The Legacy: African-Americans & Generational Trauma.

The Legacy: African-Americans & Generational Trauma.

By T. Conswello Davis

Trauma is defined as “deeply distressing or disturbing experience”.  Trauma affects our perception, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Trauma is stored within the body. Trauma is memory or memories of an experience held within the mind, body, and spirit.  We must process the meaning of the event by talking about it and the emotions we feel.  A general response and examples of behaviors people demonstrate when affected by trauma are denial or disbelief, fear, anger and irritability, hopelessness and depression, lack of focus or concentration, and numbness or disconnection. Sometimes individuals who suffer from trauma develop PTSD.

In 2018, social scientists published data relating to historical or intergenerational trauma. The premise is if the parents experience some form of trauma and do not release the emotions or heal from the experience, the body will store or even alter the DNA. Usually the effects of trauma are noticed because a person will feel the stress and anxiety. Now, research suggests the offspring of these individuals are more prone to develop stress and anxiety disorders. Research conducted on several ethnic populations confirmed they were traumatized because the ethnic had been subjected to loss of culture, genocide, disruption of communities and families.

Since the beginning of the industrialized human trafficking of Africans via the Middle Passage, trauma and death has been woven into the experiences of African-Americans in the United States. Slaves living on plantations were subjected to perpetual physical, emotional and psychological abuse. Dehumanization, sexual abuse of African men and women and arbitrary violence was a way of life and a tool of power and control.

After Emancipation, African Americans continued to experience trauma via Jim Crow, lynching, and racism. Now, let us fast forward to the present, systemic oppression, institutionalized racism, police brutality and blatant white supremacy.

In 2005, Dr. Joy De Gruy published the book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. In the book, she concluded that many African-Americans potentially suffer from Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS), “a condition that exists as a consequence of multigenerational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from centuries of chattel slavery. A form of slavery which was predicated on the belief that African Americans were inherently/genetically inferior to whites. This was then followed by institutionalized racism which continues to perpetuate injury.”

Reflecting on the past experiences of our Ancestors and the experiences of their living descendants, one must posit if he/she is affected by multigenerational and historical trauma or PTSS. Think about the videos of police officers shooting and killing innocent Black men, women, and children. Many have labeled these videos “Black Trauma Porn”. How many times have people stated they cannot watch another one of these videos because viewing them makes them feel anger, pain, and fear? It is because we too are experiencing secondary trauma. For some African American/Black men, if they have had negative experiences with law enforcement, they can be retriggered and re-traumatized.

Many of us do not acknowledge how we are impacted daily by what is happening in this country.  We must acknowledge we may have healed from one situation but with the perpetual abuse and terrorism, we are more than likely to be traumatized again in the future as more and more law enforcement officers who kill extrajudicially are released with impunity.

In 2020, domestic violence and domestic terrorism remains woven into the fabric of America. When we have politicians using Black mothers and children as political pawns, a newly elected president is overheard speaking dismissively about the concerns of the African-American leaders who helped him get elected, and pushback against African-American trauma and death has become a billion dollar industry, we must acknowledge the actions and behaviors demonstrated by the dominant white society and its non-white accomplices are unhealthy, mentally exhaustive, and their presence is triggering for many of us.

I do believe in healing. I know we are capable of healing. However, I have questions. How do we move forward after healing? How do we view this society and healing?  What can we do to alleviate the possibility of trauma and/or retraumatizing self because we live in this abnormal society?  How do we move forward in a society that continuously negates our human existence and not be traumatized at some point?

T. Conswello Davis MA, MBA, CYT is a mental health counselor based in South Florida.

2 thoughts on “The Legacy: African-Americans & Generational Trauma.

  1. Love the article! So glad to see the discussion of Generational Trauma. IT IS REAL for American Descendants of Slavery. However, the article seems to have ended with the premise that we are capable of Healing. Our Healing process must be a collective process. So I ask how are we collectively capable of Healing if our wounds never stop bleeding. My response to you is; FIRST, transformation must take place in our society and government to stop the inflictions. The Healing must be multigenerational as the trauma and damage has been multigenerational.
    We must have policies established to protect and provide Reparations to even BEGIN the healing process.

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