Updated: Jun 17, 2021
Before we dive into transgenerational, and historical trauma, it is important to understand what they mean. Transgenerational trauma, or intergenerational trauma is a psychological term related to trauma that is transferred between generations. When trauma is experienced and survived by a first generation, this trauma is then transferred to their children, who then pass it on to their children and so on. Historical trauma is the result of a series of traumatic events that has caused emotional harm that is transferred via complex post-traumatic stress disorder mechanisms to the generations that follow.
Black communities have endured trauma for hundreds of years. From the colonisation of Africa, Arabic and Transatlantic slave trades to racism-driven violence, and continuous systemic racism. Black people have experienced toxic stress that scientists have decided to research more in recent years.
Though there hasn’t been as many studies on how Black people have been directly affected by historical trauma, studies have proved that children, and grandchildren, of Holocaust survivors have a higher resting heart rates in comparison to others. This is clear evidence of individuals experiencing side effects of trauma that they did not witnessed themselves. The same study showed that first and second-generation descendants of those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have a higher risk of developing mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Epigenetics scientists have found that trauma experienced by parents can not only impact the DNA but also the behaviour of their children. What does that mean to the Black communities around the world? Centuries of unaddressed injustices, exploitations, and abuse still manifests today. How many Black people have been told by their parents and elders that they have to work two, or even three times as hard just to be considered as good as others? This is an example of historical roots and trauma that is a direct result of our ancestors' experiences.
Enslaved people worked from sunup to sundown. If they appeared to be exhausted, they’d be called lazy and be punished with lashings. During the reign of King Leopold II, Belgium created a slave society in The Congo to help meet the demands of the rubber industry. If an enslaved person did not meet their rubber collection quota, they’d be punished by death, or have their hands chopped off. It wasn’t uncommon for the punishment to be extended to children, if a father didn’t meet his rubber quota or seemed lazy, the limbs of his children would be mutilated. These are just two of too many examples of the trauma Black people have experienced that has been embedded into our DNA. The importance, and stress on work ethic is a direct response to centuries of trauma.
It is not uncommon for a black parent to downplay their child’s academic and career achievements in settings where parents of other ethnicities would take the opportunity to boast about their child. This is to ensure their child doesn’t attract too much attention or is seen as a threat to others. During the times of slavery, if a black child seemed intelligent, or gifted in any way, there was a risk of the slave owner selling the child and separating them from their family forever.
It is important to understand the root of various behaviours within our communities in order for us to heal as a collective. We can’t wait for our oppressors to make amends before we deal with these inherited issues. The recent news of Germany offering reparations to Namibia for their colonial-era genocide is possibly a step in the right direction in regard to former colonial powers taking responsibility for their actions, however, the healing of our bloodlines start with us understanding the importance of mental health and the overall well-being of our communities.
Our ancestors went through too much for us to not do everything in our power to live the lives they could only dream of!