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Daniel, B. (2002). Mental Slavery: Psychoanalytic Studies of Caribbean People by Barbara Fletchman Smith. Rebus Press, London 2000.. Free Associations, 9(2):329-336.

(2002). Free Associations, 9(2):329-336

Mental Slavery: Psychoanalytic Studies of Caribbean People by Barbara Fletchman Smith. Rebus Press, London 2000.

Review by:
Barbara Daniel

What is the link between the social and the psyche? To what extent is the external world represented internally and to what extent does it shape the internal world? More specifically, how far can we maintain that a historic trauma will show continuing collective and individual effects? Can we demonstrate effects over time and describe a mode of transmission? Complex questions are continually raised in this area of enquiry and this book has begun to tackle some of them. Barbara Fletchman Smith's Mental Slavery: Psychoanalytic Studies of Caribbean People starts from a premise of the continuing and formative traumatic effects of a real past — slavery — in the lives of British African Caribbean patients seen in therapy.

The centrality of the institution of slavery in creating an identity of the ‘African-Caribbean’ underpins her position. Slavery created Caribbean society, was its base and raison d'être, and had specific modes and practices. Such being the case it is inconceivable to imagine that slavery would not have left its stamp and unique influence on the society it spawned. Therefore, the idea that observable after-effects exist in the society after its eradication should not be deemed fanciful. However, as Fletchman Smith suggests, the idea that slavery and its aftermath might even today affect a person's psychological state is a discomforting one. There are risks of being seen as wanting to institutionalize victim-hood or to create guilt and blame. Clearly sensitivities in this area owe much to our objective knowledge that transatlantic slavery was a cruel institution. Had it been benign these sensitivities would not have existed.


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