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3 Myths About Black Generational Trauma That Need to End Now

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Black History Month isn’t just a time for reverence or remembrance. We’re also called to celebrate all we’re able to accomplish because of what our ancestors endured. This is why I’m filled with gratitude at all the triumphs we’ve made as a Black community to address and end generational trauma. While there are more chains to be broken and breakthroughs to manifest, we’ve come a long way.

Unfortunately, we often miss this. We’re so constantly inundated with stories about the injustice done to Black bodies that we miss the joy, the wins and the excellence that exists right alongside the trauma — that pushes up against it. Our pain is very real, and I’d never seek to dismiss it. Still, as I work to heal the wounds passed down to me and interrupt destructive patterns, it’s necessary to check out of the murkiness and take note of the light.

What I’ve learned is we get to shift our conversations from a place of lack, to a place of growth and purpose. We’re not broken people. We’re not a monolith. There are hardworking, innovative and creative individuals who are building and launching new mental wellness initiatives all around the country. There are resources for healing beyond the church doors and outside of hospitals.

Here are three myths about generational trauma that need to end now.

Myth #1: Black fathers are largely absent.

A 2013 CDC study found that Black fathers are more involved with their children than any other racialized identity. This includes reading to their children, being involved in their academic and personal pursuits, and spending time with them.

I’ve been intentional about reconciliation with my own father, as I’ve stepped in my own new chapter of being a #girldad. I was largely raised by my paternal grandparents, but, through therapy, I’ve been able to positively reflect on my father’s impact on my education, my love for art and music and my gift of gab. It’s been beneficial to speak with him these days and learn from him, while also holding space for healing needed from a traumatic childhood. To proliferate the reductive narrative of uninvolved and absent fathers is to interrupt the work we’re doing to unravel, address and reverse generational trauma in the Black community. The dad-sized hole is real — I too live with it — but there’s always more to the story.

Myth #2: Black Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers don’t care about mental health.

I’m personally working on shifting my thinking from: “We didn’t talk about mental illness and therapy growing up” to “My family did the best they could with what they had, all things considered.” I can hold space for both disappointment and reverence.

Could I pray the depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) away? No. Did going to church and having a relationship with the Lord help? Absolutely. I wish I could take back all the times I gripped about my upbringing, about how I wish the people who raised me had better emotional intelligence, but I can’t. In my myopic, self-absorbed self, I failed to acknowledge the sacrifice my family made to put food on the table and have all my basic needs met. I failed to acknowledge the ways they successfully navigated (and continue to navigate) a system built for us to crumble.

And this is why it’s imperative we position ourselves in the presence of our elders — or memories of them. In them, we’ll see that we’ve been committed to this work of undoing all along, but it hasn’t looked like yoga mats, soul retreats or green juice mixes. It looked like spirituality, intentional investment in community, nutrient-rich soul food, revivals, healing through music and art, and so much more.

Myth #3: Black men are not doing the work.

In short, yes we are. Here are a few trailblazers working to end generational trauma that you might have not heard about:

  • The Confess Project: This organization is self-described as “America’s first mental health barbershop movement” Founded in 2016 by Lorenzo Lewis, The Confess Project has toured cities all over the county to teach barbers to thread mental health advocacy into their craft.
  • Black Mental Health Podcast: The host, Reginald A. Howard, is a speaker, author and coach based in Pennsylvania. His show has covered topics such as “Stillborn and Infant Loss Support,” “What Black Families Need to Heal” and “Toxic Masculinity and Mental Health.” Reginald is also a team member of Black Men Heal, which provides Black men with access to therapy, psychiatry and mental wellness education.
  • The Lives of Men: The founder, Jason Rosario, says his creative agency/diversity accelerator was created to “combat the negative stereotypes of Black men perpetrated by law enforcement and mainstream media” and has done this by hosting workshops, classes and conferences.
  • Hurdle: Kevin Dedner says that Hurdle aims to provide culturally competent therapy options for Black men through its app. Each therapist undergoes cultural responsiveness training and coaching before seeing clients. Currently, the company serves clients living in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
  • Men Thrive: Founded and curated by Jeff Johnson, Men Thrive is a community that provides immersive meditation and encouraging podcast episodes with guests like Bakari Sellers, Marc Lamont Hill and Lecrae. Its main aim is to address the “generational toxic stress, depression, and anxiety” experienced by Black men.

If we look for it, we’ll see the reconciliation and change taking place in homes where sunken holes used to exist, in communities formerly forgotten, and in the hearts of current and upcoming generations. See this as a call to action, a call to join the work already being done in your neighborhood, the movements taking place online and the opportunity to undo that which we never asked for: great pain and great suffering. I’m able to wake up each day with hopes of showing up better for my wife and my daughter because I know that all hope is not lost.

Photo by Joice Kelly on Unsplash

Originally published: February 9, 2021
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