by Meta Commerse
“Grief is a language that goes straight through all the barriers to the heart and soul of anyone who hears it. We are afraid of people who grieve because we don’t want to feel that. We have so many kinds of grief buried inside of us that we don’t want to open that door. If we open it, the dam might break, and if the dam breaks, then all hell might break loose.”
~ Sobonfu Somé from Falling out of Grace
Many African Americans are aware that as a people, we suffered incalculable collective losses, the scope of which may be unprecedented in modern history. The Swahili word for this suffering is “maafa,” or, the indescribable suffering. Although our ancestors suffered directly, their untold, ungrieved losses inevitably became ours. Thankfully, we also inherited their resourcefulness, their tenacious will to survive and overcome. Still, it seems their losses became cumulative and created a pain we feel deeply yet are prone to deny and cover up.
Their losses and pain endured through a process in psychology known as the intergenerational transmission process. Our specific pain has been called “post-traumatic slave disorder” by African American psychiatrists such as Dr. Patricia Newton.
Has it ever occurred to you that we have never had the chance to grieve our losses?
Chief among these losses are our stories, original names, languages, religions, families, native land. Lest we forget our customs such as roles, rites, and traditions that honored our innate uniqueness and gifts and the ways these attributes were understood in the village to exist for the good of the whole. Our system of values held the village – earth, life, people, Spirit – before possessions. And in that system, every developmental milestone of life was understood, acknowledged and celebrated in the whole Circle of Life.
In the transatlantic slave trade, African people were captured and chained along the continental coasts and loaded into the bowels of ships, then taken under horrible conditions on grueling voyages lasting for months to ports for sale. Once sold, legend has it that a great many slaves were “seasoned” to keep them in line and subject to their lot.
This process of seasoning further traumatized the slaves by dividing them by age, size, strength, skin color, features, hair texture, etc. Judge A. Leon Higginbotham wrote extensively about the “precept of inferiority” undergirding the exclusionary systems of institutional racism such as the slave codes and, later, the Jim Crow laws that followed Emancipation and Reconstruction, and which, in various forms, survived well into the next century.
In a nation where this history and its effects are, as such, not acknowledged, taught, nor amends made for the damage done in the aftermath of slavery and internalized racism, we point each day to its raw evidence in our cities and schools, in the disparate state of our communities, families, and even in our health as compared to our white counterparts. Studies have shown a connection between our health disparities and the racism we live with as Americans of African descent.
Yet, there is good news!
We live in an exciting time. Some of the healing tradition of our ancestors has been documented and is being brought back to us!
Sponsored by Black Mountain’s School of Integrated Living, world-renowned and beloved author and speaker Sobonfu Somé from Burkina Faso, West Africa, will visit Asheville in November to conduct a weekend Grief Ritual. This retreat will touch the generational core of our woundedness. Although her work directly applies to people of African descent, anyone can benefit because Western culture includes almost no appreciation for grief or for the innate wisdom of our emotions.
One person’s journey to wholeness can include the rediscovery, or grieving of their losses. Likewise, our community can become more whole through sharing such healing, life-changing experiences as Sobonfu’s Grief Ritual, November 14-15, 2015. Imagine the possibilities!
Come join Sobonfu Somé at Jubilee, 46 Wall Street, at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 13, 2015 for an introductory session.
For details of the events, and to register, call (828) 669-2204, or visit the School’s website at www.schoolofintegratedliving.org.
Meta Commerse, M.A., M.F.A., C.W.P. is Director of Story Medicine of Asheville, a unique healing program. She is also an author, activist, and public speaker. Meta is also a professor of English and History at Haywood Community College. Her novel, The Mending Time, the flagship offering of Story Medicine Asheville Publications, was released in the fall of 2014. Meta is available to speak to your group on the healing power of story and other topics of interest. Contact her on Facebook.