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Slavery: A difficult topic of conversation

The problem is, no one likes to talk about slavery.

For blacks descended from slaves, the subject evokes feelings of shame and embarrassment associated with the degradations of slavery. For whites whose ancestry makes them complicit, there are feelings of guilt about a system that is incongruent with the with the democratic ideals on which this country was founded.

It may be easier to allow everyone to remain in their comfort zone. But today as the US faces what would appear to be an epidemic of race-based attacks committed by whites, it is time to examine how our history of racism affects the mental health of African Americans as well as that of whites.

- Brian Snyder/Reuters

Season Two: Episode 10
The Plantation Ghost

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Today Shelley shares an interview from 1995 with Ezekwa Abdullah. Ezekwa argues that Blacks still repress themselves and suffer a form of psychological slavery in the collective subconscious psyche because attitudes of repression have been preserved and passed from one generation to the next. The ghost of the plantation exists today because not enough has been done to condemn this point of view.

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Relevant Videos

The Psychological Residuals of Slavery (Length 2:06)

Dr. Na'im Akbar - An Aware Profile (Length 58:46)
WSRE PBS (Pensacola, FL)

Host DeeDee Sharp interviews clinical psychologist, educator and author Dr. Na'im Akbar. Essence Magazine proclaimed him as one of the world's preeminent psychologists and a pioneer in the development of an African-centered approach to modern psychology. Dr. Akbar has served as associate professor at Norfolk State University, was chairman of Morehouse College's Psychology Department and is currently on the faculty of the Department of Psychology at Florida State University. He has served on numerous boards, including the National Association of Black Psychologists, and also served as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Black Psychology. He was the recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Scholar Award. He has been written about in numerous national and international publications & magazines, and has been interviewed on numerous TV shows, including Tony Brown's Journal, The Geraldo Show and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Want to learn more about Dr. Na'im Akbar?

Na'im Akbar is a clinical psychologist well known for his Afrocentric approach to psychology. He is a distinguished scholar, public speaker, and author. Akbar entered the world of Black psychology in the 1960s, as the Black Power Movement was gaining momentum.

Watch Shifting the Paradigm Part 1& 2

Psychological Slavery Full Episode | American Black Journal (Length 28:46)
Detroit Public TV

Key Moments

3:33 Generation by Generation Slavery Taught

4:34 You have to Maintain a Dual Consciousness

8:14 Work Ethic

11:24 Phone Lines

12:07 Africa

13:47 Racial Balance

14:11 Psychological Slavery

23:15 The Black Power the Black Pride Movement

27:12 Light Skin Versus Dark Skin

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Forgiveness and grace are, indeed, hallmarks of the Black Church. Since slavery, the church has been a formidable force for the survival of blacks in an America still grappling with the residual effects of white supremacy.

This was eloquently illustrated in the aftermath of the Charleston church massacre. Americans rightly stood in awe of the bereaved families’ laudable demonstration of God’s grace in action. 

But what about the psychic toll that these acts of forgiveness exact? 

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African Americans experience much higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and negative health outcomes compared to Whites in the US. Michael J Halloran writes that the intergenerational cultural trauma caused by 300 years of slavery – alongside poor economic circumstances and social prejudice – has led to the poor state of physical, psychological and social health among African Americans.

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The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration is situated on a site in Montgomery where Black people were forced to labor in bondage. Blocks from one of the most prominent slave auction spaces in America, the Legacy Museum is steps away from the rail station where tens of thousands of Black people were trafficked during the 19th century. 

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The purpose of this research investigation is to explore cultural trauma theory on African American young adult development. Cultural trauma theory asserts the adverse cross-cultural encounter, North American slavery, reproduces intergenerational psychosocial legacies for contemporary African Americans. Accordingly, cultural trauma theory is used to explore with African American young adults three "slave" legacies: ethnic identity formation, perceptions of racism, and racial socialization experiences. A qualitative case study approach is used for (N=26) participants enrolled in either college or a GED program. Each young adult participates in either an individual or focus group interview. To aid in data triangulation, older African American adults (N=7) are also interviewed. 

Relevant Books

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In this book you will learn how to break the chains of your mental slavery by ordering this new book by one of the world's outstanding experts on the African-American mind.


Are African-Americans still slaves? Why can't Black folks get together? What is the psychological consequence for Blacks and Whites of picturing God as a Caucasian? Learn to break the chains of your mental slavery with this new book by one of the world's outstanding experts on the African-American mind.


This collection of essays surveys the practices, behaviors, and beliefs that developed during slavery in the Western Hemisphere, and the lingering psychological consequences that continue to impact the descendants of enslaved Africans today. The psychological legacies of slavery highlighted in this volume were found independently in Brazil, the U.S., Belize, Jamaica, Colombia, Haiti, and Martinique. They are color prejudice, self and community disdain, denial of trauma, black-on-black violence, survival crime, child beating, underlying African spirituality, and use of music and dance as community psychotherapy. The effects on descendants of slave owners include a belief in white supremacy, dehumanization of self and others, gun violence, and more. Essays also offer solutions for dealing with this vast psychological legacy. 


Through stories (including their own), interviews, and analysis of the most recent data available, Dr. Alvin Poussaint and journalist Amy Alexander offer a groundbreaking look at ’posttraumatic slavery syndrome,’ the unique physical and emotional perils for black people that are the legacy of slavery and persistent racism. They examine the historical, cultural, and social factors that make many blacks reluctant to seek health care, and cite ways that everyone from the layperson to the health care provider can help.

Ask Dr. Shelley Stewart
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