Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Traumatic Effects of Slavery and Colonialism

This paper outlines ways of conceptualizing and understanding the intergenerational impact of slavery and colonialism.

In consideration of the volatile and emotive nature of this subject I shall define what I mean by black issues. I am using a working definition of black issues rather than present myself as the expert on this theme.

The term 'black' in this context is a political and sociological term applied to the most visible minority in the UK who are vulnerable to white racism.

Black people are the least represented in the field of psychotherapy and counselling and there may be several reasons for this. For example Taboos about washing dirty linen in public and sharing family behaviours and culturally specific conflicts with individuals outside of their communities of origin and their networks. Suspicion about the use of traditional therapies that may be culturally inappropriate and exclusion and misunderstanding due to institutional racism may also be another cause.Having said this, although the term black is generally used to affirm the rich African and Asian heritage of colonised peoples, it is important to be clear that not all Africans, Caribbean peoples and Asians identify as 'black'. Indeed a Caribbean artist friend alluding to 'black as a transitional phase through authentic identity development insists that you are black until you are African. In the book I have referred to black issues as pertaining to the experiences and concerns in the lives of black people of which racism has a significant influence. This outlook can therefore be used as model for therapeutic understanding of oppressive influences on other minority groups.

I would like to draw attention to the racial or cultural pre-disposition of the black or minority client in the therapeutic process. There are three main areas in this process. The first being the personal and psychological impact that derives from experiences of individual overt or covert racism from which, according to Scheurich & Young (1997) comes epistemological racism. Even if the individual does not accept they are being racist epistemological racism occurs and thus creates discourses of institutional racism and Eurocentricism.

The second area of Social and educational impact is evidenced by intergenerational oppression and trauma that can be seen in everyday attitudes. A fifteen year old teenager stands in the centre of a cultural carnival in London and states "There are Chinky's all around me" A small child points and laughs out loud at a 'little' person in a shopping centre, a seventeen year old states that he would kill himself if he were gay. An African Caribbean child hates her hair because it is not silky and straight. These snapshots of intergenerational oppression are influenced by social, cultural and educational reference points and get passed on inter-generationally. They are usually evidenced when unconscious psychological processes are exposed. Therapy creates a dynamic emotional situation that uncovers these civilisational and intergenerational modes of response to diversity and culture. Eurocentricism impacts on the modes of response to these social and educational dilemmas and can determine whether for example the oppression of racism will be challenged and the attached emotional distress supported for both individuals within the perpetrator group and victims of racism.

Racism continues to cause trauma and depression. The examination of this problem has been halted in mid flow by a discourse of post racism. Post racism is a defensive excuse to sit in a complacent matrix on laurels and not get messy in attempts to resolve the racial aspects of a transcultural process. It is often forgotten that slavery was damaging both for the perpetrators and the enslaved and both parties must be responsible for how they move on from this atrocity. Silences about the impact of slavery and colonialism within the psychotherapy profession often means that black clients may not have appropriate support for the intergenerational impact of this collective trauma.

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