By Rahim Islam
Rahim Islam is a National Speaker and Writer, Convener of Philadelphia Community of Leaders, and President/CEO of Universal Companies, a community development and education management company headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. Follow Rahim Islam on FaceBook (Rahim Islam) & Twitter (@RahimIslamUC)
I hope it’s very clear; at least so far, that I believe the impact of slavery is directly linked to the struggles of the Black man in America.
It is also my hope that, even if you don’t agree with me, these articles should invoke some real thought on what really happened to our ancestors during this very tortuous time in America, and what the legacy of slavery is.
I continue to argue that the American institution of slavery has had a greater impact on our people than we have been taught or fully appreciate.
The biggest damage done during the enslavement of our ancestors was the emasculation of the Black man, and his leadership role as a provider and protector of his family and his community.
So after emancipation, America attempted to address the wrong it had perpetuated against the Black man and the Black family through public policy (i.e. Reconstruction) and land ownership (i.e. 40 acres and a mule, sharecropping, etc.).
However none of these efforts were sustaining enough to have any real impact.
Additionally, the psychological impact of slavery was never addressed – it’s as if, once freed, these traumas and hurt would magically disappear.
How inconsiderate and consistent were the slave masters regarding this issue – remember slave owners believed our ancestors weren’t human. Animals don’t have a soul so there is no need to address their psyche.
In this part, I want to address some of the characteristics that evolved during slavery amongst our men that continue to cripple us today.
As I stated previously, the white slave masters conducted numerous studies on how to perfect the American institution of slavery and they moved from “breaking” a slave to “making” a slave.
Given the desperate state that all slaves lived under, he found that our ancestors had a great predisposition for intoxication and domestic violence.
So what did the slave master do? He encouraged family violence by pitting the man and woman against each other in the most primal ways (how does a man really feel when his wife is having sexual relations with the slave master and she tries to manage him by appearing to like it).
Over time, these tricks created enemies and competitors of the Black man and woman.
Even today, there are too many examples where the relationship is marred between the Black man and Black woman. How else do you explain that nearly 75 percent of Black families are headed by women?
Given the structural deficiencies that exist today, with the educational and economical advancement of Black women over Black men coupled with the mass media bombardment of “negative” Black men messages (i.e. he will only hurt you; I can do bad by myself; I don’t need no man, etc.), these numbers can only get worse.
These conditions of deep rooted insecurities of our Black men were further exacerbated by the use of alcohol (self-medication). Where did we get alcohol from?
The slave masters poured it into our families and allowed extreme usage at least one day a week (Sunday).
This ritual has survived today, with so many of our fathers being “functional” drunks and extremely hostile to their spouses and children when drunk. We must remember that we’re only four to five generations from slavery and many of these negative characteristics are still alive and strong.
It continues through the socialization process that we somehow replicate and even expand these pathologies generation after generation.
Today, in addition to alcoholism, our Black men have a predisposition for drug use.
Just like during slavery, none of these intoxicants are grown or manufactured in our neighborhood but they somehow find their way into our community uninterrupted. Does this remind you of anything?
I personally can attest to the violence of a drunken father. When I was growing up, there were so many neighborhood bars and taverns where the men would frequent.
This predisposition for getting drunk – where did it come from? What is really being masked during these drunken rituals? I believe its pain that our men feel when they are face-to-face with their insecurities (both normal and those abnormal).
The only memories I have of my father and mother together is my father whipping my mother with a belt while she laid on the floor crying and pleading for him to stop, and seeing my mother come home with my father from a party with a very ugly and bloody black eye.
What trauma did this cause me as a child? As a child, I had to navigate and manage the emotions of my father (a grown man) to determine how much he had drank and how “high” he was because his moods would swing from love to hate in a matter of minutes.
This wasn’t an uncommon circumstance in the Black community.
In fact, in the neighborhood I grew up in, this was very common. All of my childhood friends were at different levels of this experience and I believe it affected us all negatively.
Few of us survived this trauma, many of the boys I grew up with: died at an early age to gun violence; fell to long-term incarceration; became alcoholics and/or drug addicts; or in many cases, become exactly what their fathers were.
There are so many legacies of slavery that is being passed down through generation posing a predisposition for too many of our Black men towards intoxication and domestic violence – both have produced broken and dysfunctional homes (i.e. children being socialized to an abnormal lifestyle and/or supporting of marital separation and divorce).
This dysfunction only reinforces the alarming number of Black families that are headed by single mothers. It also fortifies the trauma experienced by our ancestors which are being passed on to our children.
If I’m to be honest with you, I’m still impacted by my childhood and if you’re to be honest too, you are as well. While intoxication and domestic violence are serious and flawed legacies of slavery, none is more damaging than how we actually raise our children, specifically the emotional and physical abuse that we have adopted.
We tell our boys that being a man means hiding his feelings, as if he shouldn’t have any.
It’s no question that the boy is conflicted emotionally but he must figure out a way to be an emotional being and to hide it from others – this is a direct characteristic from slavery.
During slavery we were constantly taught and reminded that we were without a soul and therefore without feeling – our feelings didn’t matter and if a mother was to create survival for her son, she had better train him to mask any pain or hurt.
No matter what happens he is not suppose to respond and/or react. Since our emancipation and after several generations, our boys are denied the affection and love they need to become men.
How can you love when you’ve never been loved (emotional abandonment)?
The combination of so many Black households without a father, coupled with the lack of expressed love that can only come from a father, creates an emotionally blinded boy that who will replicate this behavior when he becomes an adult.
I can’t ever remember my father telling me that he loved me if he was sober and not intoxicated. – I know that I’m not alone. I also can’t ever remember my father telling me that I was handsome in fact, just the opposite.
Studies show that our boys suffer from an acute level of emotional abandonment that creates characteristics found in deaf children. One such study is “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3” by Betty Hart and Todd Risley.
This study examines the number of words a child hears from a parent and/or adult between the ages of seven months to age three.
The research is alarming. On average, our children hear nearly five million less words annually than white children because of this slavery practice.
The study also examines the percentage of positive to negative words a child hears and our children are, in many cases, behind when they start.
Some studies show that our children, not only are not hearing enough words, the words they are hearing are nearly 60 percent more negative.
This phenomenon has created severe academic achievement gaps for our children by kindergarten (sometimes irreversible). Many of our boys suffer from a severe lack of self esteem and abandonment like symptoms causing significantly high levels of kindergarten boys being suspended, and being diagnosed with some special need designation.
In addition to the emotional abuse that our parents have perpetuated as a result of slavery, they have passed down the physical abuse under the guise of discipline (this too is the result of slavery).
Too many of our children are extremely traumatized by slavery practices of discipline (i.e. whippings and beatings).
During slavery any/all rebellion by our young boys was met with extreme brutality by the slave master.
In an effort to keep the boy alive, the mother was allowed to implement the punishment instead of the slave master.
Her punishment was also severe and brutal but she definitely would keep the boy alive (this didn’t always happen when the slave master initiated the punishment).
After years of this behavior and after our emancipation, our discipline of our children can only be categorized as inhuman and brutal – treatment befitting an animal (remember we’re not human).
I too was a victim of extreme physical abuse under the guise of discipline.
I was beaten on a regular basis with a washing machine cord leaving welts on my body that took weeks to go down. What’s even more sad, during the whippings, I was not allowed to cry even while the whelps were boiling up on my body (I’m not human).
My father whipped me out of anger and with bad intentions, probably how he was disciplined.
As a child, it was very hard to feel any love and this trauma affected me.
When I became an adult, I too victimized my first three sons with a harsh discipline until I came to the realization that physical contact of any kind is inhuman and the legacy of slavery.
In the next segment, I will fast forward to our current situation and discuss how our Black men and Black boys are being targeted, which fundamentally and structurally keep our Black men from their families and ensures that the socialization process will produce the same pathologies on their children – thus the vicious cycle continues.