26th May 2021 UNESCO Webinar: The Legacy of Slavery, Transgenerational Trauma & Collective Healing

At this exciting international event, the UNESCO Slave Route Project and the Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace Research Institute (GHFP) brought together high-profile speakers and artists to launch “Healing the Wounds of Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery: Approaches and Practices: A Desk Review.” This timely Report draws together the perspectives of researchers and practitioners to map major approaches to addressing the legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery. It was the fruit of collaboration between an international team of researchers and practitioners, under the guidance of the UNESCO Slave Route Project and the GHFP Research Institute. The Report highlights the imperative to embark on a collective journey towards healing transgenerational trauma and the importance of systemic transformation.

Formally launching and disseminating this Report is an active response to UNESCO’s Global Call against racism. It will inspire the world to learn from the histories of slavery, acknowledge the harms of structural injustice and institutional racism, and promote inclusion, pluralism and intercultural dialogue.

Ms Gabriela Ramos, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, and Mr Sharif Istvan Horthy, Chairman of the GHFP Research Institute, took the opportunity of this presentation and announced a broader collaborative project entitled “Educational Transformation and Collective Healing: Addressing the Traumas and Legacy of Slavery”. This ambitious initiative aims to nurture youth leadership capacities so that young people can implement a racial healing programme for building just communities and initiate policy changes to address structural dehumanisation. Following the official presentation, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, offered his support for this initiative.
An international panel of historians of slavery, scholars in race studies, and experts in racial healing – Paul Lovejoy, Myriam Cottias, Achille Mbembe, Walter Mignolo and Joy DeGruy – discussed key insights of the Report, including the psycho-social legacy of slave trade and slavery. They also explored practical steps along the pathways that the UNESCO Slave Route Project and the GHFP partnership might take to empower and engage global communities and public institutions in collective healing.
The launch concluded with an inspiring dialogue between two living legends – Marcus Miller, UNESCO Slave Route Project Spokesperson, and African-American musician and composer, and Ray Lema, the Congolese musician and composer – about the power of music for healing and cultural transformation.

Watch the recording of the UNESCO Launch event here:

Dr Joy DeGruy on How to Address the Legacy of trans-Atlantic slavery

In this A Narrative of Love conversation, the UNESCO Slave Route Project Advisor, Dr Joy DeGruy, explores what it feels for black African Americans to negotiate the multiple challenges of living in a racist society, including internalised racism, the learned helplessness, and structural dehumanisation. Dr DeGruy also highlights key elements that can move the society towards healing, at both personal and collective levels.

More importantly, Dr DeGruy offers pathways that individuals, organisations, and governments can embark on to repair, rebuild and restructure our common habitat through partaking in the mutuality of shared humanness. Thus we can all Be the Healing.

Large-Group Psychology: Racism, Societal Divisions, Narcissistic Leaders, and Who We Are Now

A new and updated exploration of large-group psychology from world-renowned psychoanalyst Dr Vamik D. Volkan. This timely book investigates the underlying psychology of the societal divisions occurring in the world and includes the author’s personal observations and experiences of racism as a ‘voluntary immigrant’ to the US over six decades ago. Large-Group Psychology: Racism, Societal Divisions, Narcissistic Leaders and Who We Are Now is an immensely readable book, written in a beautifully clear and jargon-free prose.

Large-Group-Psychology_Racism-Societal-Divisions-Narcissistic-Leaders_and-Who-We-Are-Now

This is a must-read and provides illuminating ideas in terms of how we might understand the significance of healing the wounds of collective historical trauma such as trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery.

Desk Review Report: Mapping Approaches to Healing the Wounds of Slavery

Supported by the UNESCO Slave Route Project, the GHFP has completed a Desk Review aimed at mapping meaningful approaches to healing the wounds of slavery.

The Desk Review draws on a conception of healing wounds that perceives the wound of trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery as systematic dehumanisation. This in turn highlights the imperative of healing as addressing dehumanisation through four processes:

  • Process One is directed at dehumanising acts per se;
  • Process Two is directed at the traumatic effects of being dehumanised;
  • Process Three is directed at the dehumanising relationships; and
  • Process Four is directed at the structural conditions that enable and have enabled institutionalised dehumanisation.

In reviewing the relevant literature and case studies, the Desk Review has mapped out some of the key practical approaches to healing. Understanding the significance of collective healing and taking practical steps towards healing are amongst the most powerful ways to eradicate racism.

David Axelrod on revisiting the legacies of slavery.

David Axelrod, in his article for the Washington Post on 12th June 2020, encourages a revisit on the “consequence of systemic, dehumanizing racism that has defined our history from the moment the first enslaved people arrived on our shores 400 years ago.”

 

A lot of white Americans thought they understood. But the underlying legacy of racism still remains. The laws that were passed were hard-won and important, but they didn’t eliminate deeply ingrained biases and layers of discriminatory practices and policies that mock the ideal of equality. The election of a black president was a watershed event in our history that struck at the heart of the racist creed. But it didn’t end racism. In fact, it provoked a backlash that empowered a racist demagogue and new policies meant to further embed structural barriers to full citizenship for black Americans.

Heinous as his death was, Floyd’s legacy might be more than laws to end the patterns and practices that have made black Americans exponentially more likely to die at the hands of police. It might also have begun a long overdue reconciliation with our racist past and all of its ugly manifestations that remain a grim reality for Americans of color every day.

Remembering the unremembered: A Key to Healing

In her review of Toni Morrison‘s book “Beloved”, Dr Scherto Gill suggests that one of the book’s features be that it allows us to remember the unremembered, and reminds us of the need to face the oppressed collective memories of slavery.  Without embracing these memories, the unremembered continues to hold our societies, and we live simultaneously in the present and in the past.

Dr Gill says:

Clearly, the unremembered is never forgotten, and they wear different guises today in racism, poverty, and violence, the three evils of structural oppression identified by Martin Luther King Jr.

That unremembered demands to be remembered, is because memories can imprison but also liberate. By remembering, the formerly enslaved can re-acquaint with their bodies once so violated by brutality and torture, and can return to their community, a community from which they once ran away, because it identity was associated with commodity and utility.

Dr King calls this new place of belonging our Beloved Community, built on dignity, mutual respect, and compassion. For Morrison, this Beloved Community must start with listening to unremembered past … because she knew only too well, it is in the remembered that lies seed of forgiveness, redemption, and healing.