Think you know something about historical trauma? PACEs Connection’s ‘Historical Trauma in America’ series promises to be an eye-opener

The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 unleashed hundreds of articles, books, podcasts, film and online documentaries. It’s not that the roots of racism and inequity in historical trauma hadn’t been known about or written about previous to his death (Frederick Douglas, James Baldwin, anyone?), but the pressures of hundreds of years of injustice began a near explosive untangling from the massive twisted and angry knot they’d formed over generations. It’s been like cutting through a gargantuan ball of rubber bands stretched to their limit: layers upon layers of hurt, unfairness, frustration, lives lost, lives constricted into rigid and narrow boundaries, all because of the human bent toward “othering”. (That’s something that PACEs science clearly demonstrates: There is no us and them. Just us.)

Despite all the stories that have been loosened from the grip of our remarkable ability to ignore what’s in front of us, White people are just beginning to learn—to our ongoing dismay, shame and horror—that racism and inequity are baked into everything we do, into all our systems, in every community in the U.S., even though most of us don’t know or want that. Fortunately, we are now in a time of reckoning, and have the potential to make real change. If you haven’t already put together your reading list to educate yourself, the 27 books here range from Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist”, to Cathy Park Hong’s “Minor Feelings”, to Toni Jensen’s “Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land.”

Despite our individual ACEs, the White people among us have been incredibly fortunate to be born into a power structure from which most of us didn’t even realize we benefited. We’ve been swimming in a sea that we didn’t even know was wet. Thus I think it’s our obligation, from the moment we grok the enormity of how our history granted us immeasurable advantages, to spend the rest of our lives educating ourselves and educating as many people as we can to change our systems. That’s a major goal of our work at PACEs Connection, the social network that accompanies ACEs Too High.

Over the last two years, PACEs Connection team members Ingrid Cockhren and Donielle Prince have been leading efforts to educate our organization about racism, inequity, White privilege, and how PACEs science figures into that. Ingrid’s been leading a series of in-depth webinars for our team that have truly challenged our understanding of where we are and how we got here. It’s been sobering, but one thing that being in this PACEs community offers is that we help each other face not only our individual truths, but our society’s truths, because that’s one of our values. (If you aren’t a member of PACEs Connection, please join by going to PACEsConnection.com.)

“I came up with the idea for the series in response to the controversy concerning Critical Race Theory in schools,” says Cockhren, who is PACEs Connection’s director of communities, “or basically the reluctance to discuss America’s true history.” When she suggested that we host a series of webinars on historical trauma in six different regions of the country, the team jumped into action.

A month ago, team members began gathering information. One of our intentions was to gather as much information about each of these six regions so that we could all see the enormity of the impact of the racism and genocide that plagued and continues to plague this country. For example, by now you may have heard about the Tulsa massacre, but did you know about the Elaine massacre? Or the Ocoee massacre in Florida? That the fight for the Alamo was really about Texans wanting slavery and Mexico trying to get rid of it? That, after the Civil War, California’s Central Valley was a refuge for Confederate soldiers, who created a culture that birthed the Ku Klux Klan and a racist system that affected Blacks, Mexican Americans, and Chinese Americans in Fresno and other Central Valley communities?

So, why are we doing this Historical Trauma in America series? What’s the relationship to PACEs science?

We always included resilience as one of the five parts of PACEs science. Those five parts are the epidemiology of ACEs (the original ACE Study and subsequent ACE studies), the neurobiology of toxic stress, the effects of toxic stress on short- and long-term health, epigenetics (including historical and systems trauma), and resilience research. But emerging research shows that positive and adverse childhood experiences are intertwined in a profound way that affects us and how we integrate this science into our work and lives.

When Dr. Christina Bethell and others in her research group measured seven positive childhood experiences, what they found was what you’d expect:

The more positive experiences you have, the better off you are. A high ACE score doesn’t mean you’re doomed—you may have enough positive childhood experiences to counteract the effects. But a low ACE score doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. If you don’t have positive childhood experiences, you may suffer worse effects than if you had several ACEs.

And here’s the part that relates directly to our series: It turns out there’s more to the story of ACEs and PCEs and why it’s important to integrate them. This has direct relevance to the racist and inequitable society we all find ourselves in now.

To achieve mental health, you have to integrate the positive and the negative. In fact, if you don’t acknowledge and integrate the adversity that’s happened to you in addition to the positive, you’ll have more problems. Some people call focusing only on the positive “toxic positivity.” But if you do integrate the positive and the negative, you’re more likely to heal.

This applies to an individual, as well as a nation. For example, think about how we’re addressing racism and White privilege in this country. Many people say, “Okay, we acknowledge slavery, and now let’s move on.” But slavery and its aftermath, such as the Jim Crow era, still affects so many parts of our society, policies, laws, norms and culture that if we’re to heal as a nation, we have to acknowledge and address all of slavery’s generational legacies. And it’s White people in the current White power structure who are mainly responsible for changing. The same approach applies to Indigenous people whose land White settlers occupied and stole, and for the people from Mexico, China and other countries who settled here for reasons akin to White settlers—to create a better life—but suffered in the racist and inequitable society they found themselves in. And now, we have the opportunity to create an anti-racist, equitable and shared power structure. This series is part of that effort.

This series,” says Cockhren, “will highlight each unique region within the United States and outline how unresolved historical trauma has impacted every aspect of American life and directly shapes the socio-political landscape of today as well as the overall well-being of Americans. Discussions will make connections between America’s history and the current mental health crisis, social determinants of health and the obvious disparities and inequities present in our communities today. Please join us!”

Historical Trauma in America Series

      Regional Sessions:

  • Historical Trauma in the American South   July 15th, 2021  Register HERE.
    • Discussions will include the treatment of Indigenous Americans, chattel slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration and segregation among other relevant topics.
  • Historical Trauma in the Midwestern States  Sept. 16th, 2021  Register HERE.
    • Discussions will include the treatment of Indigenous Americans, the Great Migration, mass incarceration and redlining among other relevant topics.
  • Historical Trauma in Northeast America  Nov. 18th, 2021  Register HERE.
    • Discussions will include the treatment of Indigenous Americans, chattel slavery, colonization, immigration and housing discrimination among other relevant topics.
  • Historical Trauma in the American Northwest  Jan. 20th, 2022  Register HERE.
    • Discussions will include the treatment of Indigenous Americans and Asian/Pacific Islanders, racial discrimination and labor exploitation among other relevant topics.
  • Historical Trauma in the American Southwest  March 17th, 2022  Register HERE.
    • Discussions will include the treatment of Indigenous Americans and Latino Americans, immigration, racial discrimination, mass incarceration and labor exploitation among other relevant topics.
  • Historical Trauma in the State of Hawaii & the U.S. Territories  May 19th, 2022  Register HERE.
    • Discussions will include the treatment of Indigenous peoples and Asian/Pacific Islanders, colonization, slavery and labor exploitation among other relevant topics.

7 responses

  1. The University of New Mexico Press’s reprint of the original manuscript of “Felix S. Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law” notes in the foreward of the book, that it learned of the U.S. Dep’t of the Interior’s [1950’s] attempt to censor Cohen’s work-so it reprinted Cohen’s original manuscript, and notes how Dutch, Spanish, English, and French cultures influenced North America’s relations with Indigenous populations.
    1988 U.S. Congressional Resolution #331 acknowledges the role of the Iroquois constitution in the development of our US constitution — “Gayaneshagowa” availed Women the Rights to: Assert, Debate, Vote, and Declare War; left us ‘democratic tools’ like ‘recall petitions’ and ‘ballot initiatives’, and provided “generational review” of the constitution, beginning in 1150 AD. Might the Iroquois have had an understanding of what we now call ACEs or ‘trans-generational trauma’ ? ? ? (I’ve yet to find an answer to that question, with what little I’ve read of Iroquois historians such as Elizabeth Tooker).

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    • The [Canadian] Aboriginal Healing Foundation’s reports Along with their Solicitor General’s report on the Aboriginal Residential Schools…may also be helpful in this discussion.

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