Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Impacts of Historic Trauma: Creating Spaces for Healing Mind, Body, and Spirit

Historic trauma has been imposed through structural, institutional, societal, and individual racism and there is a generational impact it has had on the mental health of specific populations. All my life I’ve always had a curiosity of the continent of Africa and the culture of Black/Colored folks that live in the many different countries. A place where Black/Colored is not the minority. I often believed that internalized oppression/hatred could not exist where there is extensive knowledge of your bloodline. What I’ve come to learn and understand is that the historic psychological trauma that African Americans experience is also what our African Diaspora brothers and sisters experience.  I want to be a vessel to provide tools, exercises, and examples to what spaces of individual and collective healing can look like. Healing that is needed for all in a post-Apartheid/Jim Crow era.

Historic Trauma
To understand the impacts of trauma we need to first know the definition of mental health, which is defined as a person’s condition regarding their psychological and emotional well-being. A person’s mental health determines how they live their lives and their physical health.  My definition of Historic Trauma (HT) adopted from social work refers to “cumulative emotional and psychological wounding, extending over an individual lifespan and across generations, caused by traumatic experiences.” Some symptoms of Historic Trauma include violence and suicide, substance abuse, anger, fear and distrust, loss of sleep, and anxiety.
When looking at racial trauma everyone is impacted, whether it is Blacks and Indians or White folks becoming numb and oblivious to the impacts it has had on people of color. I’ve read that trauma is remembered in the mind and the body. It’s passed from generation to generation until there is an intentional effort to treat these post traumatic stressors. Psychotherapist Dr. Joy DeGruy describes trauma as an injury caused by an outside usually violent, force, event or experience. We can experience this injury physically, emotionally, psychologically, and/or spiritually”.
A most recent example is the Group Areas Act South Africa passed in the 1950’s. The purpose of this act was to create a so called “racially segregated Utopia”. Within urban areas Blacks/Colored’s were to be relocated, forcibly removed, to racially homogeneous townships. This resulted in suicide by residents and many elders dying prior to and after the relocations, which many blamed the trauma of eviction.
Similar in the US, but now it is described as gentrification. In the US Blacks, American/Native Alaskan Indians, and other groups were and still are historically impacted by dislocation, segregation, discrimination, racism, and even genocide. This has resulted in self-hatred, mistrust of police, mental health challenges, family stress, and an extensive list for reasons of fear and anger.

Proposed Solutions
Healing does not happen overnight. It is an individual and collective process, much of a journey and it looks different to each person/community. I’ve read that race based trauma needs mindful isolation, community, discharge of energy, well-being. My intention is to look at different exercises and strategies where these forms of healing for mental, physical, and spiritual self-care practices. By using the space that we create as an example. Potentially incorporating music, writing, movement, meditations, etc.  
Trauma will continue to be here long after we leave this earth. My hope is to provide, through experiential learning, ways of self-care and mental health.

Trauma and memory: the impact of apartheid-era forced removals on coloured identity in Cape Town

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (2005) , Dr. Joy DeGruy

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