By Susan K. Smith
George Curry Media Columnist
Can stress be passed on to one’s children?
More and more, scientific research supports that premise. It is known as “epigenetic change.” The science says that intense psychological trauma can be, and is passed on to future generations. Profound or extreme stress apparently alters the chemical markers in genes. That means that depression or other psychological effects one might experience because of trauma can be passed down to one’s children.
If this research is accurate, it means that people today are carrying the results of the stress their ancestors endured. If that stress has been extreme and the psychological and emotional damage has been great, it is probable that we are carrying, to a greater or lesser degree, the pain of our mothers and fathers.
The fact that White supremacy and its child, racism, has been so much a part of American life, it takes on an added dimension when this possibility of genetically transmitted trauma is considered. To be sure, African Americans have not had the benefit of counselors and therapists as we have endured the hate and violence meted out by White supremacists. One can only imagine how our ancestors kept themselves together after seeing loved ones murdered in front of them. Bodies were burned, dismembered and left to hang in full view of all survivors.
The human mind can only take so much. People who come home from war suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the jury is still out as to how many of these suffering soldiers are responsible for crimes on this side of The Pond. War veterans suffer greatly and actually get very little professional help for their post-war suffering.
African Americans, it seems, have been in a war for decades; we have had to “fight” violence with little redress or hope for justice. White people either can not or will not see, or believe that the suffering White supremacists have caused African Americans has been damaging to the depths of the very cores of people trying to hold on. While many Whites have denied the horror of White racist violence, African Americans have been unable to deny that same violence, but have had to sublimate and bury memories of what they have seen and endured in order to function.
One can only wonder how the parents and families of African Americans who have been felled by racist violence – aka domestic terrorism – have been able to hold on and survive in this society. There has been no support, no acknowledgement of the horror meted out, no forcing the perpetrators of murder, rape and psychological trauma to be accountable for their actions.
That means that on top of their hurting souls, African Americans have had to also carry anger at being treated as though they (we) have no feelings, no emotions, and no pain.
It is singularly maddening to hear people talk about how they want justice; Fred Goldman, the father of Ronald Goldman, for example, has been living in a state of trauma ever since O.J. Simpson was acquitted of his son’s murder. The pain of losing his son has been exacerbated by the fact that in his mind, his son’s murder has not been avenged; there has been no justice.
For Black people, there has very seldom been justice. The pain of the stress and trauma White supremacy has caused, coupled with that lack of justice, has very likely caused a couple of generations of African Americans to live in that stress and pass it on to their children, even if unknowingly.
Many White people resent the phrase, “No justice, no peace!” They consider it a threat. But it is not a threat. It is a statement of truth. No person has peace if he or she has not had justice when wronged. The African American community has been walked over, left out, pushed aside and forgotten for literally hundreds of years. There has been no justice…and so there is no peace.
It’s the price of genetically transmitted trauma from a society, which refuses to own the fact that White supremacy is a destroyer of lives and possibilities of all people- Black and White. Rev. Susan K. Smith is an ordained minister who lives in Columbus, Ohio. She is the author of several books, including “Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives” and “The Book of Jeremiah: The Life and Ministry of Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. She is available to preach or do keynote addresses.
Reach her by emailing email@example.com