Epigenetics and Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder: Discovering What Africans Already Knew


Why do many people of all racial / ethnic groups refuse to believe any “new” idea or concept that comes their way unless it comes from Caucasians or until I receive confirmation from Caucasians?

Many Afrikans are beset by a deeply ingrained inferiority complex that does not allow the possibility for Afrikaans of the past or present to be able to develop ideas and concepts, particularly in the realm of science and technology, that are unique, innovative and unknown to Caucasians.

I was reminded of this point once again when I watched a TV show “Horizon” on BBC2 on Wednesday 2 November 2005. The show was on the subject of epigenetics and the exciting and groundbreaking “discoveries” made by Caucasian scientists.

Traditionally, “Western” science has promoted the idea that the genetic inheritance one receives from one’s parents is “sealed” once the egg is fertilized in the womb. Therefore, if there is a genetic abnormality, for example a deletion of a chromosome, this will lead to the same condition regardless of the parent from whom the abnormality is inherited.

The history of epigenetics developed in the United Kingdom and Sweden. In the UK, a geneticist was looking for an explanation for why children with the same genetic abnormality (a deletion of the same chromosome) ended up with two very different diseases, Angelman syndrome and Prada Willi syndrome. It turned out that the children who inherited the chromosome deletion from their mothers ended up with Angelman syndrome, a serious condition in which the child is severely affected, never develops speech, but seems to be permanently smiling and happy. On the other hand, children who inherited the chromosomal deletion from their father developed Prada Willi syndrome in which there is no intellectual deterioration, but where the child does not have the internal triggers that tell us when we are full and therefore will eat continuously unless Being prevented usually leads to morbid obesity. The question was, how could the same genetic abnormality lead to two very different diseases?

At the same time, scientists in Sweden were studying a remote community near the Arctic Circle that featured an excellent study group due to its genetic isolation and excellent records of births, deaths, etc. dating back hundreds of years. Upon investigation, these scientists were surprised to discover that events affecting the grandparents of today’s population, for example famine, appeared to have a direct impact on the health prospects of today’s population. These findings clashed directly with the contemporary genetics paradigm, as it was not talking about the inheritance of traditional genetic abnormalities across generations, but rather the understanding that experiencing adverse social and environmental conditions could have a direct impact. in the health of future generations. come.

Due to its location near the Arctic Circle, the people who lived in that area had experienced fairly frequent famines. By using historical records to track the occurrence of these famines, the scientists were able to show that these events had a direct effect on the life expectancy of the grandchildren of the people who actually experienced the famine. More specifically, this effect occurred when the grandmother had been a fetus in utero and when the male grandfather had gone through puberty at the time of the famine. It seemed clear that these were crucial periods due to the times when females develop their egg-producing capacity and males their sperm-producing capacity.

This work led to the idea of ​​epigenetics, which suggests that certain genetic traits or dispositions can be passed down through more than one generation and act as a light switch, that is, they can be turned on or off depending on environmental conditions. . For example, they were able to show that children who were conceived by inviterous fertilization were up to four times more likely to develop certain genetic abnormalities and that this was entirely due to the fact that the egg was exposed to environmental changes, that is, when it was removed from the uterus and placed in a Petri dish or test tube for fertilization with the sperm of the future father.

These findings bring a renewed focus on the importance of the environment in shaping the physical health of current and future generations. It shows us that we are literally shaping the health prospects of our grandchildren and certainly great-grandchildren by the things we do and the environment we are exposed to.

The transmission of psychological states or provisions through the generations was also explored during this television show. Psychologists had observed that the children of Jewish Holocaust survivors had reported high levels of stress and anxiety, and that many attributed it to their parents’ experiences in European concentration camps. Psychologists generally believed that these people were displaying these high levels of stress due to repeated exposure to their parents’ stories of torture and abuse.

To test this thesis, these scientists examined women who had been pregnant and exposed to the events that took place in New York on September 11. Psychologists found that children whose mothers had been directly exposed to the September 11 attack and its aftermath while in the womb exhibited much lower levels of cortisol production than other children. Psychologists were aware that people with low cortisol levels had been shown to have a greater susceptibility to developing PTSD than people with medium levels of cortisol production.

Thus, it was clear that the mother’s stress exposure had had a direct effect on her children’s biochemistry and made them more likely to experience damaging stress than children who were not similarly exposed.

The title of this essay is’ Epigentics and Post-Traumatic Slavery Disorder
The European ‘Discovery’ of What Africans Already Knew ‘. It informs the reader that epigenetics is just one example of how ancient African wisdom, which has been passed down through countless generations, is now being “discovered” by European scientists. Speaking personally, it was in the 1990s that I first heard Dr. Patricia Newton speak on the subject of “Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder.” Dr. Newton, who is a psychiatrist in addition to being trained in Afrikaans knowledge systems, was explaining how the repeated trauma experienced by Afrikans during slavery and in the many years of terror and oppression that followed, was passed down from generation to generation. and it resulted in many of the self-negative and dysfunctional individual and group behavior patterns that we see among Afrikans around the world today.

Of course, at that time, many acculturated Afrikaans rejected ideas such as making excuses, and Afrikans plunged into their victimhood. Now, with European scientists validating the ideas that Dr. Newton has tried to re-acquaint us with these Europeanized Africans, he will no doubt accept them, at least to the point where he puts them in conflict with his European reference group.

The first fundamental point that I am making in this essay relates to how knowledge is produced and constructed in a world dominated by Caucasians. One of those sad clichés is that if you are trying to convince the majority of Afrikans of a point of importance, the most effective route is to present the European / “mainstream” validation of that point.

The second fundamental point I am making relates to the damage to the contemporary individual and collective African psyche resulting from the Mangalize (sometimes misnamed Black Holocaust). Afrikaans are encouraged to minimize and underestimate the effects of hundreds of years of physical and psychological terror, and yet everything we see around us says that Afrikaans are spiritually, emotionally and psychologically dislocated in a way that could only arise of massive trauma.

Dr. Newton will not receive praise from the media for her work in publicizing the generational transmission of stress and trauma and would certainly emphasize that she is simply contributing ancestral African knowledge for the benefit of her people. Knowledge is not produced in a cultural vacuum and is, in fact, a product of culture. Afrikans need to learn this and take action to produce institutions that (re) create and disseminate Afrikan-centered knowledge.

Paul Ifayomi Scholarship

June 2006

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