Last Updated on April 19, 2007 by Paulette Brown-Hinds
In looking back over my life and then combining those observations with a quarter of a century of research, I am now able to sense certain connections between today’s struggling Black Americans and the effects of what happened to the slaves physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, financially, socially, and as a family unit. This sensing is enhanced from my having lived among Black Americans on all rungs of the social ladder; from having been the physician for thousands (including talking with, physically examining, and reviewing the thick records of each); and from having been born only 70 years from the end of slavery and then living in that thick post-slavery atmosphere. One of my present speculations pertains to Inhibited or Denied Losses, Grief (feeling terrible over the loss of something loved); Mourning (the 6 to 18 month process of resolving grief by relinquishing the loss); or Bereavement (the state accompanying the mourning process which may or may not be followed by attachments to or identification with a replacement). Some say the five stages of mourning are alarm, numbness, pining (searching), depression, and recovery. Others say the stages are denial; sorrow; detaching from the loss; adjusting to life without it; and reattaching to a replacement.
There was never a time when many slaves and ex-slaves had the opportunity to adequately mourn their losses-losses starting the moment the fishnet signifying permanent enslavement was thrown over them in Africa. Immediately, they lost all of their motherland attachments. During slavery there were circumstances and attitudes and detachments which prevented grieving and mourning. Following slavery and extending into the 20th century White terrorism was so horrendous that most Southern Blacks, because of day-to-day survival, were too busy in self-protection to grieve. Instead, their immediate reaction was shock or denial but the process stopped there. The effects of this stoppage were subtle mental affectations. A prominent affectation I saw as a boy was a “griever’s” Identification with the lost person by adopting and living out–often with over-reaction–the traits and mannerisms; the pains and suffering; and/or trials and tribulations (troubles and difficulties) of the deceased. Perhaps this represented a type of ongoing bonding, loyalty, and memorialization. In essence, the “griever” replaced his/her life’s course with that of the deceased (and this was not always simply limited to the dead).
Another example is what psychiatrists call Mummification. As a newspaper boy I occasionally entered homes where the bereaved owner had preserved the home in exactly the same manner that the deceased left it. It seemed like a “shrine” which “mummified” the deceased. Nevertheless, inhibited or denied grief reactions may show as persisting physical symptoms similar to those of the deceased; or as unaccountable reactions on the anniversary of the loss or on occasions of significance to the deceased. Such reactions may also be displaced to some other loss that, although seemingly insignificant in its own right, may symbolize the original loss. There can be all sorts of negative or destructive emotions associated with the death. They get increasingly worse with embellishments, upon generalizing, and/or when enter-twined with delusions. Chronic Anger over what was done and who did what and Fear of facing the “cold cruel world” alone and Spiritual Pain (blocked love) are quite prominent. Much of this is culturally transmitted as a “zombie habit.” Such mental states must be handled by experts since one can not rise above them.
Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D.