Telling a New Story

May 1, 2014 Leave a comment

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Last week, Curtis Ogden wrote about the power of narrative to build engagement and shape the action in networks. We’ve also been taking a deep dive into the role of narrative in racial healing. That is, focusing on the need to expose and transform the deeply embedded narratives about race that allow racism to persist through unconscious bias, individual behaviors and micro-aggressions, institutional practices, and structural arrangements in this society. The report “Telling our Own Story” describes the ways in which narratives about race have shaped the U.S. culture and values, and laid the foundation for social structures based on false stories about the value of people based on a racial hierarchy. Here are a few opening ideas. We hope you will read the full report. 

“[A]s human beings, we are always telling ourselves and others ‘stories’ about experiences and life itself. We use this warehouse of stories to organize and ‘categorize’ our way through life. We literally call up ‘shared stories’ to help us make decisions, make meaning, and navigate situations on a daily basis. But the story of America at individual and collective levels is a story shaped by a dominant vestigial belief, a carryover from the 1700’s…in human hierarchy, based on physical appearance or characteristics was first proposed by Linnaeus during the age of European Enlightenment. Like many ideas of that era, this concept of human hierarchy or racism, has transported human enterprise to unanticipated heights and depths. This idea was used to justify and rationalize the single most dramatic economic expansion in human history, the institution of trans-Atlantic slavery, and to support conquering, exploiting, displacing, and discriminating against entire populations within geographic areas.

“The now mythic American story of rugged individualism and self-determination has morphed into values that are deeply held. Unfortunately for our country’s future and for millions of children of color those values are grounded in a skewed or incomplete story of the making of America. The interdependent and confluent lives of diverse people could have shaped an American ethos and value system that embodies empathy and understanding, a more balanced interpretation of rights, opportunity and privilege. But because dominant American values largely emerged from a flawed ideology of assumed superiority and inferiority of human worth, these deeply held mythologies continue to serve as barriers to cooperative and collective action on behalf of vulnerable children and the future viability of our nation.”

For more resources, visit the W.K. Kellogg Foundation website.

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