The Name of the Game is Shame

Posted By on August 25, 2014

In ‘The Name of the Game is Shame: The Effects of Slavery and its Aftermath’ Gilda Graff (2011) asks the question: Why is the subject of slavery and racism present in Morrison’s novels … and so absent even from much historical literature and many textbooks?

She acknowledges that even having elected an African American president that the silence surrounding slavery

… may be one consequence of the void that slavery has left in our consciousness is due in part to shame, it was shameful to practice slavery, shameful to be a slave, and shameful to justify slavery. “What was shameful had to be banished from awareness.” (Gump, 2000, p.623).

Suchet (2004) reinforces that idea by indicating that “whites have dissociated the historical position of the oppressor from collective consciousness due to our inability to tolerate an identification with the aggressor” (Suchet, 2004, p.423).

Thus the shame and trauma of slavery causes dissociation, not only to enslaved blacks and their descendants, but to whites as well.

Shame and dissociation alone are not responsible for our collective denial of the importance of slavery and race to the history of this country.

In addition, whiteness is used as the universal norm in an attempt to project the burden of racial difference onto others (Suchet, 2004), just as psychologists “have tended to regard male behaviour as the norm and female behaviour as some kind of deviation from that norm” (Gilligan, 1982, p.14 quoting David McClelland), and therefore concluded that something must be wrong with women …

The important point I take from the ideas shared by Graff above points to the fact that in hiding from our failures, rather than facing up to them, the problems become bigger and bigger.

In addition, new slavery is acknowledged as a growing industry in the 21st century but is largely silent in the global economy. (Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Kevin Bales, 2004)

As a result we are losing sight of what it means to be whole, fully alive, experiencing, choiceful and free human beings as we build fortresses of silence around ourselves, individually and collectively, when the hallmark of humanity is communication.

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