The Effects of Historical Trauma [Blog] – Generation Justice

By Pauly Denetclaw 

On the morning of October 10, 2013 I was introduced to Roberto Chene. He is a consultant on colonization and the effects it has on a community. Upon meeting Roberto I instantly felt at ease. His calm demeanor is something I have only felt around a few adults. He felt like family. It made for a great environment. One I could be vulnerable in and bring my whole self to the table.

The talk began as any other, introductions around the table with Roberto going first and then members of Generation Justice. We then moved on to the major aspect of our discussion, historical trauma.

I had already been aware of historical trauma from my parents who frequently talk about it. However, I didn’t believe in its power over an individual or group. I didn’t think a tragic event that happened a hundred years ago could affect me or my family until Roberto began talking.

He described how colonization created many of the problems people of color face. One of the main affects I gathered from our discussion was internalized racism. The definition of internalized racism according to Taking Action Against Racism in the Media, or TAARM, is “the personal conscious or subconscious acceptance of the dominant society’s racist views, stereotypes and biases of one’s ethnic group. It gives rise to patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that result in discriminating, minimizing, criticizing, finding fault, invalidating, and hating oneself while simultaneously valuing the dominant culture.”

Now, let’s rewind – say – ten years ago. There was a young Navajo girl growing up in Gallup, N.M. that had these same thoughts. She looked in the mirror and thought she was ugly.  She hated the color of her skin, hair and eyes. She wanted to be like the ideal American. The ones on the television that had light skin and blue eyes. She began idealizing them and as a result she disliked herself.

One day she made a comment to her oldest sister about not wanting to be Navajo. Her sister looked at her square in the eye and said “don’t you ever say that. Being Navajo makes you special. Why would you want to be like everyone else?” She was dumbfounded. She had never thought of it that way. From that moment on she shed these negative views, or at least tried to. It’s a struggle to accept yourself, something she learned on her journey to self-love.

This is how historical trauma affects a person. This is how colonization affects a community. Now, I understand what my parents have been saying all these years and thanks to Roberto for validating what I have heard my whole life.  

Equipped with this information, my goal is to bring self-love into every community.