Systemic racism, and the trauma experienced from it, is a major public health concern that needs to be addressed. Intergenerational trauma often affects more BIPOC because of the traumas endured by systemic racism. So how do we address intergenerational trauma? I think we need to start with tackling the systemic problem that breeds this type of trauma.
Why so much trauma? Well, after over 400 years of slavery, Black Americans then had to deal with Jim Crow, terrorism and lynchings, an economic system that left little room for growth or hopes and dreams to be achieved, unequal educational resources, racist caricatures, and every form of dehumanization, humiliation, or brutalization imaginable. In the South, there were reports of two or more Black people murdered each week in the most horrendous and heinous ways imaginable. There are higher rates of BIPOC incarcerated and harassed by police, affecting even more families and creating more trauma. We are still fighting it to this day, trying to gain equal treatment and equal opportunities. Racism is still rampant, causing severe emotional and psychological trauma among other disparities.
There are many ways in which intergenerational trauma can negatively affect families – unresolved emotions towards a traumatic event, negative repetitive patterns of behavior, untreated or poorly treated mental illness or substance abuse, poor parent-child relationships and attachment, complicated personality disorders or personality traits, and being content with the way that things are in their family. This often leads to cycles of patterns of behaviors that are hard to break, passed down from generation to generation.
We need to address this on multiple levels. People who are currently experiencing trauma need access to affordable mental health facilities and doctors. These doctors and healthcare professionals must be properly trained in issues specifically affecting BIPOC. The proper care can help stop trauma from becoming generational.
In addition to access to therapists and mental health facilities, we need deep systemic change in our society. The police and people who work with the public need to be retrained and educated about intergenerational trauma, issues affecting BIPOC, how to be more empathetic and respond more appropriately, as well as being held accountable when they do not follow protocol or are engaging in racist behaviors. Investments in communities of BIPOC is also another good place to start to close the gaps in wealth, healthcare, education, employment, and the criminal justice system.
There are many ways to start investing in these communities. On an individual level, we could all support BIPOC owned businesses. There could also be programs in place to train or educate members of hard hit communities to go into certain fields or industries. There could be more resources allocated to these communities. This means providing access to healthcare, education, jobs, childcare, housing, voting, and more.
There are two cities in America who have decided on reparations for descendants of people enslaved. In June 2019, Evanston, Illinois was the first city to approve of a reparations measure which will allow the taxing of legal cannabis to help the Black community. Asheville, North Carolina became the second city to approve of reparations in the form of investments in housing, business and home ownership, as well as career opportunities. The goal is to grow generational wealth and close the gaps in healthcare, education, employment and pay, neighborhood safety, and fair treatment in the criminal justice system. Reparations are just one way to help BIPOC and their families, which will ultimately create a more stable living environment where trauma will be less likely to happen or affect the generations of those families to come.
There are many options for what can be done to address intergenerational trauma, both on an individual level and as a community. There is almost no wrong way to approach it, as long as you fight the system that oppresses and support those who are oppressed and traumatized. Silence, and the preservation of the status quo, support oppression and the racist system itself. It will be a community effort if we want to combat this trauma. Where are we going to start?