PTSD, Pt. 4 – 09/02/09

Hello again friends and family, I hope you’re all doing well.  I know I’m a day late, but I promise I am NOT a dollar short!

Ladies, it’s your turn.  This week we take an introspective look at the effects of Post-Traumatic Slavery Disorder on the black woman. This was an especially hard topic for me to write about. As a black woman I had to ‘fess up to a great deal of my own shortcomings and challenge myself to live by the same code to which I am charging all of you.

As always, if we are to appropriately investigate this issue of PTSD in our lives, we must go back to its origins…slavery.

During slavery there were typically four (4) types of women: the superwoman, the savior, the mammy, and the rebel-woman.  It is interesting because in today’s society, these four women tend to stand firm as the most prevalent of sisters – though their habits and behaviors have changed with the times.  Now this is not to say that even within the subsets of these four groups we exhaust all possibilities for the black female character. In fact, you may be any combination of the four – or none at all. My goal is merely to shed light on some things I’m not so sure we want to see (or know what to do with once we’ve seen them). Allow me to explain:

The Superwoman
We all know this sistah.  She is “every woman.” She can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and still let you know you’re a man.  She’s the CEO, soccer mom, favorite daughter, beloved sister, and best friend. She has got it going on! And she is not afraid to tell you so.  She can do and will do it all because she is on her A-game.  She “don’t need no man,” but she wants one.  There isn’t anything this sister can’t do, and we know this because there isn’t anything we won’t ask her to do.  We expect it all from her, and she expects to be able to give us what we ask for.

Centuries ago, her predecessor was the one who took care of her children, her grandchildren, and the master’s children.  She snuck extra corn, cotton or barley into her hem so she could feed her kids a little more.  When she was whipped mercilessly for her crime, she didn’t flinch because she knew she was right.  Deep down, she wanted to cry out – to plead for her life, to beg for a chance to do it over, but sh knew she couldn’t break.  She had to be strong…if she wasn’t, who would be?

The Savior
First and foremost, guilty as charged!  This woman knows exactly what you’re going through.  She can empathize; she feels your pain. Her primary role is a healer, but it can be a little perverse.  While she’s helping you heal your marriage, she goes home to an empty bed because her husband is out (again)…maybe with one of his women.  She sees the dysfunction in her life and it makes her miserable, but she can’t be selfish and focus on self.  She has so much to contribute to the world, so much work to do.

If you’re a savior, your enslaved counterpart was the one most likely to “acclimate the new hands” on the plantation. She was the one who showed people around, made sure they had their clothes, and knew where they would sleep. She can see that something is wrong with the world, but she feels it’s safer to keep her head down and her gaze low than to challenge the status quo and rightfully so – speaking up could cost her her life! (Or in your case, your livelihood).

The Mammy
The Mammy is probably the most conflicted, controversial and uncommon of all these personality types (of course she is, who would admit to being mammy after all we’ve put her through in the public eye?).  Being a “mammy” actually has more to do with other people’s perception of you than your perception of self.  Mammies have a tendency to thrive when no one else does, not because of cunning or ambition, but because they seem non-threatening and affable. She’s often seen as unworthy of a real effort to help her out of her predicament, so instead people throw her the scraps from their tables. She asks for little to nothing, usually because she doesn’t know that she’s worth so much more. Or she’ll ask for the world because she doesn’t believe she can really have it.

She may be humble, almost to a fault. She could even be the ghetto queen who’ll “cut a bitch” for looking at her cross-eyed as she passes her door, but take her to Park Slope (NY), Hidden Hills (PA), Gwinett (GA) or Ghent (VA) and she is bound to look at you cross-eyed! She feels out of place and uneasy.  And of course, it’s your fault. In her mind she has no power, everything is the result of something outside herself.

With all the portrayals of “The Mammy” in modern-day television, I don’t have to get too deep into the schematics of what she looked like 300 years ago.  However, I will say that I feel compelled to share that Mammy was/is a product of extreme conditioning.  Though all these personality types have been constructed as responsive defenses to traumatic circumstances, Mammy doesn’t see her power and her authority even in the absence of the circumstance itself.

The Rebel-Woman
We all think we want to be this big bad mama.  But her status and title come with a price, often paid with her life…even as she lives.  Are you a rebel-woman?  Do you play opossum so that when people get close enough you can go for the kill – whether it’s that executive office or the opportunity to drop some knowledge? Do people know you to be the one planning something – a fundraiser, a rally, a petition, or a boycott?  Is it your calling to heal the world and make it a better place for you and your children, and your children’s children?  It may be a cause worth dying for, but would you be willing to learn to live for it?

Three centuries ago this woman set the standard for multiple personality disorder.  She could shape shift like nobody’s business.  By day she could be a superwoman, a savior, or wearing a mammy mask. She sang in the fields and all around the house.  Her sweet, melodious voice said to “follow the drinking gourd” and “wade in the water.” When she helped new slaves get acclimated, she left signs laying around – pine cones in their clothes, dried hay in the hearth with no wood – letting them know that she was the door to freedom if they wanted to pass through.  She risked her life to save the lives of others.  She remained in captivity to set others free.


Well Sisters, we live in a day and age where there are other possibilities.  We can break the mold and step out of the ordinary to do something extraordinary!  The only difference is the extra.  We live in a time when we do not have to react, we can create.  Notice that those words have all the same letters, but there’s a little something “extra” on the tail end of create.  Well ladies, that is my charge for you…be extra.

The Revolutionary
I want to be like this Sister when I grow up!  She has the career of her dreams, the family she’s always wanted, she volunteers, she travels and she still finds time for self.  Impossible you say?  Not at all! She’s doing  a little something extra, something many of us would never dare to do.  She is asking for exactly what she wants.

She has achieved balance in her life because she often goes within to ask the questions: What do I want?  What am I willing to do to get there?  What am I willing to release?

She embraces people who reciprocate her love and affection, and she gently nudges away those who don’t.

At work, she is a team leader – a force to be reckoned with…but she’s only there three days a week! (And she’s still making full-time pay WITH benefits). She works from home when she has to, but those “extra” days are for her.

At home, she is the queen of her castle and the heartbeat of her family. Her children and her husband tell her about their days at school and work, and she does the same.  They share in activities together and enjoy being around each other.  Remember, she’s doing that little extra.

She is negotiating for the life she wants.  She is taking that extra step. asking for what she wants and doing something about it – including doing nothing at all when it calls for it. She believes that she can have what she wants; there’s no doubt, no worry, no fear. She has the financial freedom to do as she so chooses, she asks for help (and receives it) when she needs it, and she is fulfilled with her life – she’s not just getting by – because she is putting in that little extra.

Ladies I challenge you – just for one day (ONE DAY ONLY) live without fear.  Ask yourself what you truly desire and negotiate for that thing.  If you need help asking for it, go to the local library (they truly are sacred grounds).  No matter what the situation – money, marriage, parents, parenting, friends, family, career, or just asking for help (hello) – someone somewhere has been there and done that (and wrote the book about it). Maybe it isn’t the most astutely written book in the world, but if it gives you insight you didn’t have before you opened it, I’d say it’s worth it’s weight in library cards.

I believe that you will find, that when you live without fear you can do a little “extra”…and before long your life will be anything but ordinary.

Change your mind, change the world.

Wishing you well,
Kiki B., The WILD Side


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