infraction of them all,is gentrification. Just like the enslaved African or the Stockholm hostage, we are blatantly aware of the traumas that we are experiencing, yet tragically afraid to do something about it.
Bro. David Walker, in 1829 tried to liberate the bodies of men. Walker appealed to the enslaved, “Let no man of us budge one step…we have enriched [America] with our blood and tears…They must look sharp or this very thing will bring swift destruction upon them.” William Lloyd Garrison even agreed saying, “Every sentence they write, every word they speak, every resistance they make……is a call upon their slaves to destroy them.”
In Redemption Song, Bob Marley also is referencing having to fulfill “The Book.” Many do not realize the book he is referring to is the Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. The very theme of redemption in the song is that of African redemption. This is the core teaching of the UNIA and Garveyism. The first reference to the term African Redemption can be attributed to Benjamin Lundy at a Negro Convention in 1833. “The ‘dark age’ of African oppression is drawing to its close; and the happy ‘millennium’ of African redemption is near at hand!”
Harriet Tubman, the most infamous liberator of the bodies of our people, recounts in her biography, a time before she escaped in 1849. She prayed that the oppressor change his mind “I prayed all night long for my master till the first of March.” When her prayers did not work she changed it to: “Oh Lord, if you ain’t never going to change that man’s heart, kill him, Lord, and take him out of the way.” Tubman stated in 1889: “I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other;”
Liberty or Death is a theme echoed by Henry Highland Garnet, while presenting his resolution to the 1843 Negro Convention held here in Buffalo N.Y. This resolution was shot down in favor of a more common tactic known as moral suasion, an appeal to the morality of the abuser. Which brings back to psychological enslavement. Not only does this show how we have distorted what liberty means to us, it shows that we have distorted it due to fear of what it would take to attain it.
True, we cannot blame the victim for being victimized, nor for suffering from or showing signs of trauma. We have to set up a system to help deal with these issues head on, without avoiding hurtful truths. Those of us who see this know the solution is unity. A support network designed for us by us.
Looking at Dr. Nogales research, we already knew there are repercussions for speaking out, that will be there anyway. Second, small acts of kindness from what she calls ‘the abusers’, need to be scrutinized. Third, notice in saying, “the isolation from others”, effectively means supporting individualism and rejecting our own unification.
Lastly, the conviction that one is unable to escape the situation. This is totally unacceptable by our great ancestor’s standards. A traumatic bonding has happened somewhere along the line, keeping us psychologically enslaved. We must listen to our ancestors’ lessons. PG Garvey said, “In order to liberate the bodies of men, you must first liberate the minds of men.”