Dr. Amos Wilson: Why We Do The Things We Do
(In 1998, Our Time Press ran a three-part series on Post-Traumatic Slavery Syndrome, taking the title from the lecture of Professor Joy Leary at St. Paul Community Baptist Church MAAFA lectures.
Part three of the series came from a lecture at Brooklyn’s Slave Theater in 1995 given by the late Dr. Amos N. Wilson, assistant professor of Psychology at the City University of New York. )
By Dr. Amos N. Wilson
Power is not Sinful
We’re going to talk about African-centered consciousness, personality and culture as instruments of power. Because, ultimately, this is what this whole struggle is about: Power. To a great extent, the problems that we are confronted with today as African people and African people in America flows from our powerlessness, or our inappropriate use of power. We’ve been made to think that power is sinful, and that to pursue it is a sinful pursuit.
But you cannot exist without power. Without power there is no life. You need power to act, to behave in the world. And consequently then, we must interpret what we are about in terms of power. And we have the power, ladies and gentlemen. We have the possibilities. We just need to reorganize ourselves. We need to organize our consciousness and our personalities and our culture and see them as instruments of power, and use them as instruments of power to transform our situation. So do not look at consciousness as some abstraction.
Organize Your World, Get a Good Theory
As I often tell people, the most practical thing you can have is a good theory, a good concept to guide your behavior. As an instrument to measure and test reality. A good theory organizes the world and organizes one’s approach to the world and permits one to be able to evaluate the world in terms of where one wants to go and what one wants to do. To be without theory then is to approach the world on an ad hoc basis. Always reacting to what other people are doing.
Always being overwhelmed by events and overwhelmed by the future. Instead of creating events and creating the future and making the future. With a good theory and a good concept, one is able to do that.
Your Consciousness Creates Your World
It is the presence of human consciousness that brings meaning into the world. And through our consciousness, we create the world we live in. In other words, the kind of world you exist in reflects the kind of consciousness that you have.
And notice if you change your consciousness or change your values and orientation, you enter into a different world. You interact with different people. Social situations that you might not have even recognized until you entered into a new level of consciousness. For instance, you see people who become addicted to crack or something, entering into a whole world and social system that before they became addicted, they hardly noticed. They picked up new friends, new relations and whole new ways of acting. New purposes in life. They lost old friends, broke with old families. In other words, the addictive consciousness brought into the world a new foreground and put other things into the background. Therefore, man’s consciousness is a creative act, and the kind of consciousness you have will determine the kind of world you create.
Consequently, when you look at the world we live in as African people, we must recognize to a great extent it is not a world of our own creation. It is a world that has been created by the kind of consciousness we have permitted to be instilled in us as a people.
The Power is in Our Hands
We talk about the white man as having power. I want you to recognize that power
ultimately has to do with the relationship between people. And that the white man’s so-called power is to a great extent based upon the nature of the relationship he has with the black man. We empower him by the nature of our own behavior and attitudes as a people. He cannot be what he is unless we are what we are. To a good extent, the European is our creation. If we look at our behavior, we will see that to a good extent it is that behavior; our values, our consciousness, the kinds of personalities we’ve established in ourselves, our tastes, our desires and needs that maintains the European in this position.
We talk about the civil rights movement. And the apartheid system of the South.
When blacks decided just to get out of the buses and walk, the system changed. When they just stopped sitting in the back. Just changing that relationship changed the nature of power in that system.
When they kept their monies in their pockets, when they sat on those stools and blocked the other people from them, and changed the nature of the interaction between themselves and Europeans, the nature of the system changed. So, therefore, we have tremendous power; it depends upon how we align ourselves as a people and how we decide to relate to other people in the world, because they cannot have what they have unless we are who we are. That is why we don’t have to spend a great deal of time always appealing to them, and analyzing them, because we can better appeal to our own sense of self and our own consciousness.
We waste a lot of time trying to transform them, when by transforming ourselves, they will be transformed automatically. The power is in our hands. We are not destined to be the servants of white folks. That is not the destiny of black folk.
Education for What Purpose
Many of us go to these schools to become “qualified” to work for whom? To work for them. Why do we assume that they’re going to have jobs for us? These people are having difficulty making jobs for themselves. The greatest challenge that the European economies are facing today is that they are not generating enough jobs for their own people.
And even though America is bragging about the millions of jobs it’s creating, those jobs are part-time jobs, low-wage jobs and jobs that have little or no future. So when people talk about creating jobs, you have to ask what kinds of jobs are being created. That’s why the system is not investing in black education. It no longer needs black people to maintain its employment structure.
You see it bringing in people from outside the nation to be employed. You see it even is hiring in other nations and other places. Already, it has reached the point where its need for black males is pretty much saturated, and it literally is warehousing us in jails and prisons, and provoking us to kill each other and to destroy each other out here in these streets.
We Create Jobs
And yet, we are still organizing the education of our children as though the white man has jobs waiting for them in multitudes. How different our education would be if we sent our children to school to create jobs for themselves. To create their own economic and political systems. To see themselves as the major sources of their employment. I heard something about some people … protesting for jobs and pushing these other people for jobs, and I asked the question. Do we know how many jobs we create for other people? We are a job-creating people. We don’t realize it because we don’t think in terms of nation. If we saw ourselves as a nation, we could see that we create jobs like any other nation.
How many jobs are created by black music? Look at the whole structure of the music industry. From promoters to the manufacturers of the records and the tapes, to the whole entertainment field, to the sellers of music in the stores, the Tower Records and the other great sellers of records and music and the advertising that uses our music, etc. How many thousands of jobs are we creating as a people? We’re creating them, but they have them. We sing the music, they sell it. We sing the music, they market it. We sing the music, they promote it.
We sing the music; they produce great conglomerates like Sony, CBS Music, creating all kinds of jobs. We create tremendous jobs for a lot of people. How many jobs do we create just buying from Koreans? Buying from other ethnic groups. How many people are we creating employment for in terms of our spending habits as a people and our consumption habits as a people? How many jobs are we creating going to jail? We’re creating all kinds of jobs and wealth, and we must come to understand this.
We are creating these jobs, and yet we are begging for jobs. This means that somewhere our consciousness has been impaired. We’re begging for what we are making already. And we cannot use our own creations as a source of our own wealth.
Wealth is in the Mind
The Creator could not have intended for us as African people to be a poor people if the Creator implanted in our soils all the wealth that was planted there. We talk about the minerals and the oil, and the gold and more that have been planted in African soils, so the Creator has blessed us from the very beginning with wealth and possibility. Therefore, for us to be going hungry over this wealth and to be starving in the midst of it, and to be perceived as a dependent, indebted people, while our wealth is being shipped out to other people, we’re actually selling a lot of it for pennies, nickels and dimes and less–means that there is something wrong with our consciousness. Because ultimately, we’ve said the wealth of a people is not in their land, it’s in the mind. The wealth of man is in his mind. In his consciousness. We look at the example of Japan. No mineral wealth to speak of whatsoever. Nothing at all. A nation that is totally dependent. Of course, we get things backward don’t we? We see ourselves as depending on Europeans when the reality is the other way around. They depend on us. We have to be backwards in order for this situation to be the way it is. Our reality has to be turned backwards and we have to live in an almost permanent state of deception in order to be used in the way we are used. The Japanese must depend on others for their vital resources, their oil, their timber. All of these things that they use to create their technology and so forth is taken from the soils of other people and then sold back to them.
And yet they are seen as rich and powerful, and the people’s whose wealth they take or buy are seen as poor and poverty-stricken.
Our Mentality Must be Impoverished
Ultimately, you cannot rob or take from a poor people. You cannot get wealth from a poverty-stricken people. So if you’re getting all your diamonds, gold, magnesium and all the rest from African people, then African people must be wealthy and rich. Therefore, if African people are poverty-stricken with this material wealth, then it must be because our consciousness as a people is impoverished and we are suffering an impoverishment of our mentality. If you have a good mind, you can con another joker out of his land. You can con him out of his diamonds and his gold, and this is what the other people have done. They have used their mind and their cleverness and taken from us what they did not have originally. Therefore, consciousness is not an abstract concept. It is not a theoretical concept; it is a concept that is directly related to the reality one lives in. It is directly related to the type of life that one will live. So I’m going to look at this for a minute. Particularly, the consciousness of Africans in America.
Why Do You Talk About Slavery?
I’m often somewhat amused and taken aback by the number of people in this society who claim that slavery occurred somewhere back then…and that the experience of slavery is not supposed to be operating in the mentality of black folks. You hear a lot of youngsters saying that as well. “Why do you talk about slavery? That was back there.”
Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve never escaped slavery. We still share the slave consciousness of our great-great-grandparents. We are of the same mind to a great extent that they were. We have not advanced beyond these people. How can I say that? I generally ask a series of questions. You say that slavery has nothing to do with you and that slavery was back there. I ask you what language do you speak? When did you learn that language? Was that the language African people were speaking when we were taken into slavery in America? In other words, the language we speak at this moment is a slave language. The language that our slave ancestors were forced to learn. And we still speak it and you can still hear the pidgin, the Creole and the other kinds of stuff in our language right now. That language, with its words defined by history and by experience, is the language we use today to guide our behavior. It’s the language we use today to talk to ourselves. It’s the language we use today to learn about ourselves and to learn about the world. It’s the language we use to try to understand ourselves. Is there no wonder then that we are still confused? So we have not escaped slavery because we are still using a slave language, and we speak the language of slaves.
What kind of food do you eat? You say, “soul food”? Was that the food of African people? Slave food. The food that we find most satisfying. The food that we find that sticks to our ribs. The food that we call “down home”. A food that we learned to eat in the quarters. And yet we dare say that we have escaped slavery. That we have nothing to do with those people back there. When our whole very social life and social relationships, our very definition of ourselves as a people, our very attempt to commune with ourselves is mediated by the food of slaves. How can you say you exist in a different consciousness from another people? What kind of uniforms are we wearing? What kind of clothes are we wearing? Were these the clothes of African people? This is what we’ve got to look at. What kind of names do we respond to? What kind of names do we identify with? Why is it that African names sound strange to us now as a people? And yet we dare say we have a different consciousness from our great-grandparents. How can we say that? We are still in the same consciousness and we are still in the same position. Because we are still servants of the white man, and our reason for being in America is to serve white folks and to generate wealth for them. And there has been no change at all in terms of our relationship to these people.
Time to Change the Consciousness
The values that we pursue are slave values and the values of servants. The social relations that we create and interact with were built and developed during the period of slavery. We have not escaped it at all. But it is time for us to change the slave consciousness. This consciousness of servitude that is still too much with us today. And ultimately, we ask the question that is closest to home for a lot of people. When we claim that we have escaped slavery and that slavery was something back there, which has nothing to do with us today, and then I ask you the question, “What kind of God do you worship?”
What’s the name of Him? Who taught you to praise Him? Was this the God you were praying to before you were brought to these shores? Is this the religion you had before you were brought to these shores? Can you name one African God? How can you then define yourself, the very essence of yourself, and the very essence of your soul and organize the very nature of your life here on earth based on a God handed to us by our slave masters and claim that you have no slave consciousness and are not related to slavery? In other words then ladies and gentlemen, we are not Africans. We are possessed by spirits and demons. We have let another people’s spirit take possession of our bodies and take possession of our minds.
When we speak it is not with our African voice, it is with the voice of the demonic presence that uses our lips to speak its own language. We have to recognize this. We are possessed. If we are to transform ourselves and transform the nature of our relationship with those who are our masters, we must engage in an exorcism and clear the devils out of our minds.
Literature of Possession
At this time, it would pay you to read a little bit about demonic possession. And you have to be demonically possessed, because if we talk about black-on-black violence, self-defeating behavior, self-destructive behavior, then we could not be possessed by a beautiful and wonderful God. We must be possessed by a demon.
It’s interesting to look at the literature of possession. There are several types of possession. One is called a somnambulistic possession. “Soma” having to do with sleep, “ambulistic”, to move around, ambulatory. So we’re talking about people who are sleepwalking. Not awake but they’re walking around. The body is moving and it is walking in an organized fashion, and walking systematically, but the person is still asleep. And in somnambulistic possession then, the individual’s original self has been repressed and displaced and he identifies with the spirit that possesses him. And his eye and the spirit’s eye are one and the same.
In Defending our Ego, We Destroy Ourselves
We have a lot of that today, where the spirit has been implanted in us and we have taken to be us. We’ve identified with it. That is why in defending ourselves we end up defending the people who rule over us. In defending our ego, we end up maintaining the social structure that has destroyed our ego to begin with. And you see it in our youngsters who will fight and kill in the name of respect. And fight because their ego-orientation has been insulted. And therefore in defending their ego, they do not kill the people who destroyed their ego, they kill each other and maintain the ones who destroyed them in the first place, in power. That’s why the subtitle of my book, Black-on-Black Violence was Black Self-Annihilation in Service of White Domination. We are killing each other in order to maintain this system. We have let ourselves become possessed by a spirit, such that when we become aggressive, we aggress against the self, instead of those who are the source of our aggressive orientation.
Black Self-Hatred is White Man’s Self-Defense
We talk a lot as a people about self-hatred. Self-hatred is a personality configuration. It is an orientation toward the world and toward oneself.
Self-hatred then, is the white man’s greatest protection against being destroyed by the black man. To a good extent, self-hatred is the white man’s self-defense mechanism. How can we say that? Well, one function of the personality is to direct energy. To channel aggression and energy and wishes and impulses in particular directions.
Those things that we hate, when we are angry or hostile, we aggress against them, don’t we? We attack them, we destroy them. Then we have a problem, don’t we? If we attack the things we hate, if we attack the things towards which we hold hostility when we are overly frustrated and when we are angry, then what happens if that thing we hate is ourselves? It means then, ladies and gentlemen, when we become frustrated and angered as a people, when we are overwrought by feelings of hostility, and our self-hating personality seeks to channel that hostility, and channel that aggression, it’s going to channel that aggression right back on the self. Because that’s the thing we hate most.
So consequently, black anger then becomes a conduit for black self-destruction. For black self-defeat. The object of our hostile, aggressive feelings becomes ourselves. And you can see then how the white man is protected by that personality structure. While he stokes our anger, while he stokes our hostility, while he stokes our frustration, and while we get mad and want to strike out, when we decide to strike out and aggress, we strike out and aggress against the self. And by doing so, he is left untouched and unscathed. Therefore, our self-hatred becomes his principle means of defending himself and maintaining himself.
Colin Ferguson was a Scare
One of the things that frightened him most about the Colin Ferguson case (the man who went on a shooting rampage on the Long Island Railroad) was that Ferguson’s self-hatred mechanism broke down. Unlike many deaf, dumb and blind Negroes, he knew who his enemies were. And so when he got angry and hostile, instead of going out to drink himself to death, instead of going out to smoke crack and destroy himself, instead of going out and killing someone who looked like himself, instead of going out to commit suicide and put himself in a place to be destroyed by somebody else, he went directly to the source of his frustration. This is what frightened those people. They were wondering how many more are there like that, and are they increasing. So you can see why the seed of self-hatred is planted in the minds of the black man.
Who Benefits from the Black Man’s Aberrations
We spend a lot of time about what it does to us, but we’ve got to also look at how every maladaptive characteristics in the black psyche is there for white folks. It’s not there because they hate you, or misunderstand you. It has nothing to do with all of that. I tell people when you analyze the so-called aberrations in the black personality you must always ask the question, “What are their social functions and roles?” Who benefits from this aberration in the black man’s mind? What is the social, political and economic benefit, and for whom?
Who gains from this particular orientation in our minds? Then you begin to see why it’s there and what its function is. So every complaint we have about ourselves has a political, economic and social intent beneficial to white folk and detrimental to ourselves.
That means then somewhere along the way we became possessed by these orientations. And they were implanted on our personalities. We have come to identify with them as our natural selves, as our natural orientations. We have assumed that they represent who we are. And we have now found many ingenious ways to defend the demons that possess us. Ultimately then, those demons destroy us and have us destroy others like ourselves.
A Change of Consciousness Goes to the Bone
The bodies that we have tonight, ladies and gentlemen, are bodies that have been created by the European experience, and are not our natural bodies as African people. Just as the surface of our bodies reflect the influence of another people, the very internal nature and the physiology of our bodies reflect those people as well. That’s why when you get rid of them, you’re going to have a healing experience. And your whole body will change. I’ve read some of this before, but let me read it again, I think in this context. This is most dramatic when we study the so-called multiple personality, and let me read you a description here that was printed in the Times. It begins, “When Timmy drinks orange juice he has no problem. But Timmy is just one of close to one dozen personalities who alternate control over a patient with multiple personality disorder. And if those other personalities drink orange juice, the result is a case of hives”.
What are we saying here? We’ve got one body, but depending on what consciousness possesses that body, that body will react to the drinking of orange juice, with or without hives. It will break out in blisters. So, if it drinks orange juice when one of the other personalities are possessing it, welts and hives will break out right there. If Timmy comes back, if the new consciousness comes back, and takes over that body, the hives will disappear almost on the moment. In other words, there is a different body for a different consciousness. It goes on to say that “medical disorders are found to differ from one sub-personality to another”. In other words, even though these so-called personalities possess the same so-called body, each personality has a different order of illnesses associated with it. Each personality is vulnerable to a particular type of ailment, one way or the other. So, what are we talking about? We’re saying that each consciousness that is represented by each personality creates its own body, creates its own physiology, and thereby creates its own vulnerability to various ailments and so forth. You see, you get people in medical school who try to teach you that disease only occurs as a result of some kind of viral syndrome, or some kind of entity into the body of some bacteria, and certainly that is a part of it, and certainly there is reality there. But the body must interact with the viruses, and must interact with the diseased entity, and this is what we talk about when we talk about the immune system, that health is not necessarily the absence of the disease, but the capacity of the body to resist the disease, to stand up against the disease.
And so, consequently, when these bodies are taken over by different personalities, these personalities apparently change the nature of the immune system of those bodies, making them vulnerable to diseases when one personality is present and not so when another is present. Which means ladies and gentlemen, that the nature of the consciousness which possesses us as persons, will, to a degree, determine the illnesses to which we are vulnerable as a person and as people. And a lot of the illnesses, physical and other diseases that we suffer within, are mediated by the nature of the consciousness that we’ve permitted to possess us as a people. To a great extent, the defeat of disease, the maintaining of health, must not only be pursued in terms of discovering new drugs and these kinds of things, but must involve self-discovery and self-knowledge. It goes on to state that “in people with multiple personalities, there is a strong psychological separation between each sub-personality. Each will have his own name and age.” Does that strike a bell? What did we say earlier? To what names do we respond? Are they the same names to which we responded prior to slavery? So in other words, as we got the new slave personality, we got what? New names. And we were changed.
Our Names Marked New Consciousness
To a good extent, our names were given to us to designate our new consciousness and our new situation. “Each will have his own name and age, and often some specific memories and abilities.” In other words, each personality has his own history, has his own biography and has his own memory. And you look at Negroes when they have a certain consciousness and look at the history they remember.
Look at the things that they keep in their memories and look at the histories they study and identify with. Look at them fight African history. Yes they do. Look at them want to identify with the history of Europeans. Look at them wanting to define themselves in terms of that history and look at them having memories only for that history. Look at those Africans who are still under the possessive influence of the European implanted spirit, and note that they have little or no knowledge of African history. And therefore, little or no knowledge of their own history as a person and an individual.
So there is a consistency between the consciousness and the history that a person has and the memory that an individual has. “Frequently, personalities differ in handwriting, artistic talent or even in knowledge of foreign languages. Multiple personalities typically develop in people who were severely and repeatedly abused as children. Apparently as a means to protect themselves against the pain of abuse.” Does that strike another note in you? “Often, only one or two of the sub-personalities will be conscious of the abuse, while the others will have no memory or experience of the pain.”
Trying to Escape the Memory of Slave Experience
To a great extent, the personality of the African-American today has been shaped by our desires to escape the memory of the slave experience, to deny its existence. We don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to come to terms with it. We don’t want to re-experience it psychologically. And therefore, our lives become defined by eternal escape and avoidance of reality and of history and of knowledge of who we are and how we came to be who and what we are. And consequently, we cannot act upon the reality of our history and we therefore guide our behavior and define ourselves in terms of a fantasy as history, and a misinterpretation of reality….
Think about the African and the world the African lived in prior to being brought across the oceans. Think about the gods we praised. Think about the organization of our societies. Think about the languages we spoke, the food we ate, the dress we wore, the music, the songs, the dance, and all of those things that defined us as African people. And think how horrendous it must have been for us to be thrown in this world, where there was a whole new language, a whole new social hierarchy, a whole new set of authorities, people pushing you around who you don’t understand, people who are putting strange tools in your hands, people who are trying to get you to relate to them and to relate to each other in a very different kind of way than what you are used to. Think about the stress and the confusion, and think about the abuse. Think about the horror of that situation that our parents and great-grandparents were put in. And there was somebody that said then, “If you pray to this god, if you talk this way, if you dress this way, if you relate this way, you’ll get a greater sense of security. Your anxiety will be reduced. You will feel good, and you’ll be able to withstand the pain of your existence. And the god that I’m going to hand you is one that I have created for you, and the theology that comes with it is one that I have created so that you will continue to serve me as you continue to serve it.” And we come to believe in the veracity and the God of that religion. Why? Because we feel so secure when we follow it, and we feel so relieved when we follow it. And yet we wonder why, despite all of our prayers, despite all of our devotion, we still suffer the way we do.
A Reorientation to Religion is Needed
I often ask the question, “Why is it that the people who pray the most have the most children in the jails of America today? Those who shout and kicks over the benches and so forth are filling up the prisons and have the children killing each other and addicted out here in these streets?” There must be a problem here ladies and gentlemen. We must reorient ourselves to our religion. We must reorient ourselves to our gods, because apparently we don’t have the appropriate orientation. As that book you read says, you can tell a tree by the fruit it bears, and therefore if it bears bitter fruit, or if it bears no fruit at all, the god you worship says it is but fit to be hewn down and thrown into the flame and consumed. Read your own Bible. It gives you a very practical measure as to whether the religion you are pursuing is an appropriate one.
(Dr. Wilson authored: The Developmental Psychology of the Black Child, Black-on-Black Violence: the Psychodynamics of Black Self-Annihilation in Service of White Domination, Awakening the Natural Genius of Black Children, Blueprint for Black Power and more. Following is text from Wilson’s lecture. The foregoing are excerpts from an historic lecture delivered by Dr. Amos N. Wilson at the Slave Theater in Brooklyn, NY. The lecture in its entirety appears in, “Afrikan-Centered Consciousness Versus The New World Order: Garveyism in the Age of Globalism.” For more information, call Afrikan World Infosystems 718 462-1830.)