When Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary coined the term Post Traumatic Slave Disorder in 2006 to describe the lingering effects of slavery on Blacks in America, she was met with ridicule by mainstream media pundits and academic critics. Her book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing spelled out in detail how overt and subtle racism in America damaged Blacks through social dysfunction, self destructive tendencies, and poor physical and mental health. Many asked how this trauma could be passed to the descendents of Black slaves in America and dismissed her theory.
Now a study of Jewish Holocaust survivors and their children conducted by a research team at New York’s Mt. Sinai Hospital appears to support Dr. DeGruy’s hypothesis. The study found that children of Holocaust survivors are known to have stress disorders. According to research leader Dr. Rachel Yehuda, “The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents.”
This phenomenon is being called “epigenetic inheritance” and is the theory that environmental influences such as stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even grandchildren. It is theorized that chemical tags attach themselves to DNA and can be passed on through future generations. The team focused on one region of a gene that is associated with stress hormones. Yehuda goes on to state, “It makes sense to look at this gene … If there’s a transmitted effect of trauma, it would be in a stress-related gene that shapes the way we cope with our environment.”
Much has been written about the effect of the Holocaust on Jewish survivors and their children. But when it comes to the trauma of Black slavery, the research conducted by Yehuda and her team seems to bring new credence to the theory of Post Traumatic Slave Disorder. If trauma can be passed to Jews, surely the same can be said about Blacks in America. Dr. Yehuda’s research has recently been published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.