How Hundreds Of Years Of Enslavement Impacts Black Bodies Today

"Our ancestors were burning up to four to five thousand calories a day."

Photo credit:Photo: Wiki Commons

| June 25 2018,

00:31 am

Lately, I've been thinking about the epigenetic consequences of slavery on the black body.

Like how Afro-Americans today dwarf most continental Africans in size (height and frame), even though that is something that I do see changing on a generational level (with youth often being up to twice as tall as their grandparents). So much so that in some of my travels, my size alone marked me as a descendant of the enslaved. It was already noted that I didn't phenotypically resemble the Africans around me. And then on top of that, I was a giant.

Or, we can note how our body fat storage works (our immediate ancestors worked 18 hour days in fields in all weather, and did so on very little food — and almost none of us experience that level of exertion today, which means our bodies have been optimized and predisposed for conditions we no longer experience).

And since fat is essentially food storage, our bodies remember that food wasn't easily available to our ancestors, but have not had the time to adjust to new circumstances. We were enslaved as chattel for over 400 years and only outside of that for about 150. And even then, "freedom" is a stretch until (perhaps) the Civil Rights era, when most black Americans were no longer sharecroppers (i.e. enslaved by default).

I'm sure these disparities play a role in obesity and other health issues today.

Or, we can note how Black Diasporan children begin puberty earlier on average than other groups. Well, there was no childhood for the enslaved, and definitely no childhood on the breeding farms. There was no childhood for the offspring of placées, especially those who would themselves enter plaçage — or straight up sex slavery.

And yet, we are the product of the hopes and dreams of our ancestors. They lived and died for us.