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  • Writer's pictureNubia DuVall Wilson

My Ancestors' Trauma is in My Blood

I'm featured in RAINN's video Elevating Voices from Black Survivors!

For most of my adult life, I have pondered the concept of the fragmented or complicated family structure in many Black families, mine included. One of my best friends at Barnard college asked me sophomore year, "Do you have any family members in your family you call by the wrong name?" I nonchalantly responded, "Of course. The woman I called grandmother was really my great aunt." Over the next hour, I had quickly become part of her research project for her social studies class, I can't remember the course name, but I was excited to help her. As we drew my family tree, there were a lot of Xs where I mistakenly used the wrong title for a relative and had to fix it. The purpose wasn't to shame me about my ancestry, but rather I was to be a real life example of how family life for Blacks--from emancipation to present day--was complicated because of our trials and tribulations in America.

Why am I bringing this up? Because I started to realize that trauma is passed down from generation to generation in our bodies, which science calls epigenetic marks of trauma. A few scientific studies have shown this to be true (although there are some skeptics) and you can read more about that in this New York Times article. Blacks have experienced trauma since their African ancestors arrived here to be slaves and as a result, my people have suffered from PTSD for centuries without even realizing it. Our coping mechanisms might look like weaknesses to those who do not have empathy for our plight--from being ripped from our families with our wrists and ankles shackled with chains, raped by slave masters, lynched and fleeing from (or standing ground against) angry KKK mobs to battling Jim Crow laws, drug abuse and overcoming a plethora of challenges to get a proper education and a promising career in this country. We have been called stupid, uneducated, ugly, less than human, ANGRY, unworthy of same opportunities that Caucasians have access to and the list goes on...

I speak about this topic briefly in my Instagram TV video here and RAINN recently published my thoughts on the matter in its Juneteenth video dedicated to Blacks who are survivors of sexual abuse (below). So while I, for so long, have looked at my PTSD and trauma as an isolated case as a result of my childhood sexual abuse by a relative, I am now realizing my people have had trauma in our blood for hundreds of years and if we don't acknowledge it and help ourselves emotionally and psychologically heal from it, we cannot end the cycle of trauma. Going to a therapist was rarely something that was encouraged in the Black community decades ago, but sentiments are changing. Having access to a therapist, especially if you don't have medical insurance, is also a barrier and challenge.

If you are Black (or LGBTQ+ or a person of color) and want to find a virtual therapist who has a similar background as you, check out the Ayana App, which plans to launch soon (they are currently offering free therapy to first responders) or go to the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective. I believe organizations like these and the Black Lives Matter protests are an important stepping stone to this healing journey all Blacks must embark on and I am inspired to see all races coming to our sides as allies to end systemic racism. I will continue to speak about the epigenetic marks of trauma as I uncover more information from established sources, as well as share mental health services out there catered to the BIPOC community (Black Indigenous and People of Color).



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