“Guilt and Shame” have always been the bookends of oppression. What are bookends designed to do? They are designed to keep the books in place, to keep them on the shelf, and not allow them to move or fall over. Oppression is defined as prolonged, cruel or unjust treatment, the act of overbearing control or the “state of being” subject to unjust treatment. During the period of legalized enslavement in this country, the sustained, prolonged , and unjust treatment of Black people was institutionalized and systematized as a practice to keep the enslaved and displaced African people, in their “proper place.” Which was in subjugation to and under the complete control of white authority. This was including, but not limited to, being considered Chattel subjected to being bought, sold and bred like livestock.
Once a person was enslaved their destiny was determined for all time. Slavery was a bondage that was passed down like an inheritance to your children, your children’s children, and your children’s, children’s children, for generations to come. The inhumane and oppressive nature of the institution of slavery was designed to destroy any assumption of individuality, humanity, thought or reason. And the ways in which this was accomplished was through violence, torture, denigration, starvation, beating, whipping, and outright cruelty.
The mental torture and traumatization that Black people were made to endure throughout history at the hands of white owners, overseers, vigilantes, law enforcement, systems and institutional authorities is well documented. Often, although victimized themselves, Black people have suffered from “survivor syndrome” or an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame as we have been forced to helplessly watch horrific acts of violence, torture and injustice committed against our own family or community members. These traumagenic events have had long lasting effects on the collective DNA of the Black body, mind, soul and psyche.
Now, fast forward to contemporary times, where we now find ourselves, still in pursuit of justice, equality and freedom for all? Communities of color all around the United States are STILL experiencing a “plantation like model” of oppression when we explore the traumatizing effects of witnessing the continuous killing, assault, brutality, and dehumanization of Black and brown people in cities and rural communities across the United States. Brutality that has been easily documented and readily available throughout social media and on the nightly news.
These brutal events are re-played over and over again through mass media outlets. No, they begin to take on aspects of “trauma porn”, once again dehumanizing and objectifying the Black and brown body to the point where the culture becomes desensitized to the brutality and inhumanity of it all. Watching it on our television, cellphones and computer screens begins to make it more and more common and expected, than unnatural and heinous for many Americans.
Once again the Black community deals with the guilt and shame of feeling powerlessness to help or disrupt the cycle, as we watch, whether on-the-scene in real time, or as witnesses to the endless “video clips” that so adeptly capture the callousness of the repetitious state sanctioned killing of unarmed Black people by law enforcement officers sworn to protect and serve. We grieve, we shout, we protest and still, we have regret and remorse for being unable to help, powerless to intercede, incapable of stopping the killing. We are unable to stop the violence even as the entire world watches.
However, what must be understood, without equivocation, is that WE are not Superheroes with suits of steel that can take a bullet or leap tall buildings in a single bound. We cannot move as fast as a speeding bullet or bend steel with the sheer will of our minds. What we recognize is our resiliency as a people has been our salvation. We will NEVER give up and we will Never Go Back! We will have both our Humanity and our Freedom.
“It is NOT what I should have done…it’s what HE (the police officer) should have done!” —- Darnella Frazier (The seventeen-year-old who captured the killing of George Floyd on her cellphone camera)