The concepts of historical and cultural trauma are not often discussed out-right in our modern society. Although trauma is constantly surrounding us, we tend to shy away from the real issues and continue to omit macroaggressions that are ultimately harmful to healing populations. It may not be a pleasant subject, but it is a subject that we must continue to explore in order to understand the environments and actions of our existing societies. Historical and cultural trauma are capable of causing long-lasting impacts on generations.
In the first podcast, the interviewee, Dr. Shelly Wiechelt, discusses the concept of historical trauma. According to the interviewee, historical trauma is when a group of people, a culture, has experienced a trauma somewhere in their past (Green and Wiechelt, 2009). A trauma can include, but certainly is not limited to, a dramatic environmental event, such as a tornado, or a complete genocide of a culture, since as the Jewish population during the Holocaust. Trauma continues to affect not only the individuals who witnessed or experienced the trauma, but also subsequent generations.
Over time, the trauma accumulates until multiple generations are affected and, therefore, the culture is continuously changed. As children are raised by traumatized parents, symptoms of those traumas are passed along, which often causes those children to be more likely to experience their own traumas through adolescence and adulthood (Green and Wiechelt, 2009). For instance, if a child experiences a violent childhood, as a result of their parents’ trauma(s), s/he may turn to drugs as a method of coping. Naturally, living in drug environments will cause someone to be more likely to experience further trauma in life. While historical trauma is overwhelming, it is not the end-all-be-all of a culture, as cultures are able to rebuild to their former glory.
It is not always easy to identify historical trauma. Trauma may manifest itself in many different ways, and it does not always look like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Often times, it is manifested as depression, anxiety, and/or low self-esteem (Green and Wiechelt, 2009). Individuals who have experienced historical trauma personally or inadvertently through generations may have difficulty determining how they fit in in the world. They may wonder what their culture is and how their fellow people solve problems within that culture. Historical and cultural trauma may also look like health problems within a community (Green and Wiechelt, 2009). For instance, you may see a culture plagued by poverty, high crime rates, and high rates of substance abuse.
An example of historical trauma occurred with the Lakota Native Americans. These Natives experienced what experts refer to as frozen grief, or an inability to properly grieve following a traumatic event (Critelli and Williams, 2013). When a culture experiences trauma, it overwhelms the culture and removes the protection that the culture has. The Lakota Natives were subject to a massacre, a heart-wrenching trauma that left their lives forever altered. During the massacre, the Chief was found lying frozen on the ground, yet the community was unable to grieve in traditional ways, such as dancing. Since the culture was unable to properly experience and work through the trauma they had experienced, sadness systematically plagued the community, as they experienced generations of anxiety and depression.
Cultures are capable of healing from trauma, but it is certainly not an easy process. First individuals must acknowledge that their culture has been affected by a trauma. Next, individuals should recognize that there is a healing process that will be required to alleviate the perspective the trauma has caused. In order to heal, people need to regain their identity and their culture (Critelli and Williams, 2013). In the instance of the Lakota culture, it greatly benefited from communal grieving. The community came together to determine the appropriate way for them to manage their grief and loss. They were able to acknowledge all the good that is in their culture and begin embracing the culture in its entirety once again. For the Lakota, this meant using their own language and practicing Native dance. Embracing the heritage of a culture is a critical step in rebuilding the culture. Rather than avoid the topic of trauma, cultures need to recognize the wounding in where they came from, as well as the strength in where they came from (Critelli and Williams, 2013).
The content of these podcasts made me feel both helpless and optimistic at the same time. I experienced a feeling helplessness because it’s disappointing that a traumatic event is capable of causing such impact on a particular culture. Trauma truly is subconsciously generational. Children experience violent and traumatic upbringings as a result of cultural and/or historical trauma that, often times, their parents are not even aware of. It’s amazing how many things truly affect us without us even realizing it. With that being said, I did also feel optimistic because cultures are capable of experiencing true healing. Also, I personally feel that our society is more aware of trauma and is able to view things with a trauma-informed lens.
The cultural and historical trauma experienced by African Americans in modern American society has recently come to the forefront of most media outlets. With focus on police brutality and systemic racism, African American communities have shined a spotlight on the trauma and grief experienced generationally by the culture as a whole. Even though it has been decades since slavery and segregation, the African American community is finally speaking out about the generational traumas these events led to. We see this everyday by the infamous “Black Lives Matter” movement that heavily surfaced in 2013 (Black Lives Matter, n.d). The Black Lives Matter movement is a chapter-based organization that focuses on bringing light to oppression within the African American community.
While society is seemingly separated on whether or not these generational outcries are justified, today’s podcasts provide fairly strong evidence that they in fact are. Even though today’s young African Americans did not experience periods of segregation or slavery, they are still experiencing mental health issues and social stigmas associated with past historical traumas. During times of slavery and segregation, the culture was eliminated from the African American community. They were not only stripped of their basic human rights, but they were also stripped of their culture; as they were not able to speak desired languages or sing desired songs.
Society is seemingly divided on the entitlement of African Americans in modern society. Some individuals feel African Americans are justified in their feelings and actions of communal grieving, while others feel African Americans in modern society did not experience the traumas of slavery firsthand and, therefore, do not deserve restitution or to grieve publicly. Personally, I agree that African Americans have the right to communally grieve and demand change in modern society. Trauma is generational and had slavery not have occurred, the community of African Americans in modern society would be vastly different.
Facing the reality of historical and cultural traumas is not easy for any population, whether it be those who were abused or the abusers themselves. It is difficult to admit that your ancestors may have encouraged the omission of an entire culture, knowing all that we know now in modern society. It is difficult to admit, or even understand, that your life-long struggles, such as poverty and substance abuse, very well may be the result of historical and cultural trauma experienced by your ancestors. There is nothing we can do to erase the past, so it’s best that we focus on the present and the future, seeking to create a better world for all of those who may have experienced negative effects from historical and cultural trauma(s).
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