Epigenetics and Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome

May 15, 2013 § 8 Comments

In the 20th century, it was common for white families in all parts of the United State to hire African American women as maids. Usually this job included taking care of children, sometimes actually raising them from infancy.

It is obvious that the presense of African American caretakers in the homes of whites would sociologically and psychologically transmit cultural and behavioral information between the caretaker and child. However, this impact may be deeper and more persistent than we have previously thought. The scientific theory of epigenisis hypothesizes that behaviors, actions and thoughts can trigger changes in the functioning of a gene without affecting the inherited qualities of the DNA genome.

This theory is contrary to Darwinian science, which concludes that our genetic structure is fixed—that we are born with an immutable set of genes. Epigentics expands the concept of evolution. Through epigenisis, genes are turned on or off, in part through compounds that hitch on top or jump off of DNA. It’s a little like hardware and software. DNA is the fixed hardware of the genome. Epigensis is like software. It tells the hardware what to do.

This theory has huge implications for us today and may explain why it is so difficult to have conversations about race and reconciliation between blacks and whites. This explanation is further explored by author and educator Dr. Joy Degruy.

Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome

Dr. Joy Degruy believes that prejudice is a function of the process of epigenetics. In her seminal work, Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, she explains that the imprints of slavery and the continued abuses suffered by African-Americans after emancipation have handicapped many blacks.

Dr. Degruy states that “The systematic dehumanization of African slaves was the initial trauma, and generations of their descendants have borne the scars. Since that time, Americans of all ethnic backgrounds have been inculcated and immersed in a fabricated (but effective) system of race ‘hierarchy,’ where light-skin privilege still dramatically affects the likelihood of succeeding in American society.”

Degruy also explains that many whites biologically carry their ancestors’ negative beliefs and perceptions about African-Americans. Likewise, African Americans carry ill-feelings, even hate, for whites, which have been passed down since slavery. Even unconsciously, blacks and whites pass down viserally and genetically the burdens of the past within their neurological patterns. These feelings create an impasse for healing and reconciliation.

The descendants of slave owners, in particular, carry the impacts of their ancestors’ systematic abuse of enslaved African-Americans. Knowing your ancestors owned other human beings and treated them as chattel could certainly create conditions of psychic confusion, wrenching guilt, and conflicts of the soul—even if unacknowledged today. Or maybe not. The arrogance and unconscious expousal of racial hatred and the continued degrading attitudes toward African American may also be determined by epigenetics.

Within the context of Just Like Family, you can imagine that the intimate relationships between African American women caretakers and the white children they took care of were complex, conflicted, and fraught with confusions and contradictions, feelings that remain with us today.

Now, with the knowledge of epigenetics, how do we change this genetic destiny.

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§ 8 Responses to Epigenetics and Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome

  • Art Carter says:

    The sad thing about epigenetics is that emotions, attitudes, behaviours and even phisical attributes can be created in one generation…and be passed down through successive generations.

    The joyous thing about epigenics is that emotions, attitudes, behaviours and even phisical attributes can be changed In one generation… and passed down through successive generations.

    An awareness of our inner-being and its intimate connection to all beings is a first step.

    Embracing and practicing the principles of Mindfulness is a tool to the next steps.

    Blessings of peace, love, health and happiness,
    Arthur Treherne Carter MD

    “Beliefs become thoughts.
    Thoughts become words
    Words become actions
    Actions become habits
    Habits become values
    Values become Destiny”

    Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 – 1948 CE) aka Mahatma Gandhi

  • A. R. says:

    I was wondering whether epigenetic effects could play a part in the prevalence of Afro-American obesity rates.
    It would be similar to how they found out about the epigenetic effects in Scandinavia: the famine during pregnancy and then later the obesity in those offsprings.
    I mean, slavery meant malnutrition. Could be that this changed the epigenetics Leading to the effect of Afro-americans gaining weight more easily.
    Just a thought.

  • Pamela says:

    More research needs to be done.

  • Charles says:

    http://bit.ly/1nVOztk more on Epigenetics

  • Larry Mason says:

    Hope is near ,,, change is overdue

    As I was brought up by parents that were born in the South & aware that my ancestors owned plantations, I became aware of this issue at an early age as well as personally suffering the abuse of a dysfunctional family structure.

    As I was also brought up next to a ghetto, had a close friend, Warren Wilson, that told me of his life struggles & how he was determined to overcome them so I was aware of the dynamics,

    We have the wisdom & knowledge to change the epigenetic family history.

    I have done so with mine and starting a project to work with others as I have worked successfully with a handful of individuals in which the negative feelings have been released.

    This seems to be a spiritual path I have been asked to walk & a dream I have had most of my life.

    I have support from several Non Profits to start later this year and have started my own NP as well.

    Prayers & good tidings accepted

    Rev L Mason

    • Thank you so much Rev Mason. I applaud your work. Now that we know about epigentics it is imperative we stop the trauma of slavery. I am descended from Slave owners on both sides of my family in SC. I know without doubt that my family’s participation in Slavery has had a negative impact on me emotionally and spiritually. I’ve had depression since I was a child and deep unresolved sadness and shame that feels physically in my body. I haven’t been able to address this successfully. I work with a group called Coming to the Table to experience a beloved community that seeks healing and reconciliation from slavery and its legacy. Our website is http://www.comingtothetable.org. Please join our Facebook page and alert members to your work. Please also post details of the non profit as it evolves.

      Felicia Furman

      PS Coming to the Table has a national gathering every two years–the next in 2018. I want to recommend you be part of the program so keep me on your update list.

      I made a film called Shared History and would love to send you the link so you can add it to your research. It’s about the relationship of my family and African Americans descended from people my ancestors owned. My website is http://www.sharedhistory.org. You can email me at ffurman@ecentral.com so I can send you the link.

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