SUFFERING AND THE EXPERIENCES OF EMBODIED ‘BROKEN’ BEINGNESS
I’ve noticed during my “minute” in New Orleans, that there are many ‘broken’ people here. And this is by no means a criticism. As I have just shared with you, I am one of them.
There are many people whom I have met (not all, by any means!) who were born here who are ‘broken’ - trying to make a way through; to make one's way out of* - who are trying to heal, often without the benefit of mental health services and medical services. Not to mention well documented imbalances of educational opportunities and opportunities for prosperity. There are many native New Orleanians who are 3rd and 4th generations of freed slaves. There are those from this heritage who have prospered and those who continue to suffer inter-generationally as a result of untreated PTSD symptoms which are in direct correlation to their either being the descendants of American slavery, and/or the PTSD related symptoms of living through racism that allowed public lynching’s, cross burnings, intimidation, murder, segregation, and a lack of educational opportunities. A re-read through black history books relating to slavery will help you remember the atrocities many families who were slaves lived through. How could peoples live through such atrocities and not be affected for generations. Look at the many Indian Americans who continue to suffer as a direct result of ethnic cleansing and acts of betrayal at the hands of ‘settlers’ and ‘forefathers’.
When African Americans who had lived all or most of their lives as ’slaves’, were freed, many who had suffered cruelly - mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, had no clinics, no self-help books, no guru‘s or psychologists, to help them process and heal the psychological and emotional implications related to the experiences of a living hell that they and generations of their families had just been through. Instead, for many, there was now a consciousness of hate that they experienced from (many-some) Caucasian Southerners and even Caucasian Northerners, who blamed them for the civil war and the deaths of their loved ones. And a contempt and hate for having skin that was a different color than the prevailing ruling class and race at the time - the Caucasian race. (I find this unfathomable - it is like one type of car hating another because it’s body is a different model or color!) Even though it was never the fault of the victims of slavery - as the fault was and continues to be, until full amends are made - of a nation so greedy for wealth and land; that they would slaughter anyone who stood in their way, (Indian Americans) and enslave (Africans, later American Blacks). Early on in the evolution of this nation, (and yes, even now…sigh) many of the Caucasian settlers believed in an ‘us’ and ‘them’ orientation to life (including our earliest of settlers in Massachusetts - the Puritans). Many misguided, God-fearing people, were able to cross over moral and ethical inner promptings that indicated, or not in some cases, to their consciousness', that the enslaved use of humans beings to build better lives for themselves and ‘their’ families was fundamentally wrong.
For the generations which followed the freed African American slaves who lived in the early and mid part of the 20th century, especially in the South, many continued to experience more insidious forms of hate and contempt, spread through new laws and through injustices of the law. In many cases racism came in the form of men with “white pillow cases over their heads with the eyes cut out” coming for them in the night. (A story told to me by a man in his eighties who lived in Mississippi as a child and went through such experiences).
For Black American men and women, especially in the South, there was the fear of taking certain roads or going to certain places with the knowledge that there could be unprovoked retribution just for waiting for a bus, going to a diner, or being a truck driver which led them to areas where the ‘whites’ lived and they were only welcomed as “help or as delivery folk”. There was the humiliation of having to use separate bathrooms at the work place and to live in ‘separate but equal’ neighborhoods. For their children to attend ’separate but equal’ schools. These human beings who did nothing more than to be born into a body that was not the ‘color peach’ were asked to sit at separate tables when having work related banquets even though each day, black and white man worked side by side, on their off time many drank together, and became friends. In the public arena, they were to suffer the humiliation of being separated by color. All the things I have just recounted did not come from headlines, or stories I have read or books, these are things the senior citizens I have come to know in New Orleans, have shared with me, and these stories are just a scratch upon the surface of what they have been through and the effects of the racism that they had to endure, has had upon them.
Then there was the ‘freedom’ that came with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and many of the courageous acts of the Black American activists and leaders - the American Black empowerment movements of the 60’s and 70’s - yet many families continued to live in a level of poverty and deprivation, that as a white woman growing up in a middle class neighborhood at the same time, I never even imagined existed. It is only today in 2007, as a result of my time spent in New Orleans, that I now see. I am a witness to the effects of the suffering, racism, and the enormous disadvantages (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically) that can come with chronic poverty. Yet, within all these movements, there was still not the necessary healing which addressed the PTSD symptoms that spread stealthily, often as undiagnosed and unrecognized pathologies, through generations of southern Black American families. Instead there was and continues to be ‘treatment’ in the form of imprisonment - now becoming a 'for profit' industry, and 'separate but equal' opportunities to prosper and grow. Nor has there been a national apology. As of posting of this blog, there have only 4 four states to ratify legislation to “apologize” to the African/Black Americans who are the descendants of slaves, for the egregious act of slavery.
Then Katrina hit. And the lid came off of a Southern city rich in heritage and history, and as a nation we witnessed the ‘unconscious’ to be generous, contempt of - our nation, our government - for a city with one of the largest Black American populations in the country.
As a direct result of the response to the suffering of the people who survived Katrina (in relation to the context what I have just written, the residents of New Orleans, many who are Black Americans, even more so who are low income and so have less opportunities for rebuilding), we have a new level of PTSD symptoms, adding genetically and generationally, to the other unhealed levels in the consciousness. (For the sake of someone not following where I am going or coming from within this blog - before you send me a snarky remark - I understand that many if not all of the residents of New Orleans, the outer parish‘s, other parts of Louisiana and Mississippi that were damaged, have been deeply affected by the events relating to Katrina and Rita.)
Where my line of consciousness has been coming from is that if we could understand the PTSD related affects of being a descendant of slavery, racism, ‘separate but equal’ experiences of poverty, health care, child care and opportunities for financial advancement; if the affects upon the human psyche and spirit within certain generations and people could be really understood - deeply appreciated -within our hearts and then in our minds, perhaps, as a nation, we could understand how important it is to the peoples who continue to suffer, especially for the Black New Orleanians whose homes, streets and communities have been destroyed - to be ‘met’ in their suffering ‘with’ us.