A reflection on the current state of society and how Black, indigenous, people of color can improve their well-being using the truths of Sankofa.
Written by: Darrian Evans
Original Date Posted: July 9, 2020
Right: Sankofa symbol (Photo: The Association of Black Psychologists)
Sankofa, in the Twi language of Ghana, stands for “Go back and get it”. The symbol associated with the word is an image of a bird facing forward but looking backwards. It represents the ancient concept of going back to the past to retrieve what is useful. I’ve heard my professor, Dr. Lacretia Dye, mention many times during her “Mindful Breathing” videos that “healing requires recognition”. If we look at James Baldwin’s work, he too has emphasized the importance of facing our problems so that we can make the necessary changes to fix them. As Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) we have endured centuries of abuse, trauma and, more so than anything, lies about who we are as people. This much we know and if not think about this: In your history classes during grade school what did you learn about people who looked like you? Think about the Jim Crow laws, redlining or the Red Summer. Think about mass incarceration and deportation of immigrants. Think about how this economy was built. Think about our ancestors being brought over on ships that were infested with disease and malnourishment. Think about [our ancestors] being beaten, embarrassed in front of their children, the trauma and shame that they had to endure. I say all of this because everything that our ancestors went through, we carry in our DNA, in our blood and bones. However, if you don’t know these things, there is absolutely no way you can heal wounds that stem from what you don’t know. As BIPOC, sometimes we feel as though we have to dim our light so that we aren’t being too bold or too loud in our workspaces. When we get pulled over by police officers our body immediately goes into a triggered and uncomfortable state. We also become self-conscious of being in public spaces ruminating on what or how someone may perceive us, which in essence prevents us from being our true self and when we can’t be who we are meant to be it causes distress and becomes a mental health concern.
Transgenerational trauma is a psychological response occurring from traumatic events that are passed down from generation to generation. In other words, the trauma that our great-great grandparents experienced we indirectly experience through our DNA. Not only do we hold our ancestor’s experience, but our children will hold ours. Transgenerational trauma can be referred to as intergenerational trauma or “generational curses”. There is a really good book that talks about transgenerational trauma called “It didn’t start with you” by Mark Wolyn, which discusses this concept more in depth. As BIPOC we have endured a different level of transgenerational trauma compared to our white counterparts.
In order to heal from our mental anguish, physical pain and all else that we are experiencing as BIPOC, we have to seek the truth. They say, “the truth will set you free” right? First, SANKOFA! Go back in time, do your research, learn about who your tribe is and where you come from. A good start may be ancestry.com, or looking through some old pictures you have, or asking the elderly members in your family about their grandparents. I became interested in history when I began to see people who looked like me overcome obstacles, who believed they were worthy. I began to feel a part of me fill with love and certainty. If you don’t like reading, I recommend watching documentaries on history about where you come from (be sure to check your sources).
Healing also presents itself when you become present with who you are and being around people who mean a lot to you. In doing so, emphasize staying connected to these moments. Connection is important when touching on the art of healing. The culture we live in is very well fixated on individualism however, as BIPOC, many of us come from a collectivist culture. Connection to not only the people around you but connection to the earth and all other creatures that walk it. When we were taken from our motherland and stripped of our traditions, we were robbed of our sweet, innate ability to connect with all beings. Somewhere deep down we still have that ability to connect, it is that it is buried in our subconscious. So, we have to begin to make the uncomfortable effort to begin to connect to our people; meaning uplifting one another, teaching each other, being supporting and loving, and showing unconditional positive regard. However, before connecting with others there must be the ability to connect with yourself. How you treat yourself will reflect how you treat others. To begin this connection with yourself, you might join Facebook groups or following inspirational people, all of which may help you find resources that can be used to support you.
Additionally, seeking out a therapist in times of need is important especially for BIPOC. Having a therapist is like having a primary care physician; your mental health is just as important as your physical health. What happens when you start showing symptoms of an illness and you ignore them? They tend to get worse and could possibly cause permanent damage. It is the same regarding mental health. When you start showing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness seek out a mental health professional. They will provide you with tools and resources to assist you in your overall wellbeing. Something I typically send my client home with is a journaling activity. As BIPOC we are story keepers; and journaling helps us to release physically but also keep record of our experiences. I unintentionally discovered journaling back during my freshman year in college and it was a therapeutic release in which I had no idea that it was also being used in clinical settings.
Overall, recognition of what is happening within you in the present moment is important. SANKOFA! Go back and learn about the great warriors, kings and queens, great shamans, gurus and healers you come from. We have been told for many centuries who we ought to be and when we get told lies and try to fit the stories of someone else, we begin to act out of integrity…we lose sight of our true essence.
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About the Author
Darrian Evans is a licensed, practicing counselor beginning her career as a primary therapist at an addiction's clinic. In addition to her professional career, Darrian is also completing her yoga teacher training certification in November! Included below are a few suggested resources to help you continue on with your journey:
The New Jim Crow Law
The immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The four agreements by Miguel Don Ruiz
My grandmothers’ hands: Racialized Trauma and the pathway to Mending our hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem
Between the world and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
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