How the policing of Black children births trauma

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay 
By Zaria Howell

Children are like sponges. They are easily sensitive to their surroundings as they absorb interactions and experiences and accept them as Truth.

Studies have shown, for example, that adults who experienced trauma as children are more likely to have low self-esteem and higher levels of infidelity in romantic relationships. This research shows how strong the correlation between childhood trauma and adult behaviors are and can be used to consider: what are the effects of anti-Blackness and racism, forms of generational trauma, on children?

Before Black children are even conscious of their race, they are birthed into a world with generational trauma--the trauma that is passed down or exchanged between generations. In this way, as children, and eventually as adults, Black folks can feel the heaviness of centuries of racism on their shoulders, on top of the trauma that comes with trying to survive everyday life as a Black person. Black women are particularly affected by this generational trauma as they fulfill the role of the caretaker of the Black community, thereby absorbing the emotions and feelings of other Black folks in their communities.

White, or other non-Black children, do not experience this generational trauma in the same way. Instead, they are allowed to be children and devoid of the frequent policing of their bodies and actions that Black children frequently experience. This cycle of trauma can persist for decades, until a family member chooses to address it through therapy, counseling or other measures--thus ending the generational cycle of discord. This is not to say that racism, which is systemic and deeply rooted in America’s structure, can be broken or unlearned, but rather the trauma associated with it can be understood, unlearned, and healed from.

Unlearning and healing from this generational trauma might look like:

  • Forgiving yourself and others in your life for the times they policed your Blackness. 
  • Acknowledging that by healing yourself, you are also healing your ancestors and future generations. 
  • Assert that racism is a reflection of a broken system or broken individual and not you. 
  • Releasing the need to police your Blackness through:
    • What you wear
    • How you speak
    • Your material possessions
    • How you view yourself and your body


  • Practicing Affirmations: 
    • I am Black and I am beautiful. 
    • I am Black and I decide what that means for myself. 
    • I am more than my race. 
    • I choose to live and not survive. 

As Black adults, by choosing to heal ourselves from the racial trauma that taught us that we should simply survive instead of life, we birth children who no longer carry the weight of racial trauma. This is not to say that these children will not experience racism, as they most likely will, but rather this racism will not prevent them from living freely and unapologetically. This is also not to say that healing and activism are mutually exclusive, but rather that they can work together to imagine what a new world of Blackness might look like. Healing, in and of itself, is activism; a happy, carefree, healed Black person is just as powerful as one that is protesting and fighting for a world that is free of white supremacy.

Ask yourself these questions today: when and where did I learn that I had to police my Blackness? How has that prevented me from living a life that I want? How has this affected the Black circles that I am in? How might choosing to heal affect these circles and my life, entirely?

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