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Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery is a compilation essays by psychologist Dr. Na’im Akbar and a revision/update of its parent publication originally published in 1976 and re-issued in 1984. It was entitled Chains and Images of Psychological Slavery. What separates “Breaking the Chains” from its predecessor is “the inclusion of specific sections which address the process of eliminating mental slavery or “the ghost of the plantation.”
Dr. Akbar develops two ideas in these essays. They are the impact of slavery and the influence of Caucasian images for worship on the psychology of African-Americans. Dr. Akbar introduces a behavioral determinant which he says, does not have great legitimacy in Western psychology. And that is “the notion that individual behavior can be influenced by collective factors which are also historically remote.”
In the first essay, Psychological Legacy of Slavery, Dr. Akbar says that the over 300 years experienced in slavery’s brutality and unnaturalness constituted a severe psychological and social shock in the minds of African-Americans. And while the historian has touched on the realities of slavery (simply as descriptive of past events), psychologists and sociologists “have failed to attend to the persistence of problems in our mental and social lives which clearly have roots in slavery.”
He discusses the slave-making strategy white slave trader, William (Willie) Lynch laid out in his infamous speech delivered in 1712. Willie Lynch concluded this speech by saying, “My plan is guaranteed, and the good thing is that if used intensely for one year, the slaves themselves will remain perpetually distrustful.” And 300 years later, Willie Lynch is still with us for as Dr. Akbar says Africans in America “still spend more time justifying our separate goals that we do working on our shared goals.”
The essay entitled Liberation from Mental Slavery devises strategies for the breaking of these mental chains. Dr. Akbar reminds us every other form of animal life on this planet, no matter how gigantic or how small is guided by their instinct or innate programming. Humans are the only life form in nature that operates based upon our self-consciousness or what we know about ourselves. We only know what we are taught. As one scholar writes, the mode of the academy is at the base of social control. Black and White minds alike are therefore guided/enslaved by the excessive and distorted information about white people and the absence of information about black people. Dr. Akbar warns that it will be difficult for all of us to acknowledge our slave mentality because “the very nature of mental slavery creates an illusion that we are free.”
The last essay, Racial Religious Imagery and Psychological Confusion, is perhaps the most powerful and controversial essay in the book. According to Dr. Akbar, “Modern students and scholars of the mind have not adequately dealt with the influence of religious symbols and imagery on the thinking of people.” “The assignment of particular characteristics to the Creator is one of the most destructive ideas in the world today,” says Akbar. “The image of the Creator sets the tone for the potential of creativity in the human sphere.” He goes on to discuss how one portrayed in the image of God begins to feel that his particular physical features have endowed him with automatic claims to divinity, while one not so portrayed develops the idea that the image represented is superior and therefore he is inferior. Dr. Akbar says, “Perhaps the most disturbing fact is that this Caucasian image of Divinity has become an unconsciously controlling factor in the psychology of African-Americans.” There has long been a growing movement among Black biblical scholars to set the record straight and to declare, through critical scholarship, that Yeshua/Jesus, if not Black was most certainly a person of color. And that the blond-haired, blue-eyed images of Jesus are historically incorrect. However says Akbar, In spite of this critical scholarship, many of our most radical thinking African-American scholars and clergymen are reluctant to openly challenge what they have come to believe unconsciously is actually the image of God.” Friedrich Nietzsche, a well known philosopher when writing about how the individual uses history said, “The history of his town becomes the history of himself; he looks on the walls, the turreted gates, the town council, the fair, as an illustrated diary of his youth, and sees himself in it.” We know that most of the portraits, paintings, carvings and sculptures of biblical figures were produced more than 400 years after biblical times by European artists.
My good friend James Anyike, a Chicago-based historian and author says, the Nietzsche approach to history guided the early European church in its recreation of biblical history. This led to the exclusion of true black images from the Europeans’ interpretation of biblical events and “was a by-product of their attempts to see themselves in a history that seldom included their race.” I’m reminded of a conversation I once had with my mentor Baba Afolabi Epega about the position of our Imole Oluwa Institute of Nigeria with respect to the ethnicity of Obatala. His response led me to believe that he had acquiesced to the publishing of erroneous information in that regard in order to allow Europeans to “see themselves in a history that seldom included their race.” My response to my mentor was and is, if our historical religious figures in their true ethnic appearance become unacceptable to present day practitioners because they were black people, then their racism becomes more powerful than their faith and submission to Olodumare. And as Dr. Akbar says, Our objective is not the captivity of Europeans nor the guiltless domination of them but liberation from mental slavery demands that accurate information about the Black reality and experience be transmitted as broadly and as intensely as possible. He cautions that ultimate liberation does not involve simply substituting an African racial image for the Caucasian one but ultimate liberation recognizes that the form of the Creator is a form far superior to all human flesh.
Noted scholar Molefi Asante tells us that as we Africans in America received our legal freedom in the 19th century and our social freedom in the 20th century, we must strive to receive our psychological freedom in the 21st century. With that goal in mind, Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery is an excellent and highly readable primer.