Image for post
Image for post

People who endure historical disparities and historical trauma now face a new pandemic and economic free fall. How do we help?


This twenty-part series introduces you to twenty key terms used in a local mobilizing process that you and your community will require to survive and thrive during colliding crises. The articles will reference those people in positions of power who are fighting to keep a broken status quo.

Concept 5: historical disparities and historical trauma

How might we begin to define historical disparities and historical trauma? Carefully and thoughtfully. What is provided is a very brief overview and a heartfelt invitation to learn more.

Historic: his·tor·ic

adjective. famous or important in history, or potentially so.
“we are standing on a historic site”

Disparity: dis·par·i·ty


plural noun: disparities. a great difference.
“economic disparities between different regions of the country”

Historical trauma: The cumulative, multigenerational, collective experience of emotional and psychological injury in communities and in descendants.

Historic Trauma and Response

Another definition of historical trauma is provided by Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, a Native American social worker, associate professor and mental health expert, known for developing a model of historical trauma for the Lakota people.

“The collective emotional and psychological injury both over the life span and across generations, resulting from a cataclysmic history of genocide.”

“The cumulative emotional and psychological wounding,” states Dr. Yellow Horse Brave Heart, emanates from massive group trauma. The reaction to this wounding, which she calls the historical trauma response, often includes survivor guilt, depression, PTSD symptoms, physical symptoms, psychic numbing, anger, suicidal ideation, and fixation to trauma, among other features and behaviors.

Historical trauma can be viewed as the result of the dominant culture perpetuating mass trauma on a population.


I ask that you take a long, quiet pause to reflect on the centuries long list of crises our diverse society has endured. While a public health crisis may disrupt our lives today, a long painful history of man-made challenges has diminished the lives of many residents for as long as we have been tracking crises. We live in a country that, for the most part, gave only lip service to social justice and equality by requiring this disclaimer in an organization’s policy guidelines for employees and clients:

Non-discrimination Statement and Policy. We do not and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation or military status, in any of our activities or operations.

The above statement is a vital first step in addressing disparities and requires hard work and vigilance to bring into reality. Our goal, through our 100% Community initiative, is to make sure these powerful words are far more than spin.

The citizens of these fifty “united” states that many would argue are more fractured than cohesive, have a long history of traumatizing each other. While we may focus on creating services to support community health, trauma has been a reality for many people across this continent for as long as this country has existed, and long before it became known as the United States.

Many identities, many disparities and traumas

People are complicated. We have many identities based on a host of factors: race, class, gender, age, sexual orientation and religion, to name only a few. While our differences and diversity are cause for celebration, they have also been (and continue to be) catalysts for conflict, leading to trauma and other challenges.

A quick Google search on racism alone reveals 135,000 articles. We don’t lack information on how differences have hurt us, and this painful history in the US goes back centuries. We do not always have a way to have difficult conversations about our hurts and what we need to heal.

We need to create a safe space for community members to discuss the many forms of trauma and their root causes. We need ground rules and guidelines so that our pasts and presents can be explored with candor and compassion. Let’s take a look at some of the historical and ongoing traumas your community might want to discuss here:

  • Colonists traumatizing the indigenous/native populations
  • Men traumatizing women
  • Rich traumatizing the poor
  • Adults traumatizing children and youth
  • One race traumatizing other races
  • Heterosexuals traumatizing homosexuals
  • Long-term residents traumatizing immigrants and newcomers
  • Religious majorities traumatizing religious minorities
  • The formally educated traumatizing those with less formal education
  • People without disabilities traumatizing those with disabilities

Each of these forms of trauma come with very complicated histories. Our roles have also changed dramatically, so exceptions and entire role reversals in power structures also exist in some circles. For example, it is entirely possible for a female to harass a male in both the personal and professional world. People with lower incomes can intimidate those with higher incomes. Unwelcome romantic advances can come from people with any sexual orientation. These are only a few of the many aspects of inequality, disparities and trauma that make any conversation complicated, difficult and very necessary.

Courageous Conversations

What’s required for every initiative seeking to address public health, education and economic challenges is an acknowledgement of past injustices impacting present day injustices.

Historical disparities, like all forms of disparities, are not the result of the wind. They are manmade and require compassion, political will and an unwavering commitment to social justice to address.

Though historical disparities and historical trauma can be difficult conversation topics and will make many people uncomfortable, the issues cannot be ignored if we want to prevent disparities and trauma and support every community member living in environments where they feel respected, well-resourced, and empowered to thrive.

The future is what we make it. Join the evolution.

Please excuse any typos as I construct an article. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. If one of my illustrations looks like a real person, that’s total coincidence. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Questions? Answers and empowerment await you here:

A NY Times bestselling author, social justice activist, Oprah guest, co-author of Attack of the Three-Headed Hydras, 100% Community and Anna, Age Eight.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store