One of the themes of the 2016 Trinity Institute conference, Sacred Conversations for Racial Justice was the idea of Counter Narrative. It is an idea that people talk about, in certain circles, but perhaps do not do enough to foster. There is the official narrative, the stories we learn in school or read in the mainstream media; the stories of America as uninhabited or inhabited by barbarians, when Westerners came, the stories of Westerners being welcomed at a great first Thanksgiving meal, the stories of southern plantation life which overlooks the suffering of slaves, the stories of a city on a hill and manifest destiny. A good way to understand the problems of this is by listening to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story.
The dominant narrative of the day seems to be one of consumerism, where what matters is getting whatever you can for yourself, and the rest be damned. It is a narrative based on fear; sending troops and building bigger walls. It is a narrative where all people are not created equal, let alone created in the image of God Some of seen as more or less deserving than others, perhaps because of their skin color, the location they were born, or how wealthy their family was when they were born.
I thought of this when I listened to a book on tape by Barbara Kingsolver where she said that $100 is spent every year for every person on the planet, trying to get them to buy more stuff. Friday, I heard Dr. Gail C. Christopher of the W.K. Kellogg foundation say, at a forum on health equity and access, talking about what you see on television and movies, “We are entertained these days by the destruction of life".
The master narrative is about consumerism and inequality, it is about the loss of creativity and spirituality. People talk about counter narratives at conferences. Perhaps they tell some of the other sides of the story, like those talking about the Middle Passage are doing. Maybe they are telling some women’s history, talking about the domestic arts with as much respect as has been shown to the “fine” arts, or highlighting great black and/or women artists and scientists.
Yet what about countering the master narrative in daily life? Today is the last day of National Poetry Month. I set for myself a goal to write a poem a day during the month. When I’ve done this in the past, there have been days that I could find nothing to say, and wrote pieces that weren’t all that great, that were throw aways, just practice pieces. This month I did a little better. I didn’t always get the poem for each day posted on the day I wrote it. Sometimes, I’d let it sit for a day or two before editing and posting, but I did get my thirty poems done. I’ll probably edit my last poem of the month and post it tomorrow.
I’ve also been participating in a Modern Poetry class online. I’ve been reading Frost, Sandberg, and Masters most recently. I’m listening to a book about the transcendentalists in Concord during my commute. Next up is Spoon River Anthology or Big Magic, depending on when I finish the transcendentalist book and when Big Magic becomes available from the library.
All of this shapes into an idea for a counter narrative. Can I write a post, more or less daily, often as poetry, but not necessarily always, that celebrates spirituality and creativity while giving voice to people and things too often overlooked? Can I find others who are willing to write along with me? Can we listen to one another and by listening and writing shift the narratives?
Yes, I’m asking you, the people I know online, on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and other places. How does racism impact your life? Share your thoughts in response to the blog post, in comments on Facebook, in retweets etc. Listen to what others are saying. Feel free to ask clarifying questions.
Please try to refrain from attacking other people or their opinions. Let’s keep the discussion as open as possible, no matter how uncomfortable it might feel. If you are feeling really bold, ask a question like this, in your own way, to your friends, whether you do it face to face, one on one, or online to a large group.
Later, I’ll provide some context for this question, but I don’t what my context to shape your response.
How does racism impact your life?
The most recent online class I'm participating in is Poetry in America: Modernism. People have been sharing there reactions to Frost's poem The Pasture, many of them seeming not to appreciate the beauty of clearing out a spring. My comment in the group:
I find it interesting, and perhaps a little sad, reading what others have written about the poem, and especially about the chores that Frost had to do. I grew up not far from Robert Frost’s stone house and as a kid often visited his grave. I walked on leaves no step had trodden black, and cleared dead leaves from pasture springs. It was some of the happiest days of my childhood. I savored that time.
The chores were not an uninteresting tedium to be endured, they were moments of blessed solitude and contemplation. I would prefer to do them myself, but if a close friend was around, I would invite them to this special place, you come too.
I would stay, as long as I reasonably could, to watch the water clear. Generally, I read most of Frost’s poems quite literally. I know the beauty of water clearing in a spring. Yet there is some important clearing that goes on, as you watch a spring clear, and that is your mind clearing.
Well, it looks like this is going to be a very interesting week. Today, Kim, Fiona, and I went hiking in Granby, CT and swam in some swimming holes near waterfalls. It was great. I came home to find a video of The Rev. Brian Baker talk about his experiences at Burning Man. It is a half hour long video, but I started watching it and was hooked. I had to watch the whole thing. I hope you will too.
Then, I learned that Larry Lessig will be running as a Democratic candidate for President. The Lessig for President Official Announcement will take place Wednesday at about noon in Claremont, NH. I am planning to drive up.
All of this is a precursor to a meeting Thursday afternoon with the Episcopalian Bishop of Connecticut, The Right Rev. Ian Douglas, and members of the Commission on Ministry to discuss how I could “help the Episcopal Church in CT be more faithful to God’s Mission”.
Where is all of this leading? Well, let’s check back next week see what transpires.
It has been a crazy day. Started off routine. Trip to the dump. Then some special stuff, a trip to the store to get ingredients for Fiona to make a birthday cake for Kim and a trip to the Greek Festival.
In the evening, we ate cake, had a YouTube RiffOff, and got ready to wind down the day, when I got caught in a work related social media issue.
When I got back to personal stuff, I noted it was almost midnight and I haven’t put up a blog post for today. There is probably enough with what has gone on for the blog post, but then I found an interesting article.
“Picture yourself as a stereotypical male” is from the MIT Admissions blog which explores self-perception and the impact on tests.
As it turns out, there is zero statistically significant gender difference in mental rotation ability after test-takers are asked to imagine themselves as stereotypical men for a few minutes.
There are a lot of implications to this, in terms of gender identity, racial identity, and for that matter, perhaps what it means to be a ‘Hynes’. If it wasn’t so late, I’d explore this more right now, but it will have to wait.
Suffice it to say, I wonder if those who imagine themselves to be a ‘Hynes’, with the definition of ‘Hynes’ as including high intelligence, high creativity, and high empathy, end up doing better.
From the spiritual side, I wonder what it does to people if they spend time thinking of themselves as ‘loved by god.’