Why we must tell our own stories or how the white narrative hurts

“A focus on racial disparities alone,” Powell continues, also “presumes that the baseline position of the dominant group is the appropriate goal for reducing or eliminating disparities.” That is, it risks naturalizing or presuming a “white norm” that should be the standard policy goal to measure racial justice (for examples white rates of wealth, income, graduation, home ownership, etc.) rather than rethinking the ways such systems must be fundamentally transformed.”- Daniel Martinez HoSang

Another news cycle and another Black mother’s visage paraded before us as an example of “bad” parenting. This time it’s Debra Harrell, a 46-year-old South Carolina woman who found herself  having to choose between her job at McDonald’s and her 9-year-old daughter. Harrell originally was bringing her daughter to work with her but after their apartment was burglarized and their laptop stolen, thus leaving her daughter with nothing to do while sitting at McDonald’s, Harrell made the decision to let her daughter play at the park down the way from her job while armed with a cell phone. This decision cost Harrell her job, her child and very possibly her freedom as she is facing a charge of unlawful neglect of a child which carries a 10 year sentence if she is found guilty.

A few months earlier it was Shanesha Taylor, an unemployed Arizona single mom who had a job interview and no childcare. Taylor went to the interview and left her children in the car which led to felony child abuse charges.

Poor, single mom faces 8 years for leaving kids in car during job interview

Each times these stories catch the attention of the national media, we are bombarded with a stream of factual and think pieces lamenting the lack of affordable childcare, well paying jobs and overall support for parents and kids. Without a doubt here in the US, we talk a good game about supporting families but the reality is we fall short. Very short. Until this year, most of my professional career was spent in social services both in Maine and Chicago and I know that all too often, families in need cannot find the support they need to not only survive but to thrive. In many ways this is old news.

Another thing that is also old news is that too many times stories such as Harrell’s and Taylor’s are retold to the larger world through a white lens. In the era of the mom blogger/writer as social activist, we hear these stories filtered through a white lens that lacks nuance and too many times in sharing the stories of others they also remind us of how “fortunate” they are because while their hearts go out for these women, they also know nothing of this world.

Stacia Brown, an African-American writer wrote a phenomenal piece on Black latchkey families that made me realize why stories that affect Black women and kids must be written by people of color. While African-Americans are not a monolith, many of us see life with a shared lens of understanding and a narrative that is largely absent from the white lens of life. Many of us were raised in families where choices were made that at times appear dysfunctional under a white, middle-class lens yet we know the lens that people like us live with and we can share the tales without the unspoken judgement that too often lurks in the background when whites, even so-called white allies, tell our stories.

For many of us, even if we have escaped bone-grinding poverty and need, we are not so are far removed that we can’t relate. Even in my own family, I have relatives who struggle. I have relatives who struggle with involvement in the criminal justice system. When I write, I write not only dispassionate facts and figures but I write from a place of lived experience. But too many times experiences such as mine never make it into the larger awareness or conscience.

Black women and men need to tell their own stories, because too many times only our tragedies make the news. Yet often there are untold stories of joy and overcoming that never make the headlines. We need to tell our own stories because our lives are more than think pieces that lead to click bait but our stories are the stories of human resilience in the face of obstacles and barriers yet when filtered through the white lens we are often nothing more than the poster children of “bad” when juxtaposed against the face of “good” which all too often wears a white face.

We live in a time when the goal is a white-washed form of colorblindness where we are measured against a standard that very few people of color can ever meet. We are not colorblind and the quest to pretend so is harmful because for too many of us it strips us of our humanity.

In the journey for racial and ethnic wholeness, we can all work together; in fact, we must work together.  But for white allies it is not to tell other people’s stories but to examine how the white narrative that is the norm is not only harmful to people of color but to whites as well because there re far too many whites who fall short of the white norm that is positioned as the “right way.”

Many will say such thoughts are “racist” without understanding that racism is a system yet our instinctual instinct to label “racist” what we don’t understand is just another reason why people need to tell their own stories thus revealing their own humanity. It’s when we connect on that very human level without judgement that true change is possible.

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