Racial Trauma: The Real Pre-Existing Health Condition

“American slavery was the economic cornerstone on which American wealth and power were built-wealth and power which lasts to this day...”

— Randall Robinson

Photo by Gary Butterfield on Unsplash

In Light of all that’s happening amid the pandemic, now more than ever, the world is the beginning to realize that while we may be one, we are not treated as such, specifically Black peolple. I can't help, but believe this is divine intervention, to be at home and no longer turn a blind eye to the injustices. As we create more room for conversation, healing around racism, trauma, police brutality, and unjust murders to name it a few- it's essential to breathe. No really, take a moment-inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Historically, marginalized communities, specifically BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), have experienced Trauma upon Trauma upon Trauma. With the most recent killings of innocent Black Lives, the need to center and amplify Black voices cannot be ignored. Some of the following injustices to name a few includes:

  • Justice System 

  • Education System

  • Redlining/Housing (NPR Video)

  • History of Unethical Medical Advancements at the expense of Slaves (Vox Video

The Study of Epigenetics, meaning "in addition to changes in genetic sequence" has helped shed much light on how White Supremacy has impacted generations of those less privileged: Non-White people. Dr. Rachel Yehuda, PhD, Professor, Psychiatry, Neuroscience, Director, Division of Traumatic Stress Studies, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has conducted much research on PTSD and the study of Transgenerational Trauma among Holocaust Survivors. According to Dr. Yehuda as noted in the book, "It Didn't Start with You", People with PTSD relive feelings and sensations associated with trauma, even though the trauma occurred in the past. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, numbness, insomnia, nightmares frightening thoughts, and being easily startled or on edge. Dr. Yehuda and her team found the children of Holocaust survivors who had PTSD, were born with low cortisol levels similar to their parents predisposing them to relive the PTSD symptoms of the previous generation, or discovery of low cortisol levels and people who experience in acute traumatic event has been controversial going against the long held notion that stress is associated with high cortisol levels, specifically in cases of chronic PTSD. Not only did she find that the survivors in her study produce less cortisol, a characteristic they can pass on to their children. She notes that several stress-related psychiatric disorders, including PTSD. Chronic Pain Syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome are associated with low blood levels of cortisol.

That said, one can only imagine what the lasting impressions of slavery have been. Dr. Joy DeGruy, author of "Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome" has conducted much research and speaks to this particular experience. Author of The Body Keeps the Score speaks upon the need to examine PTSD from a different and more critical lens, noting the need to include Complex Trauma as a Diagnosable Disorder. More recently, in 2019, Harvard published an article on the impact trauma has on one's physical health. With all this information, one has to ask why hasn't more attention and funding been made to address this? The short answer-Systemic Racism.

Dr. Van Der Kolk has been vocal the financial gains by associations while highlighting treatment modalities that may not be reimbursed by insurance companies. This directly impacts and determine who has access to qualified mental health services. As a result, other healing modalities are labeled as “alternative” which may be accessible via private pay by well, those with more access to financial resources. There’s levels to this, and it’s all connected.

What Now? Flip the Script.

  • Reclaim- To do this is to take back what was robbed. It starts with awareness. Below are highlighted readings while supporting local businesses. Healing is a lifelong journey and process. 

  • Explore Body-Based and "Alternative" Practices including Yoga, Energy Healing, Dancing, Drumming, and other Spiritual Practices

  • "We don't want to Rock the Boat."- This is a fear-based thought and way of living. Your existence is a resistance, and recent news and changes have shown that the resistance has yielded results-show up and resist.

  • Don't lose hope; take back your joy. Where's there's generational trauma, there's also generational healing. 

  • Seek help.  Healing comes in many forms-please honor where you may be during this time. Find commUNITY. There is a difference between soulitude and isolation, be mindful of your own present triggers.

  • Lastly-Respect the experience. This can be particularly challenging for people who “don’t see color”. Yes, its wonderful to not see color where you won’t treat anybody differently, BUT it is important to see color in the way non-whites experience the world day in and day out based on their color. One can believe all lives matter, but that also means demonstrating empathy at the very least, for ones that haven’t.

  • And another thing-should you find challenges with empathizing or shutting down anti-black statements in your home, seek support. Undoing racism is another journey within itself, here are two womyn that may be of support:



Recommended Readings

It Didn't Start With You by Mark Wolynn

Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr. Joy DeGruy

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.

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