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(This article is the third and last in a series of essays written by Dr. Nilda Arduin to commemorate 1 July 1863, the Abolition of slavery within the Dutch Kingdom) - July 2022
An often heard statement in reference to descendants of enslaved Africans in the diaspora is that they are ‘Angry Blacks’, in particular when they talk about the inherited pains, exploitation, humiliation, shame and confusion still being experienced today. I confess that at times I have questioned this as being a possible defense response by descendants of the imperial masters/the colonists to cover their own anger when faced with the discussion about historical facts and truths of the Transatlantic slave trade and their inheritance. Possible anger as a result of unmet expectations, disappointment and perceived threat when those historically and structurally considered to be in a place of submission, have the courage and audacity to question the established institutions founded on the reality of slavery.
In seeking answers to the many racial conflicts and contentions around the world, I am learning more about the science regarding effects of (trans)generational trauma. Historical trauma, being inter-generational trauma experienced by a specific cultural group that has a history of being systematically oppressed. According to research, common symptoms of inter-generational trauma may include low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, insomnia, anger, and self-destructive behaviors. It has been argued that this type of trauma often goes unrecognized and allows the cycle to continue.
Though the Transatlantic slave trade and its effects on today’s societies have been pushed to the back burner as so called being the past, the science referred to above places the discussion of the Colonial era back on the agenda around the world, hence the ‘Black Lives Matter’ Movement. Healing from trauma is complex and not easy. Therapists however agree that healing starts with awareness and mindfulness. A general consensus is that trauma cannot heal as long as it remains in the subconscious mind. As such the discussion about ‘Posttraumatic Slavery Syndrome’ is on.Acknowledging the realities of the colonial past has slowly started by some major cities and universities in the Netherlands. As such the project ‘mapping slavery.nl’ shows where some of the profits from slavery and the slave trade are invested.
Considering that every generation is responsible for the wellbeing of the next generation, inter-generational responsibility, dealing with unresolved issues of our colonial past is a joint responsibility of both the Afro-Caribbean and the Caucasian people within the Dutch Kingdom. Inter-generational responsibility is not only a matter of dealing with the past, but more so a matter of and for the future. Glen Hellberg, a psychiatrist specialized in transcultural psychiatry and former President of OCaN (‘Overlegorgaan Caribische Nederlanders’) observes that it is not strange that slavery is prominently featured in the discussion about racism in the Netherlands. He argues that trauma transcends generations. He stated that: ‘The first generation witnessed it and kept silent, the second generation experienced it and discovered in therapy that they were walking around with the problems of their parents, and the third generation started to ask questions.’ As such I argue that it is time for the next step; this generation should work towards providing comprehensive answers to the questions asked.
Consider the stages outlined by the scholar Poka Laenui (Hawaii), including thoughts of Virgilio Enriques, in the process of decolonization: 1) Rediscovery and Recovery, 2) Mourning, 3) Dreaming, 4) Commitment, and 5) Action. According to Laenui each phase can be experienced at the same time, or in various combinations and do not have clear demarcations between each other.
In closing this series of articles, I invite the readers of my trilogy to check yourself and establish your personal level of awareness and consciousness about the Transatlantic slave trade and its effects on today’s societies. Government and Parliament are encouraged to take stock and lead by incorporating some space to deal with this matter in the National Vision of Sint Maarten to move the country forward; possibly according to the stages of Laenui. And lastly the European partner in the Dutch Kingdom, to consider serious and tangible steps towards greater understanding and empathy for the stories shared by those coming from the Caribbean parts of the realm. We cannot change the past, but are obligated to show willingness to take responsibility for future generations. On both sides of the ocean we need to process and prepare ourselves to engage in meaningful intra-regional conversations as we move forward. Consider the following actions and discussion points: