Epigenetics is the study of biological mechanisms that can switch genes on and off. Recent epigenetic studies have shown that stress, socio-economic deprivation, racism and other traumatic experiences of our ancestors can play a part in turning on or off certain genes in our DNA. That is to say, for instance, the trauma of slavery can be passed on transgenerationally. See an example in the work by Professor Ariane Giacobino.
Several of the forthcoming UNESCO Symposium contributors have argued for the importance of healing the trauma of slavery, such as in the work of Professor Joy DeGruy, who maintains that the systematic dehumanising effects of slavery have continued to impact many African American people’s experiences in the world. Equally, Professor Aimé Charles-Nicolas has called for systematic healing of transgenerationally transmitted traumas inherited directly from slavery or passed down through racism rooted in slavery. Such an imperative has been reinstated in the International Scientific Colloquium on “Slavery: what is its impact on the the psychology of populations?” in Martinique and Guadeloupe on October 2016.
Professor Benjamin Bowser and others also urge our societies to pay more attention to how education might continue to perpetuate such trauma, and likewise, new approaches to teaching and learning about trans-Atlantic slave trade and slave history may contribute to healing and cultural transformation.