Reflections from Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary, author of Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing

For over two decades I have worked in the field of social work and psychology and a significant amount of that time was spent providing direct service to people of African descent. This led me to an investigation into the varying causes of some of the adverse, multi-generational conditions that African Americans experience, and thus to the destructive and catastrophic events associated with 246 years of American chattel slavery, and the oppressive policies which followed.

Tackling this legacy will require more than a superficial dialogue, acknowledgement or apology, it demands no less than a complete dismantling of entrenched racist institutions, as well as in-depth healing processes.

In viewing the film, black people will experience a wide variety of emotions. We are diverse and at all different places in our journeys. Some will receive the film as a deep apology and a source of hope. It may also awaken unresolved issues of grief, anger and fear. Facilitators should be prepared for this and exercise care and caution in engaging individuals or groups of black people in discussions together with white viewers about the film.

It is of particular importance to note that some of the responses of the white family members in the film are likely to provoke strong feelings from black viewers. This could be further exacerbated by responses and comments by white viewers in the room. Facilitators should be prepared to process any frustration or resentment which might lead to a virtual ‘re-injury’ for the black participants.

At the same time, for some black viewers, the film can serve as an invitation to do our own work. Part of the legacy of slavery is that we can be self-destructive towards ourselves. How does internalized oppression operate? When is anger productive and when does it eat away at us? What is the role of forgiveness?

With proper preparation and facilitation this film can be used to begin an honest national dialogue about race, white privilege, historical trauma and justice; what reconciliation might look like between white Americans and black Americans; how to repair the damage and ultimately, how we can restore the trust and forgiveness which will enable us to move on collectively.


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