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Intergenerational Effects of Slavery; A Mixed-Methods Study

April 21, 2022

The legacy of slavery represents an enduring trauma for many Black American individuals. The trauma associated with being enslaved may be passed down through successive generations via family’s oral histories, and these potentially traumatic family narratives may contribute to disproportionate rates of mental illness in these individuals. Experiences of discrimination may also prove traumatic for Black Americans, and this additional trauma may be compounded by poverty, poor physical health, and other maladaptive behaviors common among this population. This mixed-methods proposal seeks to gather in-depth information regarding intergenerational transmission of trauma associated with chattel slavery via cognitive interviews with Black Americans. This study will: (1) examine themes that arise when discussing family history of slavery; (2) consider how experiences of discrimination relate to discussions of slavery; and (3) test whether discussions of slavery are associated with psychological distress among Black Americans. Our hypothesis that traumatic experiences of chattel slavery may be transmitted through subsequent generations and contribute to the mental health or illness of descendants of enslaved people is supported by literature on intergenerational trauma. This project may facilitate further research on the biopsychosocial factors associated with intergenerational trauma and the resulting psychological distress common in the African American community. Through this process, we may ultimately begin to identify ways in which to help Black American descendants of enslaved people optimally process their family’s history of slavery in a manner that minimizes its traumatic nature and consequent psychological suffering.

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