Origins in Oratory
Psychologist Molly S. Castelloe writes in her 2012 Psychology Today article “How Trauma Is Carried Across Generations” that “the transmission of trauma may be particular to a given family suffering a loss, such as the death of an infant, or it can be a shared response to societal trauma…transgenerational transmissions take on life in our dreams, in acting out, in ‘life lessons’ given in turns of phrase and taught us by our family… coming to know and tell a larger narrative, one from the preceding generation…”
The transmission of trauma goes beyond the exterior as Castelloe points out. We feel the very pain of our ancestors in our veins.
This theory rings true within the Black community. From Middle Passage to Slavery to Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and #BlackLivesMatter, we have carried trauma along the way. Think about the experiences of one’s grandfather and father and coming to redefine the significance of those stories today. The significance of growing up during the era of the Ku Klux Klan and trying to live a normal life as a young child. Only to grow up and experience the same, if not a worse, kind of racism as an adult and raise children to know the same kind of trauma.
Alex Haley did it best when he created the epic tale Roots in the late 20th century. Finding his roots in Africa and retelling the tale of his ancestors was more than just bringing a story to the page and selling thousands of copies. It meant more than the famous adaptation that has been viewed by generations of African American men and women. The unpacking of the transmission of trauma. Taking the sheet off and revealing the identity of the trauma was in fact liberation.
Liberation became a kindred spirit in just about all of Alex Haley’s epic stories: Roots: An American Family; Queenie: An American Family; Mama Flora’s Family. Liberation from generational trauma through the reimagination of storytelling.
This type of freedom still rings true to this day.
Many things are passed down from generation to generation beyond the tangible memorabilia- photographs, jewels, diaries, bibles, knickknacks, and hope chests. Experiences are passed down as well. Knowledge learned from those experiences weave together the tapestry of what has come to define the African American experience.
Taking the time to listen to tales from our elders- retrograde manifestations of ourselves- liberates them as well as us. It even provides a deep look into the world and our place in it.
Not all pain is peril. Rather, some pain is full of promise.