Working Definitions by Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective

Trauma and Resilience

Black Women Birthing Resistance uses trauma and resilience as particular entry points through which we examine birth and midwifery.  We believe that the retelling of our stories out of context retriggers and re-stimulates past traumas.  Thereby, an understanding of trauma and resilience is central to our analysis. This understanding builds off of the definitions created by the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective.

We look at 9 traumas:  physical, spiritual, emotional, psychic, environmental, healing, birth, sexual and generational.

Physical trauma connotes an actual incidence of physical violence or abuse on individual or collective bodies.  For example, police brutality would constitute a physical trauma.  Physical trauma, therefore, includes an actual physical assault on the body.

Emotional trauma is an experience of physical, mental, or verbal abuse that erodes emotional balance or well being.  Along with physical trauma, emotional is one of the more commonly discussed traumas.  It has the most direct relationship with physical trauma.

Psychic trauma is the impact of generational trauma, be it from enslavement or genocide.  It is a past physical or emotional trauma that shows up in a cellular memory of a people, that then impacts our individual and collective psyches.

Spiritual trauma is having spiritual or religious practice or rituals be used to control your physical and emotional surroundings (e.g., faith-based healing that has ostracized certain bodies or communities).  It also includes the cooptation and removal of foundational and sustaining spiritual practices from communities. (Refer to Boarding School Healing Project)

Environmental trauma explicates the long-term effects of how the environment has been damaged by unethical practices by corporations and capitalist structures that have thereby interrupted individual and communal relationships to the environment that are sustainable and positive (e.g., water crisis; our relationship to water has become a crisis, and disaster-oriented, as opposed to considering how we value water and our relationship to it).  Environmental trauma also includes the harmful physical, emotional, and psychic effects of these practices, and the ways in which we hold them in our bodies.  This also includes displacement of communities from their historical environments, thereby removing them from systems of sustainability and healing practices.

Healing trauma describes the criminalizing of healing practices and practitioners that leads to the removal and demonizing of medicinal herbs and traditions, such that communities have shunned them and refuse to return to them.  Healing trauma erodes systems of wellbeing that provide communal infrastructure.  Healing trauma also refers to practices of medical abuse and experimentation that use health and healing as a means to profit off of and erase marginalized communities, and the safety and dignity of those bodies (see Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington, and Killing the Black Body by Dorothy Roberts)Both healing and environmental trauma stem from the capitalist notion that profit is more valuable than people.  Holding collective grief, trauma, and conflict in our collective bodies, and memorializing loss is essential to addressing healing trauma, and should be more centralized in our movement strategies.

Birth trauma deals with incidences of abuse and violence that seek to control birth based on a patriarchal fear of birthing and of those who can birth.  This control also creates a narrow delineation of who can and has the right to birth, particularly those who are not choosing to birth specifically to participate in capitalist labor structures, heteronormative family structures, and/or Eurocentric family ideals.  Birth trauma also refers to traumatic experiences both during one’s own labor and birth, and during the births of family and community members that impede the ability to have positive and transforming future birth experiences.  Birth trauma occurs most often in institutions and under conditions that disrupt the possibility of a safe and dignified birth experience, especially those institutions and conditions which wrest away from mothers the autonomy to choose their own birth experience, such as prisons, mental institutions, and often hospitals.

Sexual trauma is the experience of living with and/or surviving non-consensual sexual contact, sexual violence and its residual effects impacting an individual or collective bodies.  Examples may be but are not limited to:  being either forced to enact in sexual conduct and/or a bystander witnessing enforcement of sexual acts.  It can be the exploitation of physical/sexual bodies where one is not self determined to define their own pleasure or desire, but instead are controlled by another oppressive force and/or person, community or state.

Generational trauma is the effect on individuals and/or communities from unresolved spiritual, physical, emotional, and psychic traumas and stress resulting from systemic oppression, enslavement, colonization, and other collective forms of exploitation.  It often stems from state, interpersonal, or communal cycles of violence and is passed on through genetic and spiritual ancestral memory.

Resiliency is the practice of how we bounce back and transform the conditions inside of which we live.  We reject the capitalist notion of resiliency as being an individual process, and instead view resilience as a collective practice.  Resiliency is a healing process that transforms the individual or collective bodies’ capacity to survive and sustain itself inside of, or after a traumatic incident, or cumulative incidences.

Resistance is the practice of pushing back against systems of oppression.  It is the development of strategies that seek to redefine and rebuild our existences outside and in the face of oppression.  Resisting is fighting the systems; resilience is transforming the trauma from the systems.  Resistance and resilience go hand in hand.  For example, a resistance strategy is organizing a mobilization in opposition to oppressive policy, while an accompanying resilience strategy is creating healing spaces at and after the mobilization to address the grief and trauma experienced by those directly affected by the policy.