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Caribbean Reparations

EDITOR, The Tribune

With the Caribbean reparations movement gathering steam, it has become necessary to articulate, in public, the arguments and issues around reparations. As Biomedical Advisor to the Bahamian Reparations Committee, I would like to outline some of the medical and biomedical arguments for reparation to the descendents of enslaved Africans in the Bahamas.

Many will say that the idea that modern day Bahamians, who “know nothing” of slavery, should “just get over it”, but I hope to convey that the traumatic effects of the Ma’afa (trans-Atlantic slave trade) are likely to have been inherited by the descendants of enslaved Africans living today.

The idea that trauma can “skip” generations is not a new one; indeed, it was noted during the Dutch famine of World War II that mothers who were starved during their pregnancy, subsequently gave birth to children who were affected by a wide array of so-called “metabolic” disorders, such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity. Similarly, the children and even grandchildren of holocaust survivors show a decreased tolerance to stress, demonstrating that trauma can be transmitted to children and grandchildren and even beyond.

Trauma can be transmitted across generations. The mechanism by which this occurs is called “epigenetics”. Epigenetics describes the study of the environmental or dietary factors which can switch genes on and off, thereby controlling their activity. Trauma, stress and poor nutrition are examples of factors which can cause epigenetic changes to occur and be transmitted to babies in the womb.

It has been suggested that this epigenetic effect of trauma inheritance across generations is part of the cause of the high prevalence of diabetes and hypertension in the Caribbean and Americas in the descendants of enslaved Africans. By analogy with the Dutch famine victims, it is proposed that nutrient deprivation during slavery gave rise to descendants who were prone or pre-disposed to metabolic disorders. Indeed, in her classic work, “Islanders in the Stream”, Dr Gail Saunders documents the slave diet in The Bahamas as being deficient in several key nutrients (interestingly and notably including some that are vital for maintaining epigenetic balance). Could this have resulted in the same effects seen during the Dutch famine?

Similarly, by analogy with the descendents of holocaust survivors, it is likely that the emotional and physical trauma of the Ma’afa impacted stress responses across generations. Dr Joy DeGruy has called this the “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome”, and has suggested that it may be causative of the high levels of violence seen in many communities. Could this be part of why there is so much violent crime in the Caribbean today?

There is also strong evidence that enslaved Africans in The Bahamas were given excessive salt by the British slaveholders, and even up to the colonial period. Dr S V Humphries, who was a colonial District officer of Health in the Bahamas during the 1950s, has described that the Bahamian natives were exposed to brackish water under the colonial regime and had resultant high levels of hypertension. The significance of this shocking revelation of colonial neglect is that it has been shown in animal studies that excess salt in pregnant mothers can lead to offspring with hypertension. Did the British slave and colonial regime, in neglecting to provide its subjects with suitable water and food provisions, compromise the health of the then-unborn?

There is also a strong possibility that slavery had long-term genetic effects as well. In particular, The Bahamas has the highest by far prevalence in the world of breast cancer genetic mutations (in the BRCA-1 and -2 genes) and one of the highest rates of breast cancer disease. A dominant theory is that this prevalence is due to a so-called “founder” effect, which means that a small population was transported to a geographically isolated location (ie, an island), and any “bad” mutations, such as in BRCA-1 and -2, were allowed to flourish as the small population inter-bred (both voluntarily and involuntarily).

Considering that the enslaved Africans were forcibly transported to small genetically-poor islands from a genetically-rich environment on the African continent, this supports the contention that reparations are due to The Bahamas from Britain for the long-lasting genetic effects of the Ma’afa.

In summary, there is a wealth of data from biomedical studies that support the notion that trauma can be “inherited” from one generation to the next. It is likely that modern-day Bahamians, who never experienced slavery, nonetheless continue to suffer the biomedical effects of the British regime of slavery and colonialism. We also have excellent genetic evidence that the forced movement of Africans to small islands cause a “founder” effect and accumulation of the deleterious BRCA gene mutations in the population.

Thus, reparations are clearly due to The Bahamas for the damage done to the collective health of the nation during the Ma’afa and subsequent colonial era.

DR INDIRA MARTIN PhD

Bahamas National Reparations Committee,

November 13, 2015.

Comments

banker 4 years, 10 months ago

Sigh ... let's take a look at known science, and not pseudo-scientific psycho-babble. Starting from the top. Dutch war trauma and holocaust survivors passing on diseases has more to do with starvation and privation during pregnancy causing damaged babies, rather than trans-generational "epigenetics". Indeed science shows that during the war, whole villages were left eating tulips bulbs and many people died of starvation. Pregnant mothers at this time, who delivered babies that survived, had children with deficiencies caused by metabolic stress of starvation and poor fetal development.

Epigenetics itself, is very very controversial. Certain epigenetic tags have been shown to be transmitted mostly in plants, but some in mice, and these disappeared within a generation or two. There has not been one single, scientifically verified case of human trans-generational epigenetic trait transmission. That particular ideation is Larmarckian in nature, never directly verified in humans, and has been refuted by all respectable geneticists.

Salt -- and the causes of hypertension is another dead end. This chestnut was promulgated by flawed study in the JAMA (journal of American Medical Association) and has since been refuted by Harvard University Studies and other studies by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Your "expert", Dr Joy DeGruy who coined the term “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome” is a social worker and not a geneticist or scientist. She is more of the ilk of inspiration speaker, according to her website.

The high degree of breast cancer and diabetes is largely due to consanguinity issues. I myself have seen a study by a prestigious institute who studied the Bahamian population, that cites a figure where, of every single marriage of any two Bahamians, has a 50-50 chance of a common ancestor within the past four generations. They may not even know it, because of the common incidences of sweethearting, illegitimate children born on the other side of the blanket, and general lascivious, unprincipled copulatory behaviour by Bahamians.

If you are going to make a case for reparations, and you want it to be evidence-based, it must be flawless scientifically, and not riddled with pseudo-scientific psycho-babble.

The biggest flaw in the whole reparations argument, is the missing narrative of how indigenous Africans were the slave hunters and traders who were the originators of the supply chain of slave. They must be held equally liable as well if there is any sort of sense of real justice as to shouldering responsibility for slavery. These Africans are just as culpable in the entire slavery narrative.

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diaspore 4 years, 10 months ago

Let me take each point in turn. 1. Dutch famine- yes it caused damaged babies in part due to epigenetic dysregulation due to nutrient privation (remember that the body needs certain nutrients to ensure epigenetic balance): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/artic...">http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/artic... http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25...">http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25... http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18...">http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18... Epigenetic transmission in humans is not pseudo-scientific and is supported by a mass of data...it may be 'nascent' and there may some who disagree on individual points, but a reasonable scientific conclusion can be drawn from the extant data. Many many respected geneticists and other scientists are involved in this field of study. The data in animal studies (particularly rodents) are even more voluminous. Please see the work by Michael Skinner's group at Washington State Univ... Indeed, it would be pseudo-scientific to outrightly discount this mountain of evidence from both animals and humans...I would suggest you re-visit the more recent literature on this point. 2. Dr Rachel Yehuda of Mount Sinai Medical School has long studied the epigenetic transmission effects of the holocaust, here is her latest paper: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26...">http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26... 3. You are right that many geneticists previously believed that epigenetic marks were wiped clean in each generation, but it is now clear that some are retained. Dr Azim Surani of Cambridge is a foremost researcher on this topic; here is a paper from earlier this year: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26...">http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26... 4. I am not sure which hypertension studies you are (selectively) quoting, but I was referring to the animal studies in which high salt models lead to hypertension in offspring (eg Koleganova et al., 2011, Yan et al., 2014) 5. Because Dr DeGruy is a social worker, she is best equipped to describe African trauma (not a geneticist). Her theory is famous, pioneering and original and cannot be discounted from the discourse. 6. The consanguinity most likely arises from the founder effect I described. If you think about it, it's easy to see how...if there is a small genetic pool to begin with, the likelihood of consanguinity is increased 7. The African 'slave hunters' did not benefit financially from the Ma'afa in the same way as the Europeans did...Europe was built on slavery...it kick-started the industrial revolution...hence damages are sought from the most prolific beneficiary Thanks for your critique, which at least attempted to address the points. IBM

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BMW 4 years, 10 months ago

Looking for something for nothing.

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themessenger 4 years, 10 months ago

Amen! They also need to get in line behind the the Lucayans, Irish, Scots, Greeks, Jews and all those other races that have been enslaved from time to time but have somehow managed to beat the odds and get on with their lives without having to stand on the block with both hands out.

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MonkeeDoo 4 years, 10 months ago

Watching a story on African Slavery by the Smithsonian the BLACK narrator went to great pains to let people know that it was not Europeans that snatched Africans and took them away, it was the African Tribal Chiefs who captured them and sold them into SLAVERY . So make sure and collect from the Africans Dr S V Humphries. You may be Dr. but you are a dumb arse looking for something for nothing.

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diaspore 4 years, 10 months ago

Banker, Let me take each point in turn. 1. Dutch famine- yes it caused damaged babies in part due to epigenetic dysregulation due to nutrient privation (remember that the body needs certain nutrients to ensure epigenetic balance): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/artic...">http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/artic... http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25...">http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25... http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18...">http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18... Epigenetic transmission in humans is not pseudo-scientific and is supported by a mass of data...it may be 'nascent' and there may some who disagree on individual points, but a reasonable scientific conclusion can be drawn from the extant data. Many many respected geneticists and other scientists are involved in this field of study. The data in animal studies (particularly rodents) are even more voluminous. Please see the work by Michael Skinner's group at Washington State Univ... Indeed, it would be pseudo-scientific to outrightly discount this mountain of evidence from both animals and humans...I would suggest you re-visit the more recent literature on this point. 2. Dr Rachel Yehuda of Mount Sinai Medical School has long studied the epigenetic transmission effects of the holocaust, here is her latest paper: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26...">http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26... 3. You are right that many geneticists previously believed that epigenetic marks were wiped clean in each generation, but it is now clear that some are retained. Dr Azim Surani of Cambridge is a foremost researcher on this topic; here is a paper from earlier this year: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26...">http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26... 4. I am not sure which hypertension studies you are (selectively) quoting, but I was referring to the animal studies in which high salt models lead to hypertension in offspring (eg Koleganova et al., 2011, Yan et al., 2014) 5. Because Dr DeGruy is a social worker, she is best equipped to describe African trauma (not a geneticist). Her theory is famous, pioneering and original and cannot be discounted from the discourse. 6. The consanguinity most likely arises from the founder effect I described. If you think about it, it's easy to see how...if there is a small genetic pool to begin with, the likelihood of consanguinity is increased 7. The African 'slave hunters' did not benefit financially from the Ma'afa in the same way as the Europeans did...Europe was built on slavery...it kick-started the industrial revolution...hence damages are sought from the most prolific beneficiary Thanks for your critique, which at least attempted to address the points. IBM

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