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8. Parental Distress and Childhood Disturbance

Barbara Fletchman Smith Karnac Books ePub

At thirteen-months-old, Little S, and his family, were referred to child guidance by a doctor at a mother and baby clinic. Both parents had visited the clinic at the father’s insistence. He was concerned about Little S’s behaviour: he was throwing food around, rocking, and head-banging against the side of his cot. The referring doctor mentioned that—physically—Little S was developing satisfactorily, and seemed well-cared for.

The family—father, mother, S the older son, and Little S— arrived for their first appointment half-an-hour late. Father was very reluctant to come in and see me, and only came in when Older S asked him to do so. I was struck by how extremely unhappy both the parents looked. Mother was thirty-five years old. She looked young for her age, and wore her hair in a girlish style. Father, however, looked all of his forty-one years.

Father began by telling me that he thought his son had a medical problem and should see a doctor. At this, mother gave father a look of contempt and pointed out that S had already been to the doctor. However, they were both worried about their child and agreed that his behaviour was growing worse. They described how S was rocking and banging his head first on one end, and then at the other end of his cot. He was also covering his ears, as if he had earache. When he rocked the noise he made travelled throughout their house.

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Chapter 7: On the Emergence ofViolenceinYoung People

Barbara Fletchman Smith Karnac Books ePub

We feel helpless and frightened by the most recent expressions of murderous feelings, in which the use of knives and guns has become increasingly common. The hardest thing is to bear it, whilst trying to think about it.

A variety of theoretical frameworks for understanding violence are laid out in Psychoanalytic Understanding of Violence and Suicide, edited by Rosine Perelberg (1999). Her introduction provides an extensive review of literature on the subject. The contributors, all psychoanalysts, give accounts of clinical work with violent patients undertaken as part of a research project on working with young people, based at the Anna Freud Centre in London.

With the frameworks supplied by this important collection of papers in mind, this chapter explores the emergence of violence in the lives of three young people of Caribbean background. The emotional environment into which they arrived, and in which they lived their early lives, influenced their subsequent development. All three found themselves in a very restricted world from which no exit could be negotiated. All three were grandchildren of the great twentieth century migrations to the UK.

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6. A Little Girl's Story

Barbara Fletchman Smith Karnac Books ePub

Although people of Caribbean origin—and other African people—have lived in the UK for centuries, there is a shared belief among the British (of all colours) that blacks are newly arrived.14

The Caribbean people who arrived in the UK in the 1950s and in the early 1960s—that is, during the height of post-Second World War migration—entered a world of full employment. They left behind countries which had recently become independent, or were in the process of becoming so. Like most immigrants, they came in search of a better life—economically speaking. They had a set of priorities and values different from those of the English working class, alongside whom most of them lived. Even to this day, the professionals with whom people of Caribbean origin come into contact—that is, teachers, social workers, careers officers—sometimes regard the desires and aspirations of these children and their parents as crazy and unrealistic. To such professionals, people of Caribbean origin sometimes appear not to know ‘their place’. For instance, Caribbean parents were complaining bitterly and vociferously about the education their children were receiving some thirty years before their indigenous neighbours protested and action was finally taken to improve standards. A defeatist attitude prevailed amongst the indigenous working class: that poverty-stricken neighbourhoods should be expected to contain hopeless schools, and that this is one’s lot in life.

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Chapter 1: A Circular SituationofPersistent Trauma

Barbara Fletchman Smith Karnac Books ePub

It is being said that British girls of Caribbean background are “doing better than boys” of the same background. The same is happening within the dominant ethnic group in Britain. But we need to question what “doing better” means for the girl of Caribbean background. Is she being groomed to be the family breadwinner? If so, is this what she wants or, more importantly, needs for her future and for the future of her children?

The dilemma faced by the girl can be viewed as a circular situation of persistent trauma, created by slavery. I conceptualize the trauma of slavery as an injury to the psyche passed down through individuals to the child of the unformed or broken couple. It is generated through the mother who, in the Caribbean Plantation society, was deserted by men: fathers, brothers and partners. The woman continues to think that she is deserted. She might be actually deserted, or she may feel that she is deserted. Whether she has or she hasn’t a husband or partner is not the point; it is how she thinks and feels that matters.

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Chapter 3: Women, Slavery, and Loving Relationships

Barbara Fletchman Smith Karnac Books ePub

Four generations ago, at the time of our great-great-grandparents, slavery was abolished. The Act of Emancipation abolishing slavery was passed in 1834. By the time my great-great-grandmother was born in the 1860s the Slave Trade was over.

Although women of my great-great-grandmother’s generation were free, to quote Baby Suggs from Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, “Freeing your self was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another” (1987: 95).

It was not easy for slaves to form loving relationships, but miraculously they did—both with each other, with former slaves who bought their freedom, and sometimes with slave owners. It was an environment of fear and of exhausted bodies and souls. Fear and exhaustion interfere with desire, but slaves nevertheless loved each other, made love, married in secret, had children and sometimes succeeded against all the odds to have families.

Other slaves were too traumatized by their experiences over generations to be able to love well. As we know from other more recent experiences of trauma, for example the Jewish Holocaust, some people were able to retain their humanity and others were not. Primo Levi describes this in The Drowned and the Saved:

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