Published On: Thu, May 7th, 2015

Chosen trauma

dekker_0Police brutality became the chosen trauma of USA’s disenfranchised black underclass. Thousands marched and rioted to demand “ justice” for alleged victims of police brutality, or rather for themselves, for their own social- economic backwardness. The rioting masses shared a strong sense of victimization caused by an assumed attack on “innocent black young men” by law enforcement. Victimization created the “we-ness” of the protesters, who marched in Ferguson and Baltimore in “oneness,” even when it deteriorated to hooliganism.

Re-enacting the protests in as many cities as possible created a national sense amongst many blacks of entitlement for revenge. So shops were looted, buildings set afire, cars trashed and hundreds of citizens assaulted. “The ideal motive has often served as camouflage for the dust of destruction, “ said Freud.

Martin Luther King Jr. alluded to similar collective outbursts of violence in a 1968-speech. He said, ” It would be morally irresponsible to condemn rioting without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative then to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

For decennia to come, King’s remarks as a public leader issued parental permission to riots by devaluing all non-black Americans to conspiring ill-fated thugs. Forty-seven years later, President Obama tried to counter that entitlement, that rioting crowds seemed to have claimed, as he said, “The effects of slavery, Jim Crow laws and discrimination in American history have left minority communities at a disadvantage. We don’t have to accuse everybody of racism today to acknowledge that as part of our past. And if we want to get past that, everybody has to make a little bit of extra effort." Whether it is a large group, a political movement, or a nation state, assuming a chosen trauma is a most powerful part of the myth that builds might, power and eventually can lead to lasting changes.

Some example. Just last week, the world witnessed Armenians building their national myth of genocide, a drama that took place a hundred years ago. The Nation State of Israel was founded with the holocaust, the chosen trauma, as its central theme. And who is not familiar with the Palestinian chosen trauma, myth or truth hardly matters, their chosen trauma may turn out to be powerful enough to forge a Palestinian State status.

The psychological damages of a chosen trauma can last for hundreds of years. Many blacks of the Caribbean today assumed slavery as their chosen trauma, and suffer from psychological after-effects for generations. Often heated discussions ensue over the actual, or historical accuracy of this chosen trauma, but what does it matter? Myth or truth, as long as people believe in it, it will work its inevitable effects.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker, opinion columnist for Curaçao Chronicle.

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