Psychological Slavery

Psychological Slavery (1987)

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Themes: Urban Challenges |

Guests: Dr. Robert Newby, Dr. Tyrone Tilory, Susan Watson
Host : Ed Gordon
Producer : Tony Mottley


Summary: They begin by seeking to define the concept of psychological slavery. Both Tilory and Newby trace it to the slave period of American history and the emphasis that was then put on establishing the total inferiority of the slave. They say that history lingers in the difficulty many African Americans have with low self-esteem and the disregard American society shows toward black people.

"By definition, being black is associated with being a slave," Newby says. "It's also associated with that degraded status. And so consequently it's a badge that's been with us all these years."

Tilory says, "Slavery taught black people they were powerless . . . in a society that was totally dominated by white people. . . . . If one grows up in an environment where one feels that they are powerless, how are they ever going to compete, how are they ever going to function effectively in a society that is based on competition?"

The result, says Newby, is the African American's struggle with a dual consciousness, which the historian and sociologist W.E.B. DuBois described around the turn of the 20th century.

"It's essential that you recognize, for your own integrity, your blackness while at the same time it's essential that you understand the broader society and be able to participate in it," Newby says.

The panel discusses the continuing ramifications of that struggle and the tendency of many African Americans to accept the definitions and attitudes of whites. As Gordon puts it, "There is still a belief that the white man's ice is colder."

Says Tilory, "We're talking about attitudes and these are the hardest things to get rid of, an attitude of inferiority, once it has been, once a person has internalized these negative attitudes."

In their own exchanges and in response to callers from the viewing audience, the panelists continue to examine the ways in which the struggle for self-definition within a white-dominated society affects African Americans, raising such issues as the work ethic, the role of the black church, consumer materialism, Black Power, and the debates over busing for school desegregation.

The program concludes with a commentary from Detroit Free Press columnist Susan Watson who tells of a black friend who suddenly felt concerned for her safety when she discovered that the pilot of a plane she was flying on was black.

"Our slave chains are long gone," Watson says. "But we still bind ourselves with invisible chains. You can't see them, you can't feel them, you can't hear them clank, but they do a better job of controlling us than the other kind ever could. And why? Because once a person believes he is inferior, you no longer have to chain him down; he will do the job himself."