As explained by leading clinical psychologist, Dr Joy DeGruy, post-traumatic slave syndrome runs across several generations and continues to persist more than 300 years after the initial havoc has been wrecked.
A black mother can compliment a white mother on her son’s or daughter’s performance and the mother would feel comfortable speaking about it.
“Oh, yes! He takes some extra lessons. He puts in the work. He gets it from his father’s side.”
But when the roles are reversed, things are a lot more different. When a black mother is asked about her son’s performance in school, she might shrug off the compliment, or simply reply with a bleak comment, “He’s a handful. He’s only just average,” even when it’s quite obvious he’s performing brilliantly well and way ahead of his peers.
It’s a common trait obvious among black mothers: black America, or Jamaican British, or any other mother whose generation was sold into slavery.
It might seem like not too big of a deal, but this simple diminutive reaction is at best protective. ‘How?’ You ask.
Let’s take a sprint through time to the days the blacks served their white masters on the fields. More than three hundred years ago, if a white mastery walks up to a black mother and tells her that her son is doing really well. What does she say?
“Oh, he’s not! He’s only just average. Like the rest of the boys on the field.”
This diminution is protective. She doesn’t want the white master to be too interested in her son. She doesn’t want him to even consider selling him and have him taken away from her. Her only defence is to sell him short. To water down his capabilities.
Back to the present day, she does exactly the same. But what happens to the boy on the receiving end of these comments? The boy always having to listen to his mother talk about how bad he is doing. Always having to hear, despite all his efforts, that he is not doing well enough.
He is obviously beaten. His confidence takes a wild hit. Slowly and slowly, his personality and individuality bares to the bones and regardless of how good he might be at what he does, the feeling of not being enough creeps in and lingers in his mind.
It will be a long time before he comes to understand his mother’s reactions. Long after he has been wounded by the same effect his mother probably suffered through as well- the post-traumatic slavery syndrome.