The title begs the question; do we suffer from historical trauma?
“Historial trauma has to do with collective, cumulative emotional wounding that results from cataclysmic events. These are events that don’t just target an individual, they target a whole collective community, such as forced relocation, like the Trail of Tears, that my ancestors endured. The trauma is held personally and can be transmitted over generations. So, even family members who’ve not had direct experience of the trauma, itself, can feel the effects of that event generations later.” (Katrina Waters, Director, Indigenous Wellness Research Institute) https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=231&v=AWmK314NVrs
As a woman, I feel this definition applies, first and foremost because of the millions of women killed, tortured and imprisoned, ostensibly for practicing witchcraft. But new understandings on this period, the 15th to the mid 18th century, as the time when multiple forces (mostly human), including but not limited to the Inquisition, the Black Plague, and the brutal crushing of the peasant reform movements and rebellions, were a death sentence for what remained of most of the indigenous culture/s of Europe. Part of how this was accomplished was driving a wedge between women and men, by targeting the traditional woman leaders, healers, midwives and generally assertive ones, labeling them witches and killing, torturing and imprisoning them. At the same time, what was traditionally common land, was being claimed and enclosed by the emerging rulers and bourgeoise, paving the way for for capitalist accumulation of wealth and a new economic order that needed subservient workers.
Yes, there were indigenous cultures of Europe, cultures that were matrilineal, and matrifocal, where land was held in common and where there were the equivalent of clans and tribes. The Sami, those we call the Laplanders still exist to this day. The speaking of Welsh, or Gaelic dialects and passing on the stories that go back into the mists of time are remnants of these cultures. In the USA, though even farther removed, the Appalachian folk we call hillbillies and those that live deep in the bayous of Louisianna or the Osarks, have managed to hold on to some of their traditions.
Unfortunately, slavery as practiced by the European colonizers and then the Americans added a further death blow to these European traditions, as whiteness was invented to keep the indentured servants divided from the enslaved Africans who had joined together and rebelled against the ruling class (see Bacon’s Rebellion). This “whiteness”, essentially the illusion of allying with the ruling class and having a few privileges that were denied enslaved people upon emancipation, came at a cost: giving up your ethnicity/culture for these paltry privileges. Each new group of Europeans that came to this land have been offered the same bargain, and each has wittingly or unwittingly accepted it, so that whatever remnants of our ethnicity that we have been able to hang onto is inconsequential and irrelevant to the dominant culture of white supremacy.
But how did things come to this? Part of the answer, I have come to see, is the unhealed collective trauma from our European history, as delineated above.
“The effects of trauma inflicted on groups of people because of their race, creed, ethnicity [or gender] linger on in the souls of their descendants… The persistent cycle of trauma destroys family and communities and threatens the vibrancy of entire cultures.” (Historical Trauma and Cultural Healing, University of Minnesota Extension)
Of course, the above does not even count things like the 100 years War between France and England, the colonization of Ireland by England, not to mention that before revising the “New World” extracting so much of its metals and other natural resources, the European principalities accumulated wealth by stealing it from each other, or going on Crusades to the Middle East! This, begs another question: How is this different from the history of other regions and continents the world over? It may not be that different, however, Western culture and its version of global perpetual growth, extractive capitalism dominates the world and has wreaked havoc nearly everywhere, but especially here in the US. Why have things gone this way? and can understanding ourselves as victims and survivors of collective/historical trauma, help us to heal and therefor begin to repair the damage done?
Let me get personal; I have come to see, just in the last few years, that I am terrified to step up, step out and speak my mind, let alone fight for change for myself or others. Now, since I was raised in a subculture of activist Quakerism, I have done quite a lot of organizing and protesting over the course of my 66 years in this lifetime. However, I am still terrified. As I began to see the connections to the unhealed trauma of the European witch hunts, the burning times, and face the true history of whiteness and racism embedded in the history and culture of this beloved country of mine, it is clear that it is not just me.
So, let the healing begin! How? I can only look to the examples of Indigenous peoples and African Americans who are already on this journey.
“…to begin a healing process, to move forward, to reclaim traditional culture… to stop [sic] identifying ourselves as victims, to move from identifying as survivors to transcending and thriving.” (Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, PHD; Historical Trauma and Unresolved Grief: Implications for Clinical Research and Practice with Indigenous Peoples pf the Americas) Dr. Yellow Horse Brave Heart goes on to list the “Four Major Intervention Components: 1. confronting Historical Trauma and embracing our history, 2. Understanding the trauma, 3. Releasing Our Pain, 4. Transcending the trauma.” (ibid)
For, us, pale-skinned folk of European descent, there are a few differences. The most obvious and important one is that we were/are on both sides of this equation, so to speak. Our ancestors were both the perpetrators and the victims. In the very specific case of the witch hunts, it was ruling class and both Catholic and Protestant male clergy perpetuating the cataclysmic harm against predominantly women, but men were also burned and persecuted. Both the Plague and the religious persecution of the so called heretics, then the witch hunts added to that created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty and many women became accusers of their sisters (literally and figuratively), as well. so even in the case of the rich hunts there is one group killing and repressing another. However, the end result is similar, except that the Indigenous cultures of Europe were even more thoroughly and completely wiped out. But, especially, here in the US, we, pale-skinned folk of European descent, participated in this destruction. so many of our ancestors fled the persecutions and horrors of Europe, only to agreed to the oppression and exploitation of enslaved Africans and the killing off of our Indigenous brothers and sisters, in exchange for the privileges of becoming “white”.
Therefore, renouncing racism and healing from our own historical trauma, must go hand in hand. We owe it to ourselves, to those to who we will be ancestors to and to our beloved kin of all races and ethnicities to make every endeavor to heal from our own collective trauma. As we do, we will allow, Beloved Community to manifest in its many and varied forms and cultural expressions, led by those who have suffered most, yet managed to hold on to and reclaim their Indigenous traditions on every continent.
For starters, read this: http://moonmagazine.org/lyla-june-reclaiming-our-indigenous-european-roots-2018-12-02/