Bear with me here, this blog might seem more like an incoherent rant but I’ll try my best to tie it up in a bow as quickly as I can. This past Sunday I went to see a live theatrical performance of a new play at the Langston Hughes theater in the historic Black area of Seattle called the CD [Central District]. The area is unfortunately in the middle of gentrification and the texture of the community is changing yet this venue is a beacon of what locals would call “better days”. The play is entitled: Reparations. World Premiere by Darren Canady and Directed by Jay O’Leary. This production plays thru Feb 2, 2020 for those who might be interested.
Definition of reparation is: 1, a repairing or keeping in repair, 2: the act of making amends, offering expiation, or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury, 3: something done or given as amends or satisfaction, 4: the payment of damages : compensation in money or materials payable by a defeated nation for damages to or expenditures sustained by another nation as a result of hostilities with the defeated nation.
Historically in our county it is often referred to as connected to the 400 year history of slavery that started in 1619. This connection to American slavery was commonly called “forty acres and a mule”. Forty acres and a mule was part of Special Field Orders No. 15, a post-Civil War promise proclaimed by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman on January 16, 1865, to allot family units, including freed people, a plot of land no larger than 40 acres. Sherman later ordered the army to lend mules for the agrarian reform effort. However, Lincoln’s successor, president Andrew Johnson [he got impeached] explicitly reversed and annulled proclamations such as Special Field Orders No. 15 and the Freedmen’s Bureau Act.
Now back to the play. By examining the secrets and traumas we carry in our bloodlines, playwright Darren Canady urges us to try and decolonize and deconstruct the dominant narrative that slavery ended in 1865 so the world should just move on.
The female lead Rory’s life is looking like a classic Great Plains dead-end: a job she hates, a sick grandmother who depends on her, and dreams that just can’t seem to materialize. However, a new technology developed to help humans harness the power of their own blood to relive history promises to give Rory the chance to hit a major pay-day. Played out over three time periods 1922, 1961 and today. Rory’s quest to uncover and honor the truth of her family’s past has far-reaching effects she could have never imagined. It makes for interesting theater.
The glue to the story is this high-tech machine that takes a drop of blood and much like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz transports the today person back in time to witness the trauma of long-gone love ones. As Sci-Fi as it sounds it is based on real data. This real science is called epigenetics.
The term epigenetics in its contemporary usage emerged in the 1990s, but for some years has been used with somewhat variable meanings. A consensus definition of the concept of epigenetic trait as a “stably heritable phenotype resulting from changes in a chromosome without alterations in the DNA sequence” was formulated at a Cold Spring Harbor meeting in 2008, although alternate definitions that include non-heritable traits are still being used. The term epigenesis has a generic meaning of “extra growth”, and has been used in English since the 17th century. Some people have labeled it as carried trauma. The National Institute of Health states that stress hormones cause epigenetics changes. There is a psychological theory, transgenerational or intergenerational trauma, which suggests that trauma can be transferred in between generations. This field of research is relatively young, but has expanded in recent years
A powerful haunting refrain from the play was: ”Blood memory, Love cannot be burnt, Love cannot be slaughtered and Love cannot be hung on a tree”.
Now for the bridge to it all. It’s not that big a stretch to see how early childhood trauma can change the outcome of a person’s life as they develop into adulthood. That data was collected by The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) conducted by the U.S. health maintenance organization Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Participants were recruited to the study between 1995 and 1997 and have been in long-term follow up for health outcomes. The study has demonstrated an association of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) (aka childhood trauma) with health and social problems across the lifespan. The study has produced many scientific articles and conference and workshop presentations that examine ACEs.
Cognitive and neuroscience researchers have examined possible mechanisms that might explain the negative consequences of adverse childhood experiences on adult health. Adverse childhood experiences can alter the structural development of neural networks and the biochemistry of neuroendocrine systems and may have long-term effects on the body, including speeding up the processes of disease and aging and compromising immune systems especially in terms of addiction, anxiety, depression and fear.
In the drug and alcohol treatment world the concept of predisposition tells clinicians that bloodline matters. Contemporary research in neurobiology (a branch of science that deals with the anatomy, physiology, and pathology of nervous system) of addiction points to genetics as a major contributing factor to addiction vulnerability. It has been estimated that 40–60% of the vulnerability to developing an addiction is due to genetics.
Addiction is a disorder of the brain’s reward system which arises through transcriptional and neuroegenetic mechanisms and occurs over time from chronically high levels of exposure to an addictive stimulus (morphine, cocaine, sexual intercourse, gambling, etc]. Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of addictive phenotypes has been noted to occur in preclinical studies.
So can blood memory even from 100 years ago be past down?
The play was suppose to get me to think. It did its job. I took it beyond slavery or the Holocaust or to the heroin epidemic in NYC in the 1880’s. I don’t know the answer but what I do know is that we didn’t grow up in a cocoon nor were we created in a test tube. Does that mean we are destined to have a troubled failed life? I do not believe that. I do know that a person in the middle of the addiction storm cannot lastingly outrun it, but help is available. As I always say, genetic or no genetic predisposition, misery is optional. If you want to not be a prisoner to your past, the family cycle can end here with you.
Contact me, let’s talk about blood memory.