The large-scale capture, forcible kidnapping, and subsequent forced labor associated with the historic enslavement of Africans in the Americas exerted tremendous stress on their biologies. These stresses provided the most important substrate for selection in New World African populations. The environmental and social conditions of enslavement, post-civil war reconstruction, and Jim Crow racism in the United States were a connected sequence of traumatic events that have had an enduring, multigenerational impact on African Americans and their descendants. Enslavement is manifested partially in elevated cortisol levels and, in turn, have served as catalysts for other adverse health outcomes. Elevations in circulating cortisol levels have been indicated as a significant influencing factor in psychological stress disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Stress responses were reinforced no doubt by the long-term food insecurity associated with enslavement. Chronic food deprivation and food instability are thought to have further exacerbated the trauma associated with other adversarial environmental effects during this period. The impact of these constraints during key stages of the lifecycle are examined and the resulting clinical symptoms and epigenetic changes documented.
Fatimah Jackson, Latifa Jackson and Zainab ElRadi Jackson
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