Kennington Avenue

Thursday, April 17th, 2014


I watched a very interesting DVD with a fellow pastor entitled: ‘Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.” by Dr. Joy DeGruy, a social scientist. I found the title a fascinating concept but an equally compelling and reasonable one. She suggests that slavery was so horrific and horrible that it traumatized the slave just like the trauma suffered by soldiers coming home from war and who have seen or who have inflicted horrific acts of violence upon the enemy. She would argue that the psychological impact of this historic wound of slavery is just as real as the psychological impact of soldiers returning from battle and yet unlike soldiers those who have been victimized by slavery and the subsequent generations have never benefited from any psychological or emotional help. Dr. DeGruy would contend that to understand the anger, depression, rage and violence that is happening today in the African-American community one need only to recognize the powerful impact of slavery. This is residual stuff-residual behavior that we ought to take seriously. This is deep stuff because slavery in America was tied to the color of one’s skin. Skin color was the predominant factor and the primary determinant in defining one’s humanity and one’s intelligence. If you were Black you were seen as inferior in every way to some one who was White. And yet this ugly stain that has caused such pain to a people has never been officially and publicly owned. I wonder what would be the results of a National Truth and Reconciliation Process in America similar to the one in South Africa in the aftermath of Apartheid, where the descendants of slaves and their children are able to confront the descendants of slavemasters and their children and tell them what it has meant to live as Black in America not with the desire to seek pity but to elicit justice. I have no great illusion that we will ever get to such a place because White America is in such denial about racism.

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About the author

Ken Wheeler is a retired pastor. He most recently served at Cross Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Milwaukee, where he is now the director of the Bread of Healing Empowerment Ministry. For 18 years he was as an assistant to the bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA.