The Transgenerational Transmission of Trauma: 'Tell Ray Ray ... Not Around Here Bruh.' Part I


Murders in my city happen so frequent
the pain a leave u numb
Fist fight for respect a lost art
so when it's disrespect erbody resort to the gun
400yrs oppressed and still tormented by Willie Lynch evil
We should multiply for the cause but it's so much division between my ppl
--- Camron R.

I have always found it so very difficult to point the accusatory finger at another, especially because I am so aware of my own shortcomings. I am also keenly aware that there are no perfect people, so I hesitate to judge or condemn the actions of another. Add to that, I am forever mindful of the influences that individual needs and diverse life experiences can have on someone's behaviors. Indeed, I understand that the behaviors I might admonish may very well be perceived by another as his best option. In other words, the behaviors I label harmful and even criminal may indeed be those deemed necessary for survival (economically, physically, and/or psychologically) by those who engage in them. For example, "survival" in light of centuries of perpetual oppression bequeathing a young man with a family legacy of brutal exploitation, violent demoralization and relentless terrorism will likely evoke in him behaviors that are contaminated by that legacy. In simpler language, it is true that hurt people hurt people. In fact, hurt people tend to hurt those in closest proximity to them and those who are reminders of their very deep pain. And while one being hurt does not excuse the behavior of hurting another, this is indeed what we humans do. All of the above were some of the thoughts that occurred to me as I prepared to deliver what would be the most difficult speech of my life, and as I prepare to write this next series of articles on the consequences of transgenerated trauma in the oppressed.

This summer, I was invited to Ferguson, MO to deliver a speech as part of the "Violence in America" symposium hosted by The Truth Telling Project. After much prayer and meditation, I was convinced that I should use my few minutes of presentation time to denounce the appalling, shameful and persistent levels of deadly crime committed by blacks against blacks in the African American community. I understood and held no illusions about the venomous nature of deadly violence: killing has the same end. Whether the one yielding the blow is black or white, the act is evil and reprobate. However, I knew that addressing this topic would be no easy task, especially given that those assembled would be there primarily out of concern about the perpetually frightening levels of deadly police violence against African Americans.

Leading to my presentation, I wondered: How do I tell those who are hurting, fearful and presently under attack by hate-filled, agitated outsiders that we are also obligated to address the hurt-filled, angry insiders who may be our relatives and neighbors? How do I suggest to the disconsolate that it is just as necessary that we guard against attack from those within our community when I know we are in the midst of painfully struggling with attack from enemy outsiders? It seems almost cruel to burden the overburdened, especially in the midst of a very real heartache that has been hundreds of years in the making; yet, this was what I intended to do. And so I argued before the 400+ persons assembled that afternoon that we -- my black sisters and brothers, must not allow our own sisters, brothers, cousins and neighbors to support the violence of the hate-filled oppressors by continuing to engage in behaviors that hurt, maim and kill our own.

On that summer day I proclaimed what most assembled already knew, that it is our joint responsibility to be just as vigilant about deadly and senseless black-on-black violence as we are about lethal and tactical police violence against blacks. I explained that both types of violence perpetuate trauma in an already deeply traumatized community. I shared research on ways that a group's exposure to prolonged oppression leads some members of that group to develop trauma-responses that are transmitted socially and genetically from generation to generation. And I advised how recent studies show that post-traumatic stress among inner city residents exists at levels comparable to soldiers who have experienced the combat of war. I also told those who listened that a black man or woman killing another black man or woman in the 21st century is akin to selling the other to a slave trader in the 18th century. And so I pleaded with those assembled to help me find ways to end the deadly violence being committed by both the hate-filled outsiders and the hurt-filled insiders in our community. I believe my presentation was well received, and I felt my duty was done. But then, I received a call from Alistair.

I have known Alistair for many years now. As a father of two 20-something African American adults, he reaches out to me periodically to share his concerns about the unending social injustices that exist in the America his son and daughter now reside. In a recent talk for example, Alistair told me that he continues to endure such deep emotional pain about the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin that he feels an on-going need to be reminded of the young man's life. In Alistair's words, "I need Trayvon with me at all times. In fact, I replaced my son's picture on my cell phone with the graphic image of Trayvon in his hoodie. Now when my son calls me I see Trayvon. Trayvon is my son, and I am thankful my son is alive and well enough to call me." Alistair's words reminded me of the lingering hurt and pain that exist in the hearts of so many as a consequence of Trayvon's murder. However, it was what Alistair said after his comments about Trayvon's influence on his life that motivates me now to write what will be a series of articles that go back to the topic of that very difficult speech I gave in June.

In his reflections on the slate of deadly violence in those African American communities where shootings and homicides have reached excessive levels, he opined: "White America has an ally in the Black community, a mole, a Judas itself. One of the most painful and least discussed subjects about the abhorrent condition of black America is the subject of black on black violent crime." To hear Alistair propose that who I consider hurt-filled, angry insiders are instead "Judases" caused me to shudder. In effect, his analogy prompted me to again consider the necessity for our community to collectively end aggression from ALL who dare to impose violence on our existence.

To be clear, the causes of violence are widely varied and deeply complex and the solutions will be just as complicated. However, I do not believe the disproportionate violence within African American communities is now or has ever been a coincidence. I believe much of the elevated levels of intra-community violence can be attributed in large part to what has been termed the transgenerational transmission of trauma (see the work of Dr. Vamik Volkan). And because I believe that an end to the "self-inflicted" violence within the African American community can begin with: 1) understanding the prominence of transgenerated trauma as a source, and then 2) implementing the healing needed to alleviate the perpetuation of the trauma, I invite you to join me on this quest.

I don't wanna hear no it's a conspiracy against kids bullshit either and it's a white man driving around shooting them. Naww it's Ray Ray doing that iish and erbody scared to say something or tell Ray Ray ... 'not around here bruh'.
--- Camron R.