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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 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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3. A Young Man's Psychotic Breakdown

Barbara Fletchman Smith Karnac Books ePub

The Murderer, a novel by Roy Heath, was first published in 1978. It tells the story of the progress of a young man through a psychotic illness whom—whilst in an extremely paranoid state— commits murder.

The author is Guyanese. Guyana is a country with slavery in its history, as well as violent resistance to slavery, and a vibrant pre-slavery heritage. Indeed, Amerindians survive in the interior of the country to this day.

Guyana has a small population for its size. Large parts of the country are unfamiliar to its inhabitants, except in the form of stories and myths. The country is situated below sea-level and is subject to periodic flooding, which perhaps has a bearing on the name of the hero of Heath’s novel—Galton Flood.

Heath presents a graphic account of a young man going mad, and I shall use features of the story to explore various ideas on the developmental factors which facilitate paranoia. I am interested especially in how psychotic breakdown assumes its shape, and how it is handled by the people around the person who experiences it.

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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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1. Slavery: The Historical Background

Barbara Fletchman Smith Karnac Books ePub

Before taking a look at the inside of patients of Caribbean origin, I think it would be appropriate to take a look outside, at the historical connections between Africans in the Caribbean, and the British.2

I have grouped together the different countries of the Caribbean, but in the full knowledge that they are very different from one another. To me their differences are less important than their similarities because the people of these countries— together with African-Americans—share a historical past.

The terms ‘British of Caribbean origin’, ‘African-Caribbean’, ‘Afro-British’, ‘Black British’, ‘Black English’, ‘Scots or Welsh of Caribbean origin’ are all used currently to describe the group of men and women upon which I wish to focus. The wide variety of definitions is part of a wider process of re-assembling identities, currently taking place in the post-empire, post-independence period. Indeed, ‘people of Caribbean origin’ also include the descendants of indentured labourers from Europe, Asia and elsewhere, and Caribbean people who migrated to the USA will have experiences in common with those who migrated to the UK. The majority of the population in most Caribbean countries, however, continues to be ethnic African.3 So although I am focusing upon people of African origin, I am aware that most people from the Caribbean are racially mixed to some degree. It is true to say that they are predominantly ethnically African, and their descendants in Britain are also viewed as such. In a climate in which racism thrives, one runs the risks of ‘singling out’ this group of people as a ‘problem’. However, this is a risk I am prepared to take. By damaging others, people also damage themselves, and I suspect that if I were to focus on the children of former slave-owners, then I would discover traumas there too. In the making of empires, it is inevitable that crimes will be committed.

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