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    Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome

    Race to the finish?

    "Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome" is a thought-provoking theatrical examination of how racial culture got to be this way, and hopes for a way to reconsider race in the future.


    (Originally reviewed at Henry Street Settlement in September 2001.)

    A black woman and a white man take the stage first to discuss something called axiology, the study of human value systems. (It was new to me; it might be new to you too.) But lest this become a dry academic lecture, soon other actors are joining in the discussion, and before long the show is transformed into a mix of theater, music, dance, comedy and talk about race relations and the history of blacks and whites in America.

    Company: Fractured Atlas.
    Written by: Kamal Sinclair Steele and Universal Arts.
    Directed by: Robbie McCauley.
    Based on: the research of Dr. Joy DeGruy-Leary.
    Cast: Audrey Amey, Felami Burgess, Dale Dymkoski, Rebecca Samara Gaev, Marc Goldhaber, Donald E. Jones II, Jill Kelley, Jason Raines, Kamal Sinclair Steele, Tunu Thom, Raphael Torn.

    Related links: Official site
    Henry Street Settlement
    466 Grand Street near Pitt
    Jan. 31 - Feb. 24, 2002

    Actually, the lecturey part of the show is the most interesting part, illustrated with dramatic scenes and touching on how whites and blacks arrived at this point in history and culture. "I'm here to tell you," says the African-American tour guide (Audrey Amey), "that African-Americans behave differently. It's okay to know that."

    We proceed through a program designed to bring out two points. First, that the personhood of slaves was systematically broken as a part of doing business during the American slavery period. Second, that this breaking is transmitted from generation to generation, even now, resulting in a culture-wide condition resembling post-traumatic stress syndrome.

    The ideas are based on the research of Dr. Joy DeGruy-Leary, a faculty member of the Portland State University Graduate School of Social Work. Her brief biography on the school's web site mentions her research into "multi-generational trauma of African-Americans," and this is, in fact, the central point of the piece — that a diagnosis conceived to explain an individual psychological condition can be applied to an entire population and be passed on from generation to generation.

    The final question presented by the show — in memorably visual fashion — is not "Can't we all get along?" but rather, "Can we all fall in love with each other?"  

    You can decide for yourself what to believe. Parts of "Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome" are simplistic and generalized — as they would have to be in one two-hour theater piece. And even if you agree with the play's argument, it's not clear whether it's actually useful to analyze African-American culture as a case of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

    But it's great to see a show that's about ideas, in the way that books and school and talking over coffee and sometimes Oprah are about ideas, but one that also goes a long way toward making the ideas palpable through theater.

    The final question presented by the show — in memorably visual fashion — is not "Can't we all get along?" but rather, "Can we all fall in love with each other?" This is no small issue in a country in which, although few people would call themselves racist, most white people's friends are white and most black people's friends are black. What would it take to turn back the clock so that the races meet again on a basis of love and togetherness and intermingling? If there's a way to continue that discussion, it would be a fulfillment of what this play stands for.

    SEPTEMBER 24, 2001

    Reader comments on Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome:

  • [no subject]   from Kente, Jan 11, 2002
  • PTSS, when will it come on stage again?   from Bonnie, Sep 15, 2003
  • Re: [no subject]   from Evelyn Boyd Woodson, Jan 18, 2004
  • Re: [no subject]   from , Jan 30, 2004
  • Re: [no subject]   from BW, Jun 1, 2004
  • Re:Native Land   from harry, Oct 5, 2005
  • Re:Native Land   from lainla, May 7, 2007
  • Re: spell check   from patty, Oct 5, 2005
  • Re: [no subject]   from lainla, May 8, 2007
  • Post traumatic Slave Syndrome.   from Bonnie, Sep 15, 2003
  • Re: Post traumatic Slave Syndrome.   from ANITRA, Jan 30, 2004
  • Re: Post traumatic Slave Syndrome.   from , Feb 11, 2004
  • Re: Post traumatic Slave Syndrome.   from alexander, Feb 16, 2004
  • Re: Post traumatic Slave Syndrome.   from Vicki Jones, Aug 19, 2004
  • Re: Post traumatic Slave Syndrome.   from Lainla, May 8, 2007
  • Re: Post traumatic Slave Syndrome.   from POMAJA, Oct 22, 2005
  • Re: Post traumatic Slave Syndrome.   from wade A. jacks, Jan 11, 2009
  • Re: Post traumatic Slave Syndrome.   from patty, Oct 5, 2005
  • This picture   from Jessica Majors, Oct 27, 2003
  • Joy deGruy Leary's work saves lives   from T. G. Hebert, Jan 23, 2004
  • Re: Joy deGruy Leary's work saves lives   from Nancy J. Fuqua, Mar 18, 2004
  • Re: Joy deGruy Leary's work saves lives   from Kari, in Portland, Nov 24, 2004
  • Finding Raph   from Pasquin, Apr 5, 2004
  • The Caribbean, too!   from , Apr 18, 2004
  • Tripe   from BW, May 31, 2004
  • Re: Tripe   from Liberal, but real, Jun 8, 2004
  • Re: Liberal, but real   from Gopi Krishna, Jun 17, 2004
  • Re: Tripe   from Abdoul Waly, Feb 24, 2007
  • can i but book   from yvonne, Apr 1, 2005
  • theatre   from freda macon, Jul 14, 2005
  • Post Traumatic Slave Disorder   from Chauncey Westbrook, Jul 27, 2005
  • history   from dameon, Sep 17, 2005
  • Looking for Info.!!!   from Dawn, Nov 3, 2005
  • Re: Looking for Info.!!!   from Shaniqua, Jan 11, 2006
  • Script   from Actors Ink, Aug 11, 2006
  • [no subject]   from giselle, Mar 2, 2007
  • Thank you!   from Jacquelyn Wilson, May 7, 2007
  • SHARECROPPING   from AARON GUYTON, Jun 19, 2007
  • Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary's Website   from Dandala, Oct 27, 2007
  • Re: Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary's Website   from Linda S. Lowery, May 4, 2012

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