I never knew my grandfather from my father side of the family, not because I didn’t want to but because he died before I was born. In fact he was assassinated, it was a very tragic death and my family never got to find the body. What appalled me the most was that I only got to hear his story when I was well into my late 20s. I stood there as the words escaped my father’s mouth with a rush of mixed emotions. Third generation down and my veins were still throbbing over his death; I could only imagine the level of trauma that his wife and children … my father.. had felt.
In her book “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome” (one of the most important books for black people period) Dr. Joy Degruy descibed how trauma gets transmitted through generations: we teach our children what we were taught. Somewhere subconsciously we adhere to our parent’s habits, both negative and positive. Some times some of us manage to break some of the cycle, other time we hope our children succeed.
No one talks about the elephant in the room
In black families no one wants to talk about the elephant in the room: our feelings. We’ve learned to hide how we feel from our parents, who’ve learned from their parents. Feelings to them meant being vulnerable, and vulnerability is seen as a weakness. In a society that despises our community we can’t afford to “look weak”. I ask myself however what is the price that we are paying for silencing our truth? Had I known the impact that my grandfather’s death had on my father, perhaps I wouldn't have been so quick to judge some of his behavior, perhaps I wouldn’t have grown resentful towards some of his ways or let it affect my own personal relationship with men.
In African spirituality I learned that: the practice of horning our ancestors stems from understanding the importance of telling their story. It is important that we learn how trauma shaped their behaviors. We do this not only out of compassion for them but out of love for ourselves. We are our ancestors, we are the answers to their prayers, we are the ones who can heal what they couldn’t.
If you have the opportunity I would suggest that you take some time to ask about your parents life, and how their life shaped who they are. It doesn’t excuse some of their behaviors but at least it can help us understand each other; to me understanding is the purest form of love.
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