I have been investigating and visiting sites related to my family history during my sabbatical time in Scotland. With a particular interest in the trauma experienced by my great-grandfather, I have begun researching generational trauma. Fanny Brewster explores the legacy of intergenerational child loss experienced by enslaved women and their descendants from a Jungian perspective. Writes Brewster,
“I wonder about the sadness and grief…of black women. As young black girls came of age without rituals for this rite of passage, what prepared them for a future of sexual assault and the possible removal of her future children into the chains of slavery? How did her grief pass from one generation of young women to another, all of whom became future mothering slaves?”Brewster, Fanny, Archetypal Grief: Slavery’s Legacy of Intergenerational Child Loss, p. 47.
She summarizes two pages later with, “How do we measure despair not only for one child but for many over generations?”Ibid., p. 49 As I explore the grief within my own family tree, Brewster reminds me of my privilege as a white man whose forebears chose to migrate to North America. There are records that I can search for information about my forebears. I can – and have been – able to find sites of family births and workplaces. I find healing as I delve into the generational grief that my mother carried and passed on. No one denies the reality of the life events that I am uncovering.
My research is socially acceptable.
Unfortunately, even in the twenty-first century, the African Holocaust is denied as some long-past event that should be forgotten. “I didn’t enslave anybody! They need to get over it!” my white cohorts shout emphatically. Writes Brewster, “In the American collective, those of us of African ancestry are asked in various ways to let go of the past – to forget about this past that tore families apart, kept us impoverished for hundreds of years and that caused us to lose our children through the the effects of slavery.”Ibid., p. 51
I never knew my maternal grandfather; having only one set of grandparents was normal to me. What I did hear about him was a simplified stereotype. He was an alcoholic. He was abusive. He was a bad man. That’s about all I knew, a one-dimensional character. Until the last few decades, I was unable to name that my mother repressed a sadness that she passed on to me. In my case, it shows up inexplicably. As I’ve become more aware and discovered some of the events in my family tree and intuit the causes of this familial hurt. Facing angst, heartache, and, sometimes, fear at what I might yet learn are critical to the process. “The healing,” teaches Pema Chödrön, “comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”Chödrön, Pema, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
As a pastor, an educator, a parent, and a spouse, I know that it is not until we look at physical and emotional injuries honestly and openly that healing takes place. Just as acknowledging the pain in my family is moving my ancestors, myself, and my own descendants toward restoration, it is necessary that we look at the holocaust that is embedded in American culture. “Until this shifts towards the direction of acknowledgment and awareness,” says Brewster, “our collective racial healing is delayed, and each new generation is born into the repetitive cultural trauma of previous generations.”Brewster, p. 53