Jun 06, 2013 - Issue 519

 BlackCommentator.com: Psychological Liberation Must Be a Part of African Liberation - A View from the Battlefield - By Jamala Rogers - BC Editorial Board

[Adapted from a presentation on Malcolm X’s birthday.]

We’re here today in celebration of the birthday of Malcolm X and to lift up Pan-Africanism in the context of our international liberation struggles. El Haj Malik el Shabazz would have been 88 years old; May 25 is the 50th anniversary of African Liberation Day.

Today I come before you not only as an organizer and freedom fighter but as a woman and village mother. As I thought about my remarks for this occasion, I kept coming back to the notion of psychological liberation. Our movement has often put the focus on cultural, political and economic liberation. I suggest that until we also address more seriously the historical question of our mental health, our full and total liberation cannot be fulfilled. We cannot build a movement of holistically healthy people to fight for their own future if they are emotionally crippled.

What brought me back to this question which I visit from time to time in my head and in my writings was the tragic end for Malcolm Shabazz, the 28-year-old grandson of Malcolm X and sole male heir to his legacy. If ever there was a case study for the psycho-social impact of being black in the U.S., the Little-Shabazz family is it.

There has been intergenerational terror and trauma for Malcolm X’s family as far back as the late 1920s. Qubilah Shabazz, Malcolm Shabazz’s mother, witnessed the murder of her father at four years old. We saw the level of internal chaos of young Malcolm when he set a fire that took the life of his grandmother Betty Shabazz in 1997.

The mental illness of people of African descent caused by psychological terror and actual violence is real, rampant and basically undiscussed, undiagnosed and untreated. And that’s whether that violence is from the state or within our families or our community. What I’m urging us to do today is to make psychological liberation an integral part of both the narrative and strategy of African Liberation. The implications are tremendous for us as organizers as we struggle to build healthy families and healthy communities within the context of fighting for cultural dignity, economic justice and political power.

Black scholars like Joy Degruy Leary have dutifully documented the effects of post traumatic slave syndrome. The accumulative impact of current conditions plays out daily in our communities. “Living while Black” is one of the greatest contributors to PTSD in the Black community because racism brings with it a high level stress from dealing with oppression, injustices and marginalization.

There’s a significant body of research that tells us that nearly 80% of children in urban cities have seen someone else being shot, stabbed, sexually assaulted, physically assaulted, or threatened with a weapon. Tragically, the same percentage has been victimized as well. PSTD rates in the hood are greater than those of soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. PSTD has undeniable effects on learning, getting and maintaining a job, developing healthy social relationships and other factors.

The continent of Africa is faring no better. Generations of violence were first perpetrated by white colonialists only to be replaced by neo-colonialists, and then experienced through tribal wars. Angola’s civil war led to many casualties but it will have visual reminders of the human devastation for years to come. Because of landmines, the country has one of the highest populations of amputees-100,000 Angolans.

In Rwanda, conciliation efforts to address the country’s healing after a brutal tribal war have objective limitations. Although many Tutsis may want to move on from their genocidal past, others express the difficulty of having to look at a Hutu neighbor responsible for the murder of a father or who forced a brother to rape his mother while the family was compelled to watch. We know all too well that the tribalism is exacerbated by the western powers just like we know the origins of internalized oppression but that doesn’t stop the deep and powerful pain inside that sometimes bubbles over.

Whether it’s surviving the Middle Passage or witnessing a police shooting, black people in this country have gone through and are going through more than any human being should. The medical and social institutions are failing us in this area and so it will be up to those of us who are organizing in these communities everyday to name and embrace the issue of mental health as an integral part of our people’s overall health and as our organizing strategy for power.

As Bob Marley reminded us, when it comes to psychological or emotional health “none but ourselves can free our minds.”

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, Jamala Rogers, founder and Chair Emeritus of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis. She is an organizer, trainer and speaker. She is the author of The Best of the Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle. Click here to contact Ms. Rogers.