Significant recent development on racial justice discussion is changing the course of public policy in addressing systemic racism. While the current movement on limiting voting rights of the community of color has captured the media’s attention, scholars have focused on post traumatic slave syndrome to reveal the impact and cost of unaddressed social oppression.
In 2017, Dr. Joy Degruy’s book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, has brought to light the impact of America’s 400 years of black genocide. She points out that enduring continued discrimination and oppression has created intergenerational psychological trauma, leading to a psychological and behavioral syndrome common among present-day African Americans. This trauma has been manifested in many ways and as a lack of self-esteem, persistent feelings of anger, and internalized racist beliefs.
Compared to the general population and every other racial group, the African American community has higher levels of negative social and psychological conditions. They experience higher rates of poverty and are generally less financially secure. They also have poorer physical, psychological, and social health outcomes, including higher levels of diabetes, hypertension, premature deaths from heart diseases, and prostate cancer.
Psychologically, they have significantly higher stress indices (acute life events, financial, relationship, life, and job discrimination), and these were predictive of depressive symptoms, poor self-rated health, functional physical limitations, and chronic illness. Also, they have higher levels of social health outcomes, including the fact that African American males are incarcerated at significantly higher levels.
Historically, these higher indices were attributed to racial differences, but modern scholarship has connected them to the systematic racism in our social, political, economic, and religious systems. We have to recognize that cultural trauma, a state that occurs when a people’s cultural worldview has been destabilized, has resulted in post traumatic slave syndrome community-wide.
The higher levels of anxiety and stress experienced by the African American community shows the need for public policy changes. When there are broad social differences between racial groups, we need to recognize the systemic nature of the problem and that the solution lies in broad social, economic, political, and cultural changes.
This does not mean every African American suffers from PTSS, but this is a collective experience. Their pain is brought to the surface with the daily incidents of racial injustices. This also means they are the authorities of their experiences, and we must trust the ways they are experiencing the racist systems. Our work on dismantling racism goes beyond working to create equality, but we must work for equity.