Understanding the epigenetic Black trauma within me

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I remember being young and the idea of consuming content about Black people always being a dreadful process. I dreaded it not because I didn’t want to know about my people, but because I knew by learning I was making an exchange— in exchange for powerful, much-needed knowledge that would feed me, I was giving up pieces of naiveté. In exchange for this cultural information, I was giving away the protective groundedness of comfort and safety, and in its place was a gnawing presence in my body that would last for days. While this was in part to do with the overt and normalized depictions of Black trauma and violence, it also had to do with how those images and that knowledge physically and spiritually sat and rested in my young body. It’s vital to remember that this was long before we as a culture even began to discuss how unnecessary such violent depictions were. Through the media and content I was surrounded by, it felt as if the world around me believed in its entirety that Blackness is inherently brazed by blood and death. And in order to discuss Blackness, the murky grayness of Black pain must be at the center. Joy was erased. Bliss was burned.

I now question what good this offers to young Black minds. Yes, it is important for Black youth to cement an understanding of their position in a white supremacist world. Yes, it is life-saving to teach Black youth about their history, lineage, and the heartache that sometimes comes with it. But when Blackness and violence are shown so often together and aren’t simultaneously infused with euphoria, love, and simple happiness, these two phenomena begin to merge and collide with each other.

I felt that collision in my body all too well growing up.

After watching or reading about Black experiences that often centered around violence as a youth, I was left with rampant fear and an overwhelming sense of alertness. My mind would be stained with unnecessarily gory images that my eye saw, caught, and encased. My physical body would be painted with panic and uneasiness. I never understood these feelings. I always asked myself: rather than being hungry for more knowledge, why did I end up feeling too full? Why did I always leave so deeply terrified and not simply satisfied? 

“Through the media and content I was surrounded by, it felt as if the world around me believed in its entirety that Blackness is inherently brazed by blood and death. And in order to discuss Blackness, the murky grayness of Black pain must be at the center. Joy was erased. Bliss was burned.”

After watching or reading Black media riddled with unethical violence, it felt as though my body went into this fight-or-flight state where my very racial identity was under threat. It almost felt as if the racist people from those movies and books were going to come alive and murder me. I remember feeling so taken over by the content  I witnessed that I would sometimes cry. I wouldn’t cry because I was sad or furious but because my body was simply feeling a galaxy of emotions that I couldn’t possibly hold or feel alone.

As I got older, I became more comfortable with learning about Blackness and being exposed to Black violence. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have similar bodily responses, but with age, time, and unpacking the density and depth of myself, I found peace in my discomfort. I found myself feeling linked in my emotions. Linked to my ancestors and the Black spirits that came before me. I began to understand that what I was feeling was in fact a trauma response rooted in epigenetics tracing back centuries. It was a trauma response that traveled through time and space itself but also through my very veins. My tears, fears, and anxieties weren’t mine and mine alone but were also welded to the anger, moans, and heartache of those who came before me. I was my ancestors and my ancestors were me. 

Mustafa '23 is planning on majoring in Sociology with a double minor in Africana Studies and Creative Writing. While he's the editor for the Op/Ed section for The Muhlenberg Weekly, he's also an advocate for marginalized communities, specifically for queer communities and communities of color. He's also a lover of poetry and plans on going into a career of journalism post-college.

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