Communities of color have suffered through trauma for hundreds of years, and now science is beginning to recognize the impact that trauma has on our children, and their children. Research in the field of epigenetics has shown that environmental factors experienced during life can affect our genes and be passed down to new generations. Although we have spent a lot of time focusing on the social ramifications of oppression, it is important that we pay attention to the biological effects and create awareness about this topic. That is why I am authoring Assembly Concurrent Resolution 177 (ACR 177) to raise awareness about intergenerational trauma and the role that epigenetic research plays in understanding that trauma.
As Chair for both the Assembly Public Safety Committee and the Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color, I have heard how much hurt our communities have gone through. However, when I heard testimony from Margo Robbins during a hearing on “The Status of Native American Boys and Men Living in Northern California” in Oroville on December 14th of last year I was stunned to hear that the trauma experienced by parents can affect children biologically.
In school we learn that our cells carry a copy of our DNA, and that each cell in our body has a different task to accomplish. Our DNA provides the instructions for how our cells function, tells a brain cell to act like a brain cell. When I used to think of something affecting my DNA I thought of some sort of accident, or radiation. However, epigenetics has found that changes in receptors within our cells can change how cells interpret DNA, and that those changes can result from environmental stress.
Epigenetics can help uncover the damage done to low income communities. It can show how a grandmother that has to live with pollution can pass down asthma to her grandchildren, without her DNA ever changing, as on Harvard study found. Research by Rachel Yehuda has also found evidence from Holocaust survivors that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can also be passed down to future generations.
For our African American, Latino, Native American, and Asian American communities this is especially important to understand. As I said last year when the legislature passed my Assembly Concurrent Resolution 8, so many of our children are dealing with their own form of PTSD – post traumatic street disorder – we need to find solutions. To find those solutions we need to raise awareness of this issue, I hope that starts with ACR 177.