I have enjoyed her book many times over. I especially salivate when I listen and watch Dr Joy Degruy talk about what Post Trauma Slave Syndrome, PTSS, is and how it can present itself, as I have seen the various examples myself, but not necessarily IN myself.
‘When we roll the scene back a few years, we see a slave master walking through the fields and coming upon an enslaved woman. He approaches her and her children and remarks, “Well, now, that Mary of yours is really coming along” The mother, terrified that the slave master may see qualities in her daughter that could merit her being raped or sold says. “Naw, sir, she ain’t worth nothing. She can’t work, she stupid. She shiftless.”… This behaviour was nothing special. For hundreds of years, enslaved mothers and fathers had been belittling their children in an effort to protect them.’
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome — Upton Press 2005
Reading and imagining Dr Degruy’s illustration, I saw something many black mothers, including my own and myself, had done. At that moment, I started to ask myself ‘am I hurting my child too?’
My son is like any other young teenage boy. Thinks he is at the epicentre of everything cool, knows best, but knows nothing when questioned. However, he is also the biggest mummy’s boy there is. Secretly enjoys hanging out with me, values my opinion and says ‘I love you’ quietly enough to not receive a response. Generally, anyone that has met my son compliments on meeting such a charismatic, engaging and polite young man. I respond with a ‘yeah he’s alright’, or ‘Oh please, I’ll be screaming at him in five minutes.’ See?! To the naked eye, my response is not a big deal, but as I dig deeper I find there might be more to it.
I know that my sons type of personality is not always suited to the classroom setting. He recently found himself in quite a bit of trouble at school, low-level stuff like talking out of turn in class, being too boisterous, silly behaviour, however enough to garner emails being sent home. I finally lost the plot when I received an email complaining about him wearing an ‘incorrect scarf!’ As a parent, my style is authoritarian, I helicopter. Very rarely do I not know where my child is, because they are usually with me. I hold respect at the top of everything, whatever you do or say must be done in this manner. So these series of emails had broken that sanctity and I had to act. I flew into a barrage of what his ‘bad behaviour’ displayed. The weight of the family legacy and perception of black boys that were attached to his actions… It was a lot. Even I carried the exhaustion of my verbal assault with me the next day. It overwhelmed me so much that I broke down in tears recapping the whole episode to friends. If my friends were right in saying he was behaving like any other teenage boy, why did I feel this way? It couldn’t just be about my parenting style or the normal challenges of parenting, because you question whether you’re doing the right things all the time. What I do know is that it is a very competitive world out here, so being at your best is a great position to start. Having taught in a few classrooms myself, I am also no stranger to the high percentage of black boys that being excluded out of British schools, that are then pipelined into our prison system. Bleak as it might be, black parents, are only too familiar with the challenges our children will face in the world and so, we don’t have the luxury of being able to cuddle and shield our children from it. That would be of a disservice to the child, as I know my son will be unfairly judged just at a glance, so I don’t allow him the space to make mistakes, because, in the world that we live in, his one mistake could taint the rest of his life, just because of his ethnicity. I know it’s unfair for a child to carry the weight and burden of an unfair society with them as they try to find out who they are, how they fit in and how they are going to carve their own path. However, the world today isn’t perfect and rarely seems to care about the fairness of black children.
He may not get sold into slavery, but just like many black parents before me, I have been convinced that being hard on my child will provide and protect them from becoming victim to the many perils that face black children coming into the world. My concern now is, am I contributing to that unfair treatment?