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In recent news, we have heard about the capture, enslavement and eventual liberation of three young women in Cleveland, Ohio—Amanda Berry, 27; Georgina “Gina” DeJesus, 23; and Michelle Knight, 32—as well as a 6-year-old daughter apparently born to Berry while in her imprisonment.  They were held in captivity for ten years by a man named Ariel Castro.

During those ten years, they were brainwashed, intimidated, raped, beaten and emotionally destroyed.   Without argument, everyone can plainly see that a tragedy has occurred.  Everyone agrees that the perpetrator of the crimes has to be punished.  Everyone is sympathetic, angry and downright incensed that such an event could take place in a civilized society/world.  There are those who feel that there will never be appropriate restitution for these three women.  Still, in order for them to have any chance at a normal life, all the experts are recommending therapy.  Even with the best therapists and counselors in the world, I think we can all agree that they have a long recovery ahead.  The public is outraged and rightly so!

Fortunately or unfortunately, this news story made me think—hard—about the many injustices that people have faced.  I started to think about all the enslaved peoples of the world.  Specifically, I thought about the plight of African Americans who, like these three women, were captured against their will.  Like that first group of Africans that arrived here in the United States, these women were strategically isolated, beaten and outright tortured to the point that the front door of the house where they were being held could remain unlocked and they would not attempt to leave.  So convinced were they that their condition was hopeless, they soon accepted their plight and made a life for themselves as best they could.  At the same time, they were forced to rely heavily on their slave master for food, water and shelter.  As such, they accepted whatever he said as if it were law and they assimilated.  As with the Africans, he wanted them to forget their former lives and to submit to him.  Soon, they didn’t question his authority.  Like the Africans, they submitted for the sake of survival.  On some level, they may even have identified with their captor.

I learned recently that the three former captives are receiving counseling and are slowly reclaiming their lives.  Nevertheless, the descendants of the African captives were not so fortunate.  For them, counseling was not even considered.  No.  Once free, they were expected to go about their lives, “get over” what happened and not “live in the past.”  As a result, they will never get the sympathy, restitution or even restorative counseling that are so clearly needed in order for the formerly enslaved individuals to make a life for themselves.   Do not misunderstand.  They will receive scholarships and grants to institutions of higher learning.  Nevertheless, we must all agree that classes are not the same as counseling, nor textbooks acceptable therapy.

The victims of Ariel Castro will see their tormentor prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law.  However, the victims of the African slave trade will not.  Regardless of what happens that closure will never come.  Of course, the situations are not identical.  Many people will point out that, in the case of African Americans, no such therapy is necessary because the injustices and abuse of the past did not occur to them directly.  While this is true on the surface, we must remember that trauma like that is not something people just get over with time.  It spreads and eats at its victim.  Like a cancer, it spreads to every aspect of their being.  It is naïve to think that it spreads to every area EXCEPT social interactions, EXCEPT self esteem, EXCEPT childrearing.  It enters and twists every part of a human being until it expresses itself in everything they do and everything they see.  It is foolish to believe that such harm can be overcome simply by maintaining a positive attitude and chanting “yes we can.”  They NEED treatment.   Without that medicine, no matter their level of achievement, they will always be multiple steps behind individuals who, while not directly responsible for slavery, continue to profit from it by birthright.

So, rather than address the issue once and for all, we continue to play “Let’s Pretend” at work, at home, at church and everywhere else.  Let’s pretend that discussions of race are passé.  Let’s pretend that racism is confined solely to the history books.  Let’s pretend that we are not still celebrating “firsts” for African Americans in this country (e.g., first African American Mayor of this, first African American Governor of that, first African American President, etc.) in 2013!  Surely, the election of President Obama cannot make up for the continued suffering of a group of people struggling to make it in a land that continues to view them as second-class citizens.

Can you imagine a world where these three women had been freed, straightaway returned to society and told to stop whining and to make a life for themselves or to stop blaming their captor for their misfortune?  Would it be fair to them?  How do you think they would fare?  Yet, this is essentially what happened to the enslaved Africans now called African Americans.  After many, many years of slavery—much more than ten—they were released into society and told to “make it.”

How successful has that been?

Can anybody hear me?


PS.  This article follows a similar theme.